December 17, 2017
    Extraordinary Executives: Meet Brandon Robinson and Scot McRoberts

    Leading Virginia association execs to the next level


    Scot McRoberts and Brandon Robinson

    Brandon Robinson, CAE, took over managing the Virginia Society of Association Executives for Eisenman & Associates in 2015. Since then he has made noticeable strides to reinvigorate VSAE. Robinson credits his chairmen, including the 2017 VSAE chairman Scot McRoberts, executive director of the Virginia Council of CEOs. McRoberts has spent his career in associations, but his and Robinson’s forward-thinking is taking VSAE to the next level. They shared their insights on the society's burgeoning future.

    How is Virginia Society of Association Executives changing to meet the challenges of a new type of member, not just millennial and Gen Z, but a member of any generation who has become used to the a la carte approach to buying things and questions why pay for full membership?

    One of the biggest things VSAE has done is realize that not everyone wants to connect or learn in the same fashion. So, we are constantly looking for innovative ways to deliver on our mission, which is association professionals: connecting, learning, leading. This means we have looked for different ways to connect members, to educate members, and to have members provide leadership to VSAE and each other. Specifically, it has meant constantly evolving our educational events to include more peer learning, more experiential learning, and not just the same old networking events.

    What are some of the new things that you’re doing that signify a new or at least a changing-with-the-times VSAE?

    Scot: First, we rebranded the organization back in 2015, an effort I helped lead as a member of the board. Second, we have an executive director in Brandon, with new ideas and new energy to lead us into the future. Third, as a board we maintain an attitude of constant evolution. I do not think I have heard the phrase, “we’ve always done it this way,” during a board meeting. So, it’s not necessarily one thing, but a constant evolution that helps us stay relevant to our members and the association community in Virginia.

    What are some things you found that don’t need to be changed? Why do you believe these continue to be a strong point(s) for VSAE?

    Scot: What has not changed is the underlying value proposition for the organization. Instead, we have changed how we deliver on that value proposition. We have always been the “gold standard” in association management for our members. Now, it’s clearly spelled out in the vision and mission, and something we deliberately communicate to members. However, the underlying value proposition and “heart” of the organization has not changed.

    How did or are you going about determining what to change, what to keep, what to try?

    Brandon: In my role as the executive director, I am constantly challenging the board to stay aligned to our vision, mission, and strategy. It seems simplistic and perhaps redundant in practice, though I am constantly asking the question, “does this help us realize our vision or is this part of our mission?” Candidly, I think a laser focus on that enables us to more clearly see what to change, what to keep, and what might be worth trying. As we develop the annual business plan and budget, we are ensuring our programs and activities are aligned back to the overall mission, vision, and strategy.

    What are your goals or benchmarks as an organization? What will signify “success”?

    Brandon: When I go home at the end of the day and VSAE has been a resource for a member to help them be the best at their job, then that’s a good day where we realized our vision. I do not see that as a personal win, though it does feel that way, I see it as a win for the organization. Our vision is to be the best at making our members the best. So, ultimately that is the benchmark upon which we measure ourselves. We do this at events or maybe it was a phone call from a member seeking help with a challenge at their association.

    VSAE is one of the strongest SAEs in the country. Why do you think that is?

    Brandon: First, let me say we are absolutely honored and humbled to even be asked this question. There are some amazing SAEs run by some amazing association professionals across the country. In fact, I regularly call upon many of them for advice and counsel. It is an honor to be considered a colleague, much less a leader. Though to answer your question, I think it is because we have leaders like Scot. Scot pushes VSAE and his fellow board members to be the best and to live out our vision. We mentioned his leadership with the rebranding effort a few years ago culminating in his role as President today. The VSAE board and its membership are full of great leaders like Scot, so if we are a leader among our sister SAEs, it is probably in large part due to the association professionals we count as members.

    Scot, you’ve spent your career in associations. What about association management keeps you in the community, and what is the one biggest change you’ve experienced in the association management field?

    I love this business because people care about what we are doing. Whether a member or a staffer, you are connected to a mission that matters to you and others. Twenty-six years ago I was interviewing for my first association job and I noticed that my future boss did not have a personal computer on his desk. He explained that his assistant had one and that he wouldn’t know how to work it. I made it clear that I would be needing one of those things. Since then, technology has become part of every aspect of our work – totally inseparable. In our small office, there is no IT department. We are all in IT every day.

    Brandon, when you speak to the Gen X/millennial generations about membership in an association, what is your strongest selling point?

    I don’t have a specific approach based on the generation of the potential member. Rather, I simply ask questions about what’s keeping them up at night, and hopefully help steer them towards VSAE programs and services where they might find solutions for their challenges or at a minimum colleagues who might be able to help. VSAE maintains a wide array of programs and services in order to appeal to the variety of members we attract. My goal with any conversation with a prospect is to guide them to what might be relevant to them.

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