As Association Executives, we understand how important data is to achieving mission success, whether it shows that we have fulfilled our mission, or it shows us where we are lacking. But just as important as our data is our approach to reporting it. Below I illustrate how you should approach reporting the data for your organization and share with you my experiences
that have helped develop my philosophy.
In my first encounter with Dr. Carl Mack, a colleague, mentor, and man that I’ve learned so much from in my professional career, I watched him present his rousing argument for reparations for the descendants of the victims of slavery in America. He capped off his argument with the following slide showing his calculation for what the US would owe this sector of its citizens.
You may want to argue the merits of the numbers presented in this slide (and we can do that if you desire), but in the context of this article, what’s important is that $0.16 which he effectively scrolled onto the slide a few seconds after the slide was presented!
Flash forward a couple of years, and I received the opportunity to work with Dr. Mack, as he became the Executive Director of the organization where his presentation took place and I would join its Membership Department. It was here that I saw his philosophy that was encompassed in the calculation slide take shape. As our leader, he demanded that the staff provide precise data points, down to the decimal point if necessary. Rounding (up or down), fudging the numbers, or hiding them because they made us look bad was unacceptable! What he was teaching us to do was to “face the facts” no matter how they made us look. We didn’t fix data in our favor, promote false information, make excuses, pass the blame onto others, or run from collecting data points. We accepted the ‘numbers’ as they were, then addressed them directly by developing solutions to the issues that led to the data. This was a significant reason why we were very successful during our tenure with the organization, doubling its membership from 15K to over 30K, exploding our visibility, smashing our sponsorship & revenue goals, and achieving $0 debt for multiple years! (A feat that is rarely reached by any organization or company!)
Contrast Dr. Mack’s approach to data with the US President’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Forgive me for getting political here.) The President spent the first month of the virus being in the US calling it a hoax and telling America that it will magically go away. He tried comparing the coronavirus to the flu virus in terms of the number of deaths. When the corona numbers blew the flu out of the water, he began throwing out bogus numbers like “2.2 million deaths” to try to make the real number of COVID-19 deaths seem good by comparison. He tells the American people that “everyone that wants a test can get the test” a day after the Vice President says that we don’t have enough tests in America. He spends his time trying to run a PR campaign instead of solving the problem. In fact, he counteracts the proposed solutions of his own administration! Instead of helping states get the equipment they need to fight the disease, he tells them to get it on their own, forcing the states to compete against each other. Then he tries to force states to reopen their economies even though they have not hit the guidelines that his administration has set for them. The results have been disastrous in America! As I write this article, America leads the planet by a wide margin with 2,085,769 COVID-19 cases and 115,644 deaths! (According to the CDC as of June 15, 2020, 12:34 PM)
So, what’s the lesson here? “The first step to solving a problem is admitting that you have one.” – I’m pretty sure we’ve all heard this quote, but it rings true in associations as well. Reporting our data is how we admit the problem that our mission statement seeks to solve. If we aren’t willing to candidly report our data and begin to actually solve that problem, why should we be trusted with our organization’s mission? I’ve shared an example of an enormously great approach to reporting your data, illustrated by my time working with my mentor Dr. Mack and the approach that he promoted as our leader. I’ve also shared an outrageously bad example, manifested in the President’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which can be summed up with his quote “If we didn't do any testing, we would have very few cases.” This quote captures his desire to run from collecting the data succinctly.
If you’ve read this far, I want to say THANK YOU! This is surely my longest article to date. As you can probably tell with this one, I am finding ways to express my frustration with the state of our current affairs. I am also trying to find the lessons in this chaos and tie them to my work so that we all can grow and become better from this. If you gain nothing else from this article, please take away the following statement: The data that you don’t report. . . honestly, openly. . . is the data that you don’t address. The data that you don’t address. . . is the data that dooms you.