When Eric Duchinsky started out on his career path from Belleville, Ill., across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, he certainly didn’t think he’d spend the next 25 years gathering all the education and experience he needed become LERA’s executive director.
But it sure looks that way. He has an undergrad degree in marketing and has worked in marketing publications for a Fortune 100 company. He is American Society of Association Executives-certified. He has run a small-association consulting company.
He has a master’s degree in training and development. For eight years Duchinsky ran membership efforts at the International Society of Arboriculture, an international non-profit global society focusing on science-based tree maintenance in urban environments. Before ISA, he managed marketing for American Oil Chemists Society, another international association for food oil scientists. He volunteers at numerous small non-profit associations — including LERA (briefly in 2011). (Check out Duchinsky’s Linkedin profile here.)
So he can hit the ground running as LERA’s fifth executive director (LERA’s directors, past and present) with a clear vision, solid metrics and a strategic plan for the future. Right, Eric?
“My initial thinking is that I don’t want to be too quick to suggest changes,” he said. “Unlike many association-director transitions, I have the luxury of not coming in to a crisis or a dire situation. LERA is a solid organization with good processes and procedures (current director) Paula Wells has in place.
“I want to listen, learn and gain perspective. I am very lucky to follow Paula’s work.”
It’s not that he doesn’t have a philosophy and an approach to directing a small non-profit such as LERA.
“My big thing is delivering value,” he said. “I want to increase the value of the organization to the member and to the industry.”
In LERA’s case, he will substitute good employment policy and practice for “industry.”
He said he wants to deliver value to chapters, the national’s needs, and to international employment thinking.
“I look at the job of an association director as putting into a sustainable form what the board and membership want. Sometimes that takes a cause champion. Sometimes it takes a devil’s advocate.”
Then, there’s LERA’s cornerstone annual meeting, this year, this year in St. Louis, and for the first time independent of the American Economic Association meeting. Duchinsky will, of course, be front and center. Plans are to give the membership not only a formal introduction but also the opportunity for some informal interaction.
Duchinsky has deep and broad experience planning, organizing and running big association meetings.
The secrets for a successful association meeting?
“First, strong sessions,” Duchinsky said. “In St. Louis we’ll have not only research but also policy, sessions and practitioner workshops.”
“The content must be compelling to get the membership to the meeting. Finally, people need to go away feeling they’ve had a positive learning experience.”
Duchinsky and his soon-to-be predecessor Wells actually go back more than a decade to a previous Champaign, Ill., employer they shared. His take on LERA from the beginning of Wells’ tenure:
“Growth in the organization. Sophistication. Technical development: I remember when the LERA web site had html tags, no pictures and blue hotlinks.”
He also talks about how the expectations for small associations have gone up as technology has created more information paths.
“The lesson from technology is that associations now have had to reinvent themselves. It’s an ‘and’ (not an either/or) when it comes to communications. It’s not paper or digital. You can’t drop channels. You still must service members. You have to provide them with good information in whatever way they want it.”
In terms of media, “integrated organizations have to blend face-to-face interaction, electronic sources, blogs/webinars and even books for the big picture,” Duchinsky said. “There have to be fewer silos when it comes to delivering service and information to our members.”
Assisting Duchinsky in delivery of information and services to LERA members will be Emily Smith, assistant director, and Mike Lillich, managing editor.
LERA’s Duchinsky era will begin on Nov. 12. Wells will stay on until the end of the month, helping with the transition.
In the meantime, Duchinsky will be listening and learning.
He describes himself as a “hands-on” director. He also has his ears on for the membership. He welcomes calls (217) 778-9118 cell and emails (email@example.com) with advice, insights into the organization and ideas. Just no suggestions of big changes yet, please …