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Shelly Alcorn, CAE


Alcorn Associates Management Consulting

Welcome to the Association Executive Hotline. If you need to talk, gain clarity, ask about new trends or just bounce ideas I'm here for you.

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Shelly is a Principal in Alcorn Associates Management Consulting –  She specializes in non-profit trade associations and professional societies. Shelly stands at the intersection of technology, the education-to-employment system and the association of the future. She conducts strategic, leadership and staff retreats, and speaks on critical issues faced by the association community and society.  She is also the creative voice behind The Association Forecast.  Find her on Twitter - @shellyalcorn.

Shelly was formerly the Executive Director of the California Association for the Education of Young Children (CAEYC).  CAEYC is a 501(c)(3) organization with over 10,000 members in California in 37 separately incorporated affiliates.  She was also the Executive Director for the Automotive Service Councils of California (ASCCA), a 501(c)(6) trade organization representing the interests of over 1,200 independently owned automotive repair facilities in California.  In that role she was also responsible for oversight of a for-profit subsidiary and a 501(c)(3) scholarship foundation.

Shelly has spent 25 years in association management with such organizations as the California Society of Association Executives (CalSAE), California Automotive Wholesalers' Association (CAWA) and the California Peace Officers' Association (CPOA).  She has extensive experience in board governance, chapter and component relations, government affairs, communications, membership, educational program design and the execution of conferences, meetings and events.  Previously, Shelly owned and operated her own consulting practice that provided government affairs, ballot initiative campaign work, website design and grass roots lobbying program development for small associations.  She holds the CAE (Certified Association Executive) designation from the American Society of Association Executives.




American Society of Association Executives
5/1/2018 10:50:21 AM,
Shelly Alcorn, CAE replied:


So many students are being locked out of higher education due to increasing costs and tuition that is completely out of control. Average student load is $37,000 and total student debt in the United States has surpassed 1.4 trillion (yes with a "t") dollars which is larger than the housing bubble when it burst in 2007/2008.

Moreover, it is hard to know what will be the best educational path to take to find meaningful work, especially with the rise of artificial intelligence.

Your association, if it is clear about student pathways, can certify and credential both hard and soft skills, and attain employer acceptance (and since your members are both employers and currently employed and up on what it takes to succeed) you can provide young people with the fast-track to a career. Do not sell yourselves short. We have a lot of work to do.

1/8/2018 8:23:31 AM,
Shelly Alcorn, CAE replied:

Our biggest challenges continue to center on how we learn about, interpret, internalize and then take action on the technological disruptions our members are going to face in the next few years. The rise of artificial intelligence is coming faster than experts can even predict and every few months AI breaks another barrier that was supposed to be "years away." Our relationships with each other and learning how to be more human in an increasingly machine facilitated world is no longer a nice to have, it's a must.

1/26/2017 12:12:47 PM,
Shelly Alcorn, CAE replied:
No more nor less effect than on anything else...

Please feel free to contact me offline if you would like to know more...
1/25/2017 7:46:54 PM,
Shelly Alcorn, CAE replied:
The "fundamentals" won't necessarily change. People still need to meet with people who share their concerns and interests. They need to network for employment (especially if their industries and professions disappear due to the rise of artificial intelligence - you should read "The Future of the Professions" by Richard Susskind and Daniel Susskind as well as "The Future of Business: Critical Insights into a Rapidly Changing World" edited by Rohit Talwar and read them NOW!!!). They need education and tools to make them better at their jobs or that will give them the skills they need to lateral up or out to get jobs that still exist. We will still need to represent our industries and professions to legislative and regulatory bodies.

That being said - I think associations will have to radically change their aversion to new technology. They will have to let go of a lot of the hierarchy and control and move to more holocratic systems. I think associations should begin to really up their ethics game in terms of whether the activities they pursue are for the betterment of people and the planet. Associations will have to collaborate in their industry or sector verticals, but also across horizontals as they begin to realize they are all part of one, large eco-system and if humanity is going to make it we have to develop new ways of judging the impacts we have on others and share limited resources. I hope we decide, once and for all, that legislation is not a zero sum game and that compromise for the health of a civil society is necessary. Last but not least, I hope associations in 2030 up their game in terms of elevating their consciousness. My hope is, over the next few years, that we begin to apply spiral dynamics in a disciplined way so we can act integrally, with more kindness and more awareness of the impact we have on others.
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1/25/2017 7:34:31 PM,
Shelly Alcorn, CAE replied:
Whooops....I guess when we said ask me anything, we didn't take into account that I can't answer everything. :D

So, let me shake the Magic 8 ball here - the answer is "reply hazy." Well, that's not particularly helpful, eh? :D

Seriously though, if I were king for a day, running a mid-sized software company successfully in North American and EMEA is one thing. Heading into Asia PAC, I would start with a partner who was intimately familiar with the customs, culture and markets you will be dealing with. But that is really a "throw a dart" answer and I wish you the very best. :)

Thanks for challenging me! ;)
1/25/2017 7:23:38 PM,
Shelly Alcorn, CAE replied:
Yes. Associations exist to serve groups of individuals who are involved in specific vocational and avocational activities. As long as you reside in a democratic society, employment still exists (the rise of automation notwithstanding) and/or hobbies and social causes of importance exist as well - you will find "associations" forming. Even if we stop calling them "associations' the functions will remain. People are still fundamentally people and we have been gathering in groups to discuss matters of interest since we began to use language. (I am certain there were a few folks sitting around a campfire back near the beginning of history discussing where to find the best wildebeast and which rocks make the best stone tools.)

