by Lisa Grimaldi | August 01, 2010
9 Ways to Be Global

When is an association truly global in nature? Terrance Barkan, CAE, founder of association consulting firm GlobalStrat, says global organizations should meet the following criteria:

1. The organization has a meaningful presence in each major region of the world, e.g., on each continent (except Antarctica) and the major sub-regions such as the Middle East.

2. The organization appears "borderless" to members, and the location of its headquarters should not be immediately obvious.

3. The organization has strong local or regional relevance to members.

4. The organization maintains universal core values and an agreed-upon body of knowledge or core intellectual property that is intelligently and appropriately modified as necessary and relevant for regional or national requirements. For example, if the organization offers a certification or credential, it should be recognized globally but still comply with local law and practice (language, currency, time formats, etc.).

5. The organization does not derive more than 50 percent of its gross revenues from any one single country or market.

6. The governance structure reflects a broad geographic spread in the leadership teams.

7. The leadership thinks constantly about how decisions will affect the entire membership, regardless of where they are located.

8. Staff and leaders travel to the association's different chapters and regions to show members of the global community that they are respected and valued.

9. Communication systems and practices help support global collaboration. Among related considerations:

    > Phone numbers: Use country codes, delete unnecessary local codes when applicable.
    > Dates: Use 11 June 2010 instead of 06/11/10.
    > Time: Use military time (e.g., 23:00 instead of 11 p.m.).
    > Written material: Use brief, uncomplicated sentences devoid of jargon and political or sports references not universally understood.

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Like most segments of American business, that niche of nonprofit entities known as associations continues to suffer the effects of a sluggish economy. According to a survey of association executives conducted earlier this year by ASAE (formerly known as ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership), more than a third of respondents anticipated their organizations' total revenues would decrease in 2010; more than half thought the economy would lead to a decrease in membership revenues, and 44 percent expected a drop in attendance at their largest meeting.

In lieu of such dire projections, what's an association to do?

"The real area for growth for mature U.S.-based associations is overseas," says Terrance Barkan, CAE, founder & CEO of GlobalStrat, an Alexandria, Va.-based firm that develops international strategic plans for groups. "Some economies, like those of Brazil and India, continued to grow throughout the recession in North America and can offer a huge amount of opportunity."
While the benefits are tantalizing, extending a group's reach over long distances and multiple time zones is a complex process involving a thoughtful strategy, a lot of patience and challenging logistics. Following, industry pros offer tips and insights on going global.

Plotting a strategy Expanding internationally is "an intricate process that will be different for every organization," notes Kevin Baliozian, a director at Chicago-based association management firm Smith Bucklin. But proceeding carefully and making sure growth will fit the association's mission and strategic plan are musts for any group.

There are many compelling reasons for organizations to consider reaching beyond U.S. borders, the most obvious being financial: By increasing members, associations can collect more dues. But global expansion can provide other ways to boost the bottom line. "It's about seeing value, not just in members, but in other nondues revenue sources that may be tapped out domestically -- ads, meeting registration and trade shows," says Carolyn Lugbill, CAE, president of Going Global Matters, a Fairfax, Va.-based consulting firm for international associations.

International expansion also can increase a professional society's prestige and brand, notes John Graham, CAE, president and CEO of ASAE. Associations, typically in the fields of medicine, science and engineering, publish scholarly journals and seek input from top professionals from around the globe. For example, fully 70 percent of the members of the Chicago-based International Bone and Mineral Society are from outside the United States.

Another lure for expansion: Many organizations offer industry-specific training and certification programs that demonstrate proficiency in a field and are recognized internationally. These credentials have a natural market overseas, particularly in developing countries, says Graham. The Newtown Square, Pa.-based Project Management Institute, for example, offers five certifications, including the PMP (Project Management Professional), which have been earned by PMI members from 185 countries. Similarly, Site, the Chicago-based association for incentive travel professionals, offers the CITE (Certified Incentive Travel Executive), which has been achieved by members as widespread as Kenya, Portugal, Germany and Guatemala.