Don’t be an Association Hoarder: Use Professional Organizer Techniques to Revamp Your Programs

By: John Ricco, CAE 

Boxes.  In the association world, we know boxes – literally and figuratively.  We check them off our to-do lists; we’re encouraged to “think outside” them; and we pack them full for conventions and meetings.  The problem with association hoarders is that we often times hold those boxes (both the literal and figurative ones) as sacred objects not to be moved, touched or heaven forbid – tossed.  Do not be afraid to hoist your boxes overhead and with a casual tilt, dump the contents for a fresh perspective on your organization’s programs and services.

Professional organizers (yes, there is such a thing, and of course, they have their own association) tell us that the best way get organized and obtain a clear train of thought is to start anew.  We’ve all seen an episode (or ten) of the Hoarding television show where the unsuspecting hoarder is thrust into an intervention where family, friends and professionals attempt to convince them to let go of a house full of plastic tubs of expired grocery coupons , garage sale “treasures” and the like.  In these extreme cases, the organizers try to convince the hoarder to remove everything from the house and then decide what is important enough to go back in.

Consider trying the same approach with your association’s programs and services.  We recently did this with one of our association clients with fantastic success. The group’s convention had gotten stale, something was missing.  We overhauled the event by dumping the box out and started fresh.  The process is basic but complex at the same time. How do you go about it? Using a convention as an example:

1) Identify:

  • The “MUST haves” (education and networking)

    Photo: Baitong333 @
    Photo: Baitong333 @
  • The “LIKE to haves” (that $30,000 ultra-luxe up-lit evening networking lounge)
  • The dumpster items (the ice sculpture “vodka luge”)

2) Determine where the “MUST haves” will go back in your box.

3) See what room is left for the “LIKE to haves”.

4) Throw the rest in the dumpster.

5) Get buy-in from the appropriate stakeholders.  

With a good deal of apprehension and uncertainty, we changed our date patterns, nixed receptions, added luncheons, turned the schedule on its head and added new, fun networking events – all with the goal of increasing the experience for “regular” attendees and exhibitors.   The end result was rave reviews from all attendees (except for one or two people – you know who they are).  Most first-time attendees said “sign me up for next year.”  Exactly what association pros want to hear.

We are now using the same approach for another group that has been experiencing lackluster performance with their affinity programs.  We are in the process of identifying:

  • The “MUST haves” (what products do the members absolutely need for their business to succeed?)
  • The “LIKE to haves” (are there “cutting edge” or new products they don’t yet know they need?)
  • The dumpster items (what programs have run their course and no longer deliver value?)

We’ll then go through same steps 2- 5 above – we expect results similar to those we experienced with the convention.

There has been much discussion over the past few years regarding the relevance of associations and the future of associations in today’s work and professional climate.  Hoarders will not survive.

Don’t wait for the camera crew and intervention team.  Don’t be an association hoarder!


3 thoughts on “Don’t be an Association Hoarder: Use Professional Organizer Techniques to Revamp Your Programs

  1. As the Executive Director of the National Association of Professional Organizers, (NAPO), I love your article. As a 35-year veteran of the association management profession, I embrace your message. Sometimes, it’s just time to clean house!

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