Three More Innovation Stars

Easy-access data in real time, a for-profit R&D subsidiary, and nationwide member "town hall" meetings. Get to know three more of the nominees for our Innovation Stars issue.

Easy-Access Data in Real Time

Tom Morrison
Metal Treating Institute

How it happened: When Tom Morrison returned to association management in 2005 after a three-year hiatus, he noticed something: The emergence of new technologies was allowing members to do for themselves many things that associations had previously done for them in the form of member benefits.

As the new CEO of the Metal Treating Institute, Morrison saw an association fighting to continue to offer those same benefits while membership and revenue declined. When he showed MTI's board of directors a graph depicting the downward trend, it became obvious that something needed to change.

At one of his first strategic planning sessions with MTI, Morrison asked the board to go back to the basics: giving members what they needed. The association began to look at problems members were having trouble solving for themselves or things they couldn't do cost-effectively.

The results: The analysis led to a couple of major changes. MTI moved all of its technical training to the web and created an online benchmarking tool that gives members real-time financial data to help them make smart management decisions—initiatives that have helped MTI increase its net worth tenfold over the past seven years.

The key idea: "We haven't developed any wild new benefit," Morrison says. "We are figuring out what our members need and helping them do it cost-effectively."

—Rob Stott

A For-Profit R&D Subsidiary

Mark Nelson, CAE
Chief Information Officer and Vice President, NACS Media Solutions
National Association of College Stores

How it happened: With the ever-shifting landscape of the industry it represents—in which the traditional brick-and-mortar business model has been upended by the internet—the National Association of College Stores realized the need to understand and get ahead of the curve on emerging technologies.

The association responded by creating NACS Media Solutions (NMS), a for-profit subsidiary that supports members in the development of emerging technologies in content delivery and the retail industry.

The process has three stages: discovery, where a technology is examined to determine if it is of value to the industry; incubation, where the technologies that showed promise are tested; and acceleration, which involves putting a proven technology on the market and promoting its adoption throughout the industry.

The results: Mark Nelson, CAE, who heads the initiative, has used the R&D unit to create a "failure-tolerant" culture, all while improving the time to market for industry innovations.

"We've certainly had failures along the way, but that's part of the learning process. And I think for us, we manage innovation, and we manage failure," he says.

The key idea: NACS Media Solutions "has opened up an opportunity for us to have a lot more engagement at many different levels," Nelson says. "There are members who are coming forward saying, 'We have interest in that technology, what can we learn from you?'"

—Rob Stott

Member Town "Town Hall" Meetings Across the Country

Gary Vigil
Director of Membership
Specialty Equipment Market Association

How it happened: After receiving lower-than-expected customer service scores on its annual member satisfaction survey, the Specialty Equipment Market Association wanted to fix the perception that it wasn't listening to its members.

To reconnect with its constituents at the grassroots level, SEMA's director of membership, Gary Vigil, spearheaded a "town hall" series, which helped establish a platform for members to directly interact with some of SEMA's staff leadership. So far, the organization has hosted seven town hall meetings at member facilities throughout the country. Each features a Q&A format, where members can ask questions of a SEMA executive.

The results: Attendance at the meetings has averaged about 100 members, well above the 40 to 50 SEMA originally targeted when developing the series. True to its purpose, the series has sparked an increase in the organization's customer-service and membership-satisfaction scores by eight to 12 points, and SEMA credits the program with raising member-retention rates.

The key idea: "It's extremely valuable to meet face to face with your members and give them an opportunity to voice their concerns to the leadership of your organization," Vigil says.

—Katie Bascuas