The Enormous Value of Being a Day 1 Association


Have you heard about Day 1 and Day 2 framework? I had not until JP Guilbault CEO of YourMembership mentioned it at the company’s recent conference. A few days later my Dad sent me a copy of the first pages of Amazon’s 2016 year-end annual report which is a letter from the company’s CEO to shareholders. I find the letter fascinating on many levels, when you have 15 minutes, I highly recommend reading it to learn about the Day 1 and Day 2 mindsets.

Day 1 is the term that Jeff Bezos uses for an organization’s startup and growth phases. He talks about “Day 1 vitality” which I assume he means when organizations are delivering to their customers’ much needed great value. Day 2 is the spiral of decline. He says, “Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death.” Yikes!

So where are most associations? Teetering between Day 1 and Day 2? Or are most of us solidly on Day 2? Where is your association? And if most of us are on Day 2 how do we get back to Day 1?

Mr. Bezos puts forth four essentials for the Day 1 business, and if I had to prioritize these, I would focus initially on just two for most associations. True customer (member) obsession and high-velocity decision making are the most critical but also the most difficult for associations.

Think about your members. Think about your best members. Not board members but regular members who are highly engaged. They come to the conference. They spend time on the website. They read emails. They attend webinars. What do you know about them? Do you know why they joined? Really? Do you know why they renew? (It’s not just for the professional development and networking). Do you know what they are struggling with right now? Do you know what they have been struggling with for a long time? Do you know what they will be struggling with three years from now? It is Day 1 for the associations who know the answers to these questions.

Let us say we know the answers to these questions. Now we can act on that information. We can change the organization’s strategy. We can develop offerings members love. We can attract high-quality members with our improved marketing. But, we can only do this when we employ high-velocity decision making. And this is going to be a tough one for some associations for two reasons. The board structure in some associations slooooowwwwssss decision making. And we are nice. We like consensus.

In our Association Leadership Benchmarking Study, we found that some associations had far more autonomy from the board than others. High-functioning boards empowered high-functioning CEOs to make many decisions themselves. Quick decision making will always be tough on associations whose boards want to be involved in the tactics, and this will keep them firmly on Day 2.

Another behavior that enables quick decision making is using the phrase “disagree and commit.” In essence, team members use this mindset, “I do not agree that this is the right direction. But, you think it is important, so I am not going to hold up the project’s progress. Go. Let’s see what happens. I do hope it is successful.” Just think about what it takes to adopt this mindset. And think about the message it sends to the staff and board.

If you are thinking “oh no, we are a Day 2 association” we can explore ways to get the organization firmly back to Day 1.

Amanda Kaiser is a qualitative researcher for the association industry. She has completed 332 in-depth member interviews, that’s nearly two straight months of talking with members. Through these meaningful conversations with members, she learned how to move certain types, most types, of associations back to Day 1. You can find her at and on Twitter @SmoothThePath

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