Wednesday, April 8, 2009

How Do Nonprofits Change in Lean Times?

Is it possible to imagine an industry harder hit in this environment than the real estate industry? Hardly. So imagine now that you have a double challenge, you are a nonprofit trade association president that serves the real estate industry. I asked the question and Joe Cusumano gave this response. Things I really like: shorter Board meetings that focus on action rather than philosophy; dividing tasks into smaller working groups with an assigned staff person; using technology to reduce travel and paperwork. Bunnie

How Do Nonprofits Change in Lean Times?

by Joe Cusumano, President
Inland Valleys Association of REALTORS® Triple Play

We are three (3) REALTOR® associations in southern California who combine our resources and strategies to provide nearly 20,000 REALTOR® members professional support. We’re called, Triple Play.

The Pacific West Association of REALTORS® (PWR), Inland Valleys Association of REALTORS® (IVAR), and Tri- Counties Association of REALTORS® (TRICO), represent southern Los Angeles, northern Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. In a nutshell, the Triple Play REALTOR® Associations, make up the largest organized representation of REALTORS® in the state of California. And real estate trade associations, as with many others, must run to keep pace with and anticipate member needs in a market-driven profession.

Keeping our board members motivated is especially challenging when we know they are facing tough times in their own firms. It is difficult to ask that they take additional time from their businesses for Association business. So here’s the difficulty for trade associations:

-our volunteer leadership is facing the most difficult time in history in real estate

-they have less time and fewer resources to donate to the efforts of the Associations

-we are more dependent upon staff to provide service to our members

-we have had to dramatically reduce staff

-our members need the support of the Associations more than ever and that support comes from staff

On the surface, this dilemma seems like a cycle of impossibility and a no-win situation for board members, Association executives, staff and members. It’s not.

We have learned to involve our leadership in strategic goal-setting that is tightly focused on member business support. We also have learned that as we create tasks or action items, it is best to divide the tasks into smaller working groups that include a staff person. In this way, we are not creating huge tasks requiring large amounts of board or staff time.

Our Associations have learned to do more with less. We are using technology in place of paper, combined meetings in a location to reduce drive times and we are beginning to also build our capabilities in using technology to replace some in-person meetings to eliminate the use of gasoline and the need to navigate heavy traffic.

I am proud to say that we have also shortened meetings, keeping them tightly focused with attention to action items, and less philosophical discussion. They have become the meetings to attend rather than avoid.

We have become lean and creative during these tough times. As with other organizations, we have had to reduce staff by more than 50% in order to reduce our expenses. It has been tough, but we feel that we have been able to maintain the level of service our members expect.

We must maintain the ability to attract and retain members because REALTORS® in southern California do have a choice of where they hold their trade association memberships.

At the forefront of our strategic planning these days is the creation of increased value for the member dues dollar. We do this by maintaining strong call centers with live operators to help members with technical issues or any other membership-related questions. We also continue to create a large list of vendor/retail relationships in order to bring deep discounts to members’ business needs. We are revamping our education offerings so that their continuing education reflects the current trends in the profession. We communicate each success as we accumulate them. These success stories help us to keep our members aware of our service delivery and keep our board leadership inspired.

For better or for worse, the world of real estate remained constant for about one hundred years and then one day, seemingly without notice, we had to change the way we support members. And our members have had to change their entire business models to meet the needs of the highly internet-educated consumer.

The current market-shift colors everything we do and offer. Our struggle to stay current means we have to keep our eyes on the pulse of the economy, the consuming public and the REALTOR® member who needs our resources in education, political representation and strategic relationships in order to have the maximum opportunity for success. And it all requires an engaged board and professional staff.

contact Joe at


  1. I really like the solutions you guys have implemented to deal with these challenging times Joe. In reading your posting I was reminded of two important quotes from Peter F. Drucker, he said:

    “The starting point is to recognize that change is not a threat. It’s an opportunity.”

    “The most important task of an organization’s leader is to anticipate crisis. Perhaps not to avert it, but to anticipate it…One has to make the organization capable of anticipating the storm, weathering it, and in fact, being ahead of it. That’s called innovation, constant renewal.”

    These two quotes are taking from his book, "Managing the Nonprofit Organization." I discuss these types of challenges more on my blog.

    Thank again!

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