I'm not saying the next few years will be easy. Those associations who cannot seem to adjust to the wave of artificial intelligence that is about to break over us, or who fail to find their footing in a world that is rapidly advancing will fall by the wayside. (Every association should read Kevin Kelly's new book: The Inevitable - Understanding the Twelve Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future.) For each association that does fly into the mountain - another one will arise a few years later that will be on a better, more innovative footing to carry on. (That is - as long as we live in a democratic society that holds the First Amendment sacrosanct).

If you really want to get in-depth as to what the sociological underpinnings of associations are, I recommend reading Human Ecology by Amos Hawley. It's dense but it provides a comprehensive look at how social groups naturally form as long as the societal conditions exist that allow them to. Take heart - associations will actually "look" the same (networking and education are the keys) but how they communicate and deliver services will be very, very different. Virtual reality anyone?
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1/25/2017 7:05:17 PM,
Shelly Alcorn, CAE replied:
Short answer: I fell into it and couldn't find my way back out. :)

Long answer: I fell in love with the history of associations and the good work most of them do on behalf of individuals and society. I love the fact that we are the embodiment of the First Amendment of our US Constitution. I love how associations establish community - power to the people. I love how we give our people a voice in government affairs. I love to see how the different industries and professions fit together and relate to each other in our larger societal sphere. I want to see every kid get a shot at a great education and I love how associations provide career tracks and certification program for people who may not have access to (or maybe can't find industry specific education in) college. We are the original edupunks....time for us to roar!
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1/25/2017 6:55:38 PM,
Shelly Alcorn, CAE replied:
Top three things associations can do to provide an exceptional member experience:

1). Do NOT treat your member like a customer. Yes, you should provide excellent customer service but you need to think of your member as a partner. An engaged co-creator in this experience. Instead of just shoveling things at them to buy, ask them what they want to achieve. It isn't a matter of "what can I do for you" as much as "what can I help YOU do?"

2). Big vision. Your board and volunteers should establish a big, life-changing, world-changing vision and then swing for the fences. Every. Single. Time.

3). All the member loyalty you will ever need is if your members can say, "My association helped me find a job, keep a job and get a better job." Full stop.
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1/25/2017 6:49:37 PM,
Shelly Alcorn, CAE replied:
Gamification gets a bad rap. The fact is, we are all gamers and we are surrounded by gaming systems in our daily lives, we just don't call them games. For example, the educational system has rules, tasks, boss fights (exams), rewards (diplomas), teammates (classmates). Gaming systems are so embedded that we don't even see them for what they are.

So, yes. Gamification can definitely work in the association setting. We do it now, but again - we don't call it gamification. For example, if you see your members fighting over badge ribbons at your conference that is how we "level up" from "new member" to "board member." (Willis Turner, CAE and I wrote a book on this available on - "42 Rules for Engaging Members Through Gamification - Unlock the Secrets of Motivation, Community and Fun")

One of my favorite examples of gamification is gamifying your strategic plan. For each key result area (membership, government affairs, etc.) you set up three levels of tasks - Bronze Level - the bare minimum of objectives to accomplish to have a successful year, Silver Level - meeting all of the objectives in Bronze and then some and Gold Level - what stretch goals that your board could achieve if they had a fantastically successful year. Then you assign points to each level and maybe some rewards along the way. It's a way to make board service a little more interesting and also provide the Board with feedback as to how they are doing on meeting their goals for the year. If you want a sample template - please shoot me an email at For more information on gaming - please feel free to visit my gamification page on the Association Forecast for more resources.
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1/25/2017 6:39:47 PM,
Shelly Alcorn, CAE replied:
Yes, it absolutely does. Although most associations are similar to each other functionally (i.e., they usually provide membership, social networking and professional development programming, etc.) that is where the similarities end. After that, each association I work with has a completely different culture and temperament. They are all microcosms of the larger society around us. The industry or profession they are employed in has a great deal of influence over the types of mental models and thinking processes they exhibit. For example, business owners tend to be more used to delegating tasks to staff whereas private practitioners tend to want to "do things themselves." Those are, of course, generalizations and certainly not universally applicable. They are just two examples of larger perspectives that need to be taken into account from the beginning to the end of the process.

This is one of the reasons why I heavily depend on collaboration with association staff and key volunteers to give me clues as to "who" I'm working with before I can develop an agenda. One size does not fit all and although I "mix and match" a lot of activities, I invariably end up customizing every agenda for every retreat that I do. Some associations like louder activities, some softer. Some volunteer groups are more introverted, some more gregarious. Some groups seem to naturally engage in conflict, some in consensus. The trick is trying to come in with an approach that has the best chance of working, and then being willing to throw it out the door and do something on the fly if it isn't working. That is also one of the best parts of the job and keeps it interesting.
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