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How does your board think?

March 4, 2013

Whenever I visit a state meeting and talk about how your AOA leadership deals with an issue, everyone’s ears seem to perk up a bit. So let me share some insights and give you an example of how your board thinks.

First, and probably foremost, you should know all AOA Board members are in practice and that is how they support themselves (and no, we aren’t financially supported by the AOA). Also did you know that five of the 11 AOA Board members are also married to optometrists who are in practice as well? Many of those practices are quite different, and some of us are, or have been, on faculty or have practiced in the VA or military and other modes of practice as well. So everything we look at first goes through the filter of 11 practitioners and how it will affect our members in their practices both today and tomorrow.

When we started planning for this year, about a year and a half ago, I was able to lead a meeting that lasted several days where I began with two important realizations: first, the world is changing and membership organizations must change and adapt to be successful; and second, and more important, we agreed that associations become successful by helping their members become successful. So those are our two next filters.

At that meeting we did a comprehensive review of all of our AOA activities, programs, and services. Then we looked at each one’s value to our members. Finally, we looked at what programs to continue, revamp or discontinue. As a result, we made several changes in the AOA structure and volunteer community this year.

The biggest changes occurred in how we communicate, and we focused on making our communications better. First, let me say we realize that communication is a two-way street. So we not only looked at what information we send out and how we send that information out, but more importantly, we looked at strengthening how we listen and take information in. Good communication requires information to flow both ways to be successful. Information flow in either direction is a challenge!

The result of that analysis has been a full revamping of our communications at AOA. Each board member frequently travels to state meetings and other events to visit with our members and listen and learn about what their concerns are and to hear about optometry in their state. The average trustee travels about 90 days a year, while the executive committee hits around 110 days traveling a year and the president hits around 160 or so days a year. Also, each board member holds quarterly calls with all the state leadership. Recently we looked into how we can make those calls more effective – especially focusing on improving the interactions on those calls and listening more than talking.

Additionally, this year we also started quarterly calls between the executive staff of the state and the AOA Affiliate Relations and Membership staff. We appreciate the 75 percent of affiliates that participate on these calls, but I frankly wish we had 100 percent participation – it would help everyone’s communications! In any case, I hope those states know we are trying to reach out and connect.

We also greatly expanded and reorganized our Communications Group, and we now have exceptionally talented volunteers and staff involved with AOA Communications. One of the new committees is the Public Affairs Committee, which is specifically looking at what our message is to the outside world and how we can best deliver that message. One activity this committee focuses on is the public awareness campaign.

Another important new committee is the Association Communications committee. This is a bit of a new concept for the AOA, and this committee looks at AOA print and electronic communications directed to our members with the goal of how we can best communicate with our members. Increasingly, the AOA also tracks open rates of email blasts and looks when and what is the most effective way of communicating. We reduced the number of emails sent out by 18 percent last quarter and increased our open rates by 1 percent.

Another pioneer communications effort is the Publications and Education committee, which evaluates the AOA News, EyeLearn™ and future publications to improve their value to members. For example, you will see some great improvements to AOA News and increased practical clinical content very shortly. As the AOA puts more effort into educating and helping our members adapt to the changes we are all facing, I am hopeful in the future we will be able to greatly expand this portion of AOA activities into a true Center for Education.

Interestingly, we have found that all parts of our communications efforts are related, and so frequently these committees work together to create an even better and more effective communications effort. This was particularly true for our new website design that you will see soon.

We all know that it is easier to talk to our patients face to face, and anytime we communicate over long distance it becomes more challenging. But all that being said, I think your board’s continued responsiveness to every email, every letter and every phone call is a significant indication of our desire to communicate with all of our members!

So how does your board think? Your board thinks like volunteer practitioners looking for the best ways to help our members in their practice, who want to hear from our members and want our members to receive the best information possible to help them adapt and succeed in our changing world. It’s as simple as that!

Ronald Hopping, O.D., MPH
AOA president

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