the open garden association by amith nagarajan

Association Overhaul: The Open Garden Blueprint for Change in a Digital World

Announcing the launch of The Open Garden Organization, A Blueprint for Associations in the Digital Age

At, we do a lot in the way of intelligent email content, but today, we are excited to announce the launch of a new book that is very close to our team: The Open Garden Organization, A Blueprint for Associations in the Digital Age. Open Garden is written by our Chairman, Amith Nagarajan, and the book encourages experimentation and innovation within associations in order for them to remain relevant in our world of rapid technological advancement.

About the author, Amith Nagarajan

Amith is passionate about helping associations, non-profits, and other brands engage with their audiences on a daily basis. He founded and grew Aptify into a worldwide leader in Association Management Software, and he sold the company in 2017 to Community Brands. Now, along with our team at, Amith works on developing cutting edge AI to drive meaningful daily engagement between brands and their audiences via personalized content curation. Outside of, Amith is an active early stage investor in B2B SaaS companies.

Embracing The Open Garden Model and fostering a culture of experimentation

The book begins by encouraging organizations to foster a culture of experimentation. The “business as usual” mindset is easy to fall into when you are not constantly innovating new ways to drive success. Without this kind of experimental culture, you may achieve short-term success in order to satisfy immediate stakeholder needs, but such a short-term mindset will ultimately lead to stagnation. Now, more than ever, it is important to take advantage of new resources and new ideas in order to maintain relevance.

The Open Garden Organization brings contemporary ideas about technological solutions and business management into the hands of association professionals. Associations need to leverage technology and explore new frontiers in order to maintain the historic trust they have developed with their members.

A Brief Overview of the book and The Open Garden Model

The book’s Open Garden Model is an equation founded on the following principles: purpose + culture + inclusivity. These principles are expanded upon in the book’s three sections: “The Bedrock,” “The Soil,” and “The Crops”.  

The Bedrock of the Open Garden

The Bedrock focuses on finding your Core Purpose and defining your Core Values. In order to find your true purpose, you must ask yourself why your organization exists in the first place. Once you’ve established why you exist, you can begin to define the set of behaviors - or Core Values - that you need to implement in order to successfully pursue your Core Purpose. Your Core Values need to be communicated regularly to your team and persistently reinforced in order to effectively live up to your Core Purpose. At, our Core Purpose is “To Better Inform The World,” and we behave guided by seven core values in our daily actions in order to achieve that purpose.

The Soil of the Open Garden

The second part of the book concentrates on constructing and nurturing your culture. The culture of your organization should be created internally, and intentionally. Nagarajan calls this concept “Culture by Design.” Culture By Design is driven by three things: Core Purpose, Core Values, and an Envisioned Future. When these pillars are carefully crafted and clearly communicated, it creates a purpose-driven culture throughout the organization and a stable foundation for success.

An Envisioned Future should include a BHAG, or “Big Hairy Audacious Goal.” A BHAG is a far-out, massive-scale aspiration that an organization establishes in order to motivate the internal team, and all other stakeholders, in working together toward a long-term, uniting goal.’s BHAG is: “By 2030 we will improve the lives of one billion people around the world through better information,” and you can read more about it here.  

The Crops of the Open Garden

This final section of the book is all about finding and engaging your community. In the Digital Age, people are exposed to more content than ever before. Because of this information overload, we consume this content with less confidence in its credibility. Associations have already established that credibility but they often don’t engage their membership as frequently as they should.

At, our mission is to bridge that engagement gap with our daily, personalized newsbriefs. Our AI-driven approach to finding the most relevant industry news makes this an email that members will look forward to opening. Higher engagement levels won’t just keep your members happy, they will also open the door to new economic benefits for your organization.  

Buy the Open Garden today

The Open Garden Organization, A Blueprint for Associations in the Digital Age is now available for purchase on Amazon. Buy your copy today in order to learn about how you can position your association for success in this new era of technological advancement.

overcoming resistance to change at associations using artificial intelligence

Struggling With Resistance To Change? 3 Ways Your Association Can Overcome.

Change can be tough for organizations of every shape and size

Oftentimes associations understand the importance of change and adaptation in order to stay relevant to their communities, but that doesn't mean that they have the cultural foundation or structural bandwidth to plan and implement these adaptations.

Large (and even small) organizations can be slow to implement new processes and technologies, which can lead to negative implications for membership renewals and revenue generation. Challenges to implementing new technologies can range from board-member opposition to resistance against abandoning ‘business as usual’ comforts.

Every change management project is its own beast. But there are some recurring challenges that lead to their failure. Below are some common obstacles we see our customers facing, along with suggestions for combating those challenges.

Challenge 1: Colleagues not understanding why change is needed in the first place

The familiar is comfortable. Your team not understanding why things need to change in the first place is difficult to overcome - it is a resistance that can be rooted in the organizational culture.

In order to combat this mindset, you need to consider adapting your culture from the top down. This means being brutally honest with yourself and asking, "Who are we and how do we ultimately achieve our organization’s overarching purpose?”

When you start to look in the mirror at who you are, how you operate, and the purpose that your association’s brand ultimately stands for, you'll start to see where you're coming up short. Then the hard work of identifying who you want to become and how you want to get there can begin. Your organization's purpose should guide the change management project you want to take on.  

Challenge 2: Team members feeling left out of the decision process

Employees who are going to have the responsibility to implement the change you seek need to feel bought into that change. You should give them a sense of responsibility and ownership throughout the lifecycle of the project.

One great strategy is to have your team’s first exposure to your change project be a sincere request for their input and opinions from the beginning. Involving them in the construction of a plan - as opposed to keeping everything behind closed doors until you are ready to unveil some sweeping new change project - can breed skepticism. You can gather opinions through workshops, meetings, surveys, or whatever data gathering process your organization prefers.

You should be mining your association members’ and team members’ thoughts and opinions on a continual basis. They are integral to change-implementation succeeding, and it is imperative for you to know what they think of your performance, culture, and operations.

Challenge 3: Team skepticism due to history of change management failures

Cynicism towards sweeping change is entrenched in many association cultures, and it can come from all parts of the association, from front line team members, to more tenured members of the board and c-suite, who are settled into old routines. Swallowing new strategies can be difficult if there are memories of past project failures and experimentation is not embraced in the culture.

For this reason, you will need to come prepared for those difficult conversations. Research is your most powerful tool. Make your case with data and real world case studies to appeal to both pathos and ethos. And once you get people on board, if you've truly convinced them, then the change will need to come from the inside out.

Acting on your approach to change

The "start small, think big" approach absolutely applies here. Starting with a small seed of change and culture readjustment can have ripple effects throughout the association. And in order for this to happen, you need to begin by getting everyone in your smaller circle of influence on board.

Even if "starting small" is appropriate for your association, you're eventually going to need to have 100% of your people on board. Everyone should be invested in the success of this change, from the most senior board member to the newest hire. Another department that might require special attention for education and influence is human resources. It may seem obvious, but they can be overlooked when focusing on other employees, and their buy-in is absolutely critical.

Attitude and behavior are intertwined. With the help of change-makers taking action and holding people accountable, you can make broad strides. Being cognizant of these 3 challenges, and how to avoid them at your particular association, is key to reinforcing change that is purpose-driven and resilient.

Just start to experiment

At, we are constantly encouraging our customers to just take the first step. Try something new. We try to make the implementation of the newsbrief as easy as possible. It takes very little time to begin to send your members personalized news, and risk is low. Learn about how you can begin to experiment with our technology today.

associations can personalize their member communications using artificial intelligence

9 Ideas for Making it Member Personal: Dale Carnegie’s Advice for Associations Part II

In the first part of our series, we examined four ways in which the wisdom of Dale Carnegie is applicable today. The second part of our series continues to explore how Carnegie’s insights are applicable to personalizing the modern member experience.

5 - "Success in dealing with people depends on a sympathetic grasp of the other person’s viewpoint."

To capture attention and loyalty, you must understand the different segments of your audience. Don’t assume you or your committee chair knows what you need to know. A chair who’s been in business for decades won’t have the same perspective as a new young member in their first management role.

You can grasp a membership segment’s viewpoint by understanding issues they worry about, situations that stress them out, and expenses they weren’t expecting. Learn about their aspirations and goals. Once you get a better sense of their professional lives, you can determine how your association can really help them. Let them know you understand the problems they face and tell them what steps you’re taking to help them.

6 - “The deepest urge in human nature is the desire to be important… always make the other person feel important.”

Give people the opportunity to have a voice, comment, or make a suggestion. When they give feedback, let them know how it made a difference—what you did as a result or how it influenced the association’s thinking or action.

Show appreciation to all volunteers, not just board and committee members but any member who gives their time in an ad hoc or episodic way. Members notice when their volunteering goes unnoticed. Thank members who make a call on your behalf, review a session proposal, help at an event, or give time in any way.

7 - “You must develop a deep, driving desire to learn, a vigorous determination to increase your ability to deal with people.”

Never stop learning about your members because their needs and interests constantly change. Pay attention to what they do, not just what they say. Tools like can help you learn what members are really interested in and will track how those interests change over time.

Keep up on what’s going on in the industry or profession by reading trade media and talking with members. Improve “your ability to deal with people” by strengthening your communication and marketing skills, and, of course, your association management skills too. Read, attend virtual and in-person educational events, and cultivate a network of association peers. Professional development will transform your life and make a positive impact on your members.

8 - “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

Personalizing content with someone’s name isn’t the only way to capture a person’s attention. Personalize membership by sharing content that resonates with members.

People expect personalized content, according to a Reuters Plus report:

  •       77 percent of consumers expect to see more personalized content in the future.
  •       63 percent say personally relevant content improves how they feel about the brand associated with it.
  •       58 percent of consumers see brands in a more positive light if they provide them with content that matches their interests.

Readers—members and everyone else—put a high value on any service that delivers a selection of personally relevant content they can’t easily find anywhere else in one place. Use a service like and you become an indispensable part of your reader’s life.

9 - “Pay less attention to what [people] say. Just watch what they do.”

What people click is more telling than what they say in a survey. Online behavior reveals a person’s real interests and needs: web pages and blog posts they read, web and email links they click, and content they download. When delivers an email newsbrief to a member, the member’s clicks drive the AI which determines the content mix in future newsbriefs. If the member’s interests (and clicks) change, the content changes along with them.

What Dale Carnegie had to say is relevant today

Much of what Dale Carnegie taught his students and readers applies to association management in the 21st century. Make a concerted effort to listen to members, observe their behavior, respond with relevant products and services, and personalize membership.

At, we are here to help you individualize the content you send to members and gain valuable insights from what they are interested in reading about. Learn more about how we can begin to personalize your relationships with your members today.

Our One Billion Person BHAG

One Billion Person BHAG

What is a BHAG?

BHAG stands for Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal. It is a far-out, massive-scale aspiration that an organization establishes in order to motivate the internal team, and all other stakeholders, in working together toward a uniting goal. It should be consistent with an organization’s purpose and values, and it should join a team in action. Typically BHAGs are goals that an organization sets with a ten to thirty year time commitment in mind, and they are simple enough for people to understand without an extensive, supporting explanation.

The History of the BHAG

The idea of the BHAG was first conceptualized by best-selling author and business visionary James Collins in his book, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. Collins explains that BHAGs have the potential to change the very nature of the company, to one that is inspired to consistently work outside of its comfort zone in order to achieve seemingly impossible results.


At, we seek to cut through the noise created by the inundation of content that people see on a daily basis by delivering only the most relevant