CEO to CEO: New CEO Tips, Member Recruitment

Association CEOs share their tips for new CEOs and their best member-recruitment tools.

What is your most valuable tip for a new CEO who wants to get to know his or her organization?

Get out and meet and greet their new members in their places of business. You will get a firsthand experience of how your members operate their business, it will be greatly appreciated by those you visit, and it will serve as a platform to let you ask all the dumb questions you have on the industry. It will also allow you the chance to develop a new bond or recruitment tool for future leaders. Seeing them at their place of business will really open your eyes to the industry you will be representing. More importantly, it will allow you to ask them where they would like to see the organization go in the future to create more value for its members.

Tim DeWitt, CAE, executive director, Michigan Manufactured Housing, Recreation Vehicles and Campground Association, Okemos, Michigan. Email: [email protected]


Spend the first six months on a listening tour. By a listening tour, I mean an active listening campaign where you truly seek to understand what your members and nonmembers are saying, thinking, and doing. This is not about showing your competence for the job by sharing your ideas before they've finished their questions to you. This isn't about rolling out your new vision or your new management plan. This is about seeking out a wide range of members and nonmembers and asking them to share their ideas, needs, issues, and opportunities. The benefits of this approach are many—the two most obvious being incredibly rich data for you to assess and leverage as the CEO and a "wow" experience your constituents will have had with you because they felt heard.

Jon Hockman, principal, The d3 Group, Arlington, Virginia. Email: [email protected]

There's no one magic bullet, so I've borrowed from David Letterman's Top Ten list:

  1. Learn the language.
  2. Observe and copy the culture of the organization.
  3. Learn what you don't know.
  4. Discover member expectations.
  5. Hit the ground running.
  6. Scout motto: Be Prepared.
  7. Introduce yourself to everybody.
  8. Find out who the members are.
  9. Remember, it's not about you. It's about service to others.
  10. Don't take yourself too seriously.

—Patricia Aiken O'Neill, president/CEO, The Eye Bank Association of America, Washington, DC. Email: [email protected]

I would advise a new CEO to:

  • Learn the history from the written archives and from the "thundering 100," those that I identify as the core group of long-term, committed members. This group usually has a wealth of opinions, observations, and the obligatory "what you need to do is …" advice. In all of this feedback, there is often valuable information.
  • Understand the current status of the "now." Strategically and uniformly communicate with current leadership and, most importantly, with your staff.
  • Engage with the future; seek out those who represent where the association is going or needs to go.
  • Come to value what your members value.

Antoinette A. Samuel, CAE, executive director, American Society for Public Administration, Washington, DC. Email: [email protected]

What's your most powerful member-recruitment tool?

A commitment to excellence. We often use the phrase "we believe in the persuasiveness of quality." GNAR is committed to making sure that the experience of our members, and those who might become our members, is characterized by excellence when they interact with us in any way. It starts with making members and potential members who visit our campus feel welcome and appreciated. It includes the quality of professional development courses, membership functions, phone interaction, and even the online experience we provide. It means responding to inquiries promptly and resolving issues quickly and professionally. And, it even means keeping the facility clean and fresh, with all the lights working.

Don Klein, CEO, Greater Nashville Association of Realtors, Nashville, Tennessee. Email: [email protected]

Our most powerful member recruitment tool is high visibility. We employ a diverse approach to advocacy—including being high profile in state and federal legislatures and in state, local, and national media—and we constantly communicate our achievements to current and prospective members. In addition, we believe that satisfied members promote our organization to their peers, and we use current members' testimonials in our marketing/member-recruitment materials.

Debra Wentz, CEO, New Jersey Association of Mental Health Agencies, Inc., Mercerville, New Jersey. Email: [email protected]

High-quality professional development opportunities delivered in many formats. The thirst for ongoing professional development is growing, and if your organization can be the leader in quenching that thirst, you will gain new members. In this new age that means high-quality, current, and relevant topics delivered through podcasts, webinars, archived programs, or in person where appropriate, which will result in substantial growth in members.

John D.V. Hoyles, CEO, Canadian Bar Association, Ottawa, Ontario. Email: [email protected]

When a candidate passes the CPA exam we congratulate them and give them a year of membership for free. That takes away the questions and reasons that can delay the decision to join. Over the course of the free membership we make contact with the candidate about the value of membership at least four times. This strategy has worked well for us, accelerating the speed with which we bring new CPAs into the membership and increasing the capture rate on renewals.

J. Clarke Price, CAE, president and CEO, Ohio Society of CPAs, Dublin, Ohio. Email: [email protected]

Our most powerful member-recruitment tools are the member services the organization provides. These services attract members and sustain members.

Mary Riemersma, CAE, executive director, California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, San Diego, California. Email: [email protected]