.orgCommunity Leadership ColLAB Gets to the HEART of Technology


There’s always a magnet for attention in the room–that individual surrounded by a group of eager listeners. Have you ever wondered what spark makes them special?

Some people just understand how to click with others. They’re good at social skills like listening, empathy, and finding common ground.

The same concept applies to organizations. The associations that capture an audience and keep them coming back for more, are the groups that connect with their members. They are the teams that understand how to humanize business.

At .orgCommunity’s March 13 Leadership ColLAB, the group discussed how to use technology to put HEART into our relationships with our members, staff, and constituents. HEART is a concept I’ve been developing over the last six months. I was thrilled to share my ideas with a group of savvy association professionals.

The acronym describes qualities that guided me to the other side of an extreme personal disruption. The letters stand for Humanize, Empower, Ascend, Reimagine, and Transform.

The Heartfelt Journey

HEART supported my personal journey through change, and it can also help organizations manage and succeed in unpredictable digital markets. Here’s a brief explanation of each of the HEART values.


Kevin Ordonez, President and Managing Director, .orgSource, and I at the ColLAB.

Humanize—Ensure that digital initiatives enhance personal connections. HEART-centered leaders value the personalities behind the data and the screens. They prioritize the individual needs at the center of every digital strategy.

Empower—Provide staff, volunteers, and members with the skills and motivation to realize their potential as a team, an organization, and individuals.

Ascend—Rise above traditional limitations. Leverage technology to break new ground and set new benchmarks for what your organization can achieve. Embrace a visionary approach that anticipates future trends and challenges.

Reimagine—Use digital tools and platforms to create new value propositions, redefine customer experiences, and anticipate the needs of tomorrow.

Transform—Make profound, mission-driven changes that align with your core values and adapt to the digital world. Leverage technology to rethink business models and operational processes.

Sharon Rice, .orgSource Managing Director of Business Strategy, set the stage for a world café style discussion centered on building the qualities of HEART into our organizations and their futures. To jump start the conversation, she offered these thought-provoking observations about how associations are positioned today and how they might approach the future differently.

A Pivotal Choice

“Sherry began her presentation with an idea that resonated deeply with me,” Sharon advised. “Sherry said, ‘Imagine a world where every digital breakthrough and every innovation doesn’t just push the boundaries of possibility. What if with each discovery, we grew closer as a community, stronger as leaders, and more human as organizations? This ideal does not have to be a fantasy or wishful thinking. It is a reality we can create.’

“This statement is profound, especially in the context of our new relationship with AI. The HEART framework provides insight into how to improve performance by implementing innovative technologies and by leveraging those skills to create a human culture that advances us as association professionals and, ultimately, as a society.

“AI is a superpower. It mimics human thought patterns and gives us access to vast amounts of usable content that we haven’t previously been able to corral. In fact, AI is probably the most transformative technology in the history of humanity. And we’re still at the very beginning of this journey!

Sharon Rice chats with a ColLAB participant.

“How we incorporate this unique ability into our organizations is critically important. Most of us are wondering how AI will impact the future of work and our own professions. What is significant about this moment in time is that we can choose. We can decide what experiences and relationships to create.

“The qualities of HEART point us toward augmenting our technology with humanity rather than allowing technology to minimize the human perspective. By empowering ourselves and our teams we can ascend, reimagine, and transform our professions and our lives. We can do this in a context that makes us stronger as a culture.

“Over the last 20-plus years, associations have been churning out products. I fear that the relentless focus on retail and sales has diminished organizational trust. Members, instead of thinking about their association as a professional home, see it as a storefront.

“The HEART framework turns attention back to community building. It asks us to point our intention and our technology in the direction of creating stronger relationships, collaborations, and partnerships. Of course, we want to continue giving members the resources and products they need for success, but those offerings must be tied to the greater goal of providing that spark that makes us irresistible—the connection that says we are your people. You have found your tribe.”

The World Café

The World Café is a format designed to deeply explore a series of topical questions. Participants are divided into tables of eight to 10 people. Groups discussed the same question simultaneously, then switched tables to discuss the next question. The ColLAB considered the following issues.

  • How does technology impact the human experience within your organization and for your customers?
  • Are there opportunities to make technology initiatives more personal, meaningful, or engaging?
  • How can associations foster an environment where team members feel valued and confident in their ability to contribute?
  • What steps can our industry take to encourage problems solving.
    Participants in the World Cafe.
  • What aspects of the association industry are ripe for reimagining?
  • How can we use technology to envision and create a future that differs from today, meeting unanticipated needs and seizing new opportunities?

As you can imagine, the discussion was lively, far-reaching, and challenging to consolidate in a single post. The following ideas are a sample of the talking points.

The groups discussed strategies for—

  • Balancing personalized service with technology. For example, how to know when a Chatbot is appropriate and when a human can be more effective or how to make an automated email feel like a personal invitation.
  • Leveraging AI as an assistant rather than a replacement for humans.
  • Differentiating expert association content from web chatter.
  • Introducing experimentation and providing support and learning from unsuccessful efforts.
  • Managing risk and balancing innovation with operations.
  • The need for associations to reimagine themselves in light of changing behavior and audiences.
  • Empowering association staff to contribute at their full potential along with the importance of cultural buy-in and executive team support.
  • Having the courage and flexibility to try new technology and do things differently.
  • Using volunteer committees to reinforce the organization’s tone and culture, with monthly sharing of accomplishments.

.orgCommunity has a reputation for looking ahead of trends and engaging association professionals in exploring complex ideas. The ColLAB was a great example of that format. If you want to discover the unique flavor of our dialogue, join the Solutions Day event on September 18.

If you are curious about the HEART framework and want to learn more, book time on my calendar for a personal introduction. I would love to share my ideas for using technology to give your organization that special spark that makes people connect with your mission, engage with your activities, and implicitly trust your expertise.

Position Your Organization For Success

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