Going Global Doesn't Have to Break the Bank

If your association is looking to start or grow its global business council, there might be initial concerns about the resources that will be required. This is understandable. After all, it frequently takes time, effort and money to get any new association program going, and global initiatives in particular can involve considerable expenses for things like large educational events with multiple speakers, networking fetes and international travel.

That said, there is no shortage of clever and creative ways to find funding for global programs and keep costs down. A panel of experts spoke about some of them last week at the State and Local Forum on Global Business during the REALTOR® Party Conference & Trade Expo in Washington, D.C. Here are a few of the suggestions they offered:

1. Leverage NAR Diversity Grants: Global can be a great way to get multicultural members more involved in your association's activities and leadership, said Fred Underwood, director of NAR's diversity and community outreach program. Incidentally, NAR offers Diversity Initiative Grants to help local and state associations achieve that goal. Funds are disbursed on a quarterly basis and typically amount to a few thousand dollars. Underwood emphasized that any successful grant request needs to show how the proposed program would attempt to engage multicultural members and take into account all of the costs, including any staff time and association office space used to put on an activity.

2. Aim for Financial Self-Sufficiency: The Silicon Valley and MIAMI associations' global councils have at least two things in common. The first is that they won Platinum Awards in NAR's 2013 Global Achievement Program. The second is that they have no actual budget for general global activities, said Paul Cardus, SILVAR's executive officer, and Teresa King Kinney, CEO of the MIAMI Association of REALTORS. (However, MIAMI does have a budget for its annual International Congress event, Kinney added.) One reason this approach is possible, Kinney explained, is that global council networking and education events are financially self-sustaining over the long run. Registrations and sponsorships cover the cost nearly every time, and for each one that loses a bit of money, another one will make a bit of money to balance it out overall, she said. For SILVAR, the costs are kept down by regularly hosting "global potlucks" in the association's office, Cardus said. At these events, participating members will bring in home-prepared or store-bought dishes and beverages from a particular ethnicity or country for a meal, which is then followed by education and networking sessions.

3. Integrate Global into Existing Activities: Incorporating global elements into your association's communications vehicles, market research, membership meetings and other offerings is a low-cost, high-impact way to raise members' awareness of and interest in opportunities in this area. Not to mention that it's just good policy, Kinney said: "Global should be an extension of the things you're already doing, not an extra job."

4. Borrow Ideas From Other Groups (and Your Own): While it's great to be innovative, members and staff shouldn't spend all of their time and effort trying to come up with totally unique and groundbreaking programs. Instead, use tried-and-true ideas that have been applied at other global councils whenever and wherever you can. And don't think you can't copy the work that larger associations with more resources are doing. "Everything is scalable," said Cardus, whose board has approximately 4,000 members. Also, if you find something that works, don't be afraid to repeat it as long as members continue to find value in it. For instance, Cardus said SILVAR has offered the same EB-5 visa class a few times now, and members continue to show up for it.

5. Find Creative Partnerships/Sponsorships: When looking for partners and sponsors for your global events, communications vehicles and other resources, be open to quid pro quo arrangements. For example, the MIAMI Association of REALTORS® has volunteer translators provide free translations of forms and marketing materials for members, and in exchange they receive privileged access to attendees at several of MIAMI's global events. No money changes hands, but each party gets something valuable.