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The future of associations is what you would expect the CEO of the association community's professional society to look out for and protect, and by anyone's reckoning, John H. Graham IV, CAE, is doing a stellar job.
This is why the CEO of ASAE: the Center for Association Leadership is the TRENDS 2013 Association Executive of the Year.
"John is welcomed into a distinguished roster of Association Executives of the Year, and for a host of reasons,” TRENDS Publisher Joel Poznansky said. “Not only has he managed two major associations very successfully in good times and difficult times, but more recently, he has continued to keep his staff safe and productive and to serve well the wider association community during this latest challenging recession."
He is the third CEO of ASAE to garner the honor, following James P. Low, CAE, the first TRENDS Executive of the Year (1980) and Bill Taylor, CAE (1996).
Graham has led ASAE since 2003. In 2010 he assumed the role of CEO of the ASAE Foundation, following a reorganization and name change for the ASAE's research and the leadership arm.
Before ASAE, he was at the American Diabetes Association, Alexandria, Va., for 24 years, the last 13 as CEO. Other ADA positions include executive director of the Greater Philadelphia affiliate, national director of affiliate development, associate EVP for operations and deputy EVP.
While Graham was ADA CEO, the organization grew from $50 million to $200 million in annual revenues, and he organized 51independent, separately incorporated affiliate organizations into one national organization. Earlier in his career, Graham worked at the Boy Scouts of America for nine years.
In August, he became chairman of the Better Business Bureau Mobile Giving Foundation. He is also a member of the U.S. Chamber's Association Committee of 100, and is a board member for America’s Promise and Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity. He also served in volunteer leadership positions at the Convention Industry Council.
He earned a bachelor’s degree from Franklin & Marshall College. He is married to Eileen, and they have a son, John H. Graham V, and a daughter, Kelly Campbell.
Among the milestones under his leadership at ASAE is the merger with the former Greater Washington Society of Association Executives in 2004, not quite a year after he became ASAE CEO. The surviving organization of GWSAE was the Center for Association Leadership, which became ASAE's research arm. In 2010, ASAE reorganized the Center into the ASAE Foundation, and the name "Center for Association Leadership" became part of ASAE's brand.
An early idea of bringing the state societies of association executives under the ASAE umbrella – as he did at ADA – didn't come to fruition, but Graham said ASAE partnerships with the state societies are stronger today, especially with the Association Forum of Chicagoland. Also, ASAE maintains the Greater Washington Network, a regional division for association professionals in the DC metropolitan area.
Under Graham, ASAE today has more than 22,000 members representing nearly 11,000 organizations in the U.S. and abroad, with a budget of $35 million and a staff of 135.
The future and the now
Two issues Graham sees as of concern to the association community today include "the discussion around the tax code," including possible changes to UBIT and the charitable deduction. He also is concerned about healthcare reform and its effect on associations. He wants to ensure that ASAE members are informed about their options, especially as the Jan. 1, 2014 deadline approaches for states to have exchanges in place.
But what he sees as a "game changer" for associations is mobile technology and how it is affecting the way members interact with their associations.
"It will require us or any association to dramatically enhance our knowledge," he said. That means not only offering the association's content, but also aggregating information from third parties in a way that is easily searchable and accessible for the members 24/7. ASAE has already begun to take steps in this direction.
Technology also has changed the way executives react to developments, he said. The speed of technology and "the 24/7 news cycle" has forced association executives more so than in the past 25 years to be at the ready to react, be it to an internal board question, a critical comment made in public, or an industry-wide issue.
Indeed, protecting the association community on Capitol Hill is an area for ASAE Graham points to that has grown under his leadership.
"Prior to [the Jack Abramoff scandal] we didn't have many legislative issues that galvanized the community," he said.
But the nonprofit and association communities came together over lobbying and tax reform efforts in the past few years, he said. The more recent issue of banning government employees from attending association meetings is another issue he and ASAE have taken up.
"With the new Congress and administration we are looking to dramatically ramp up communication, to let them know [associations] are the leading provider of adult education, that we set industry standards, and are a fundamental pillar in the quality of life we enjoy in this country," he said.
Graham will be honored at the TRENDS Salute to Association Excellence, Feb. 15 at the Capital Hilton in Washington, along with David Giger, Partner of the Year, the Young & Aspiring Association Professionals and winners of the TRENDS All Media Contest. Details: www.Association TRENDS.com/salute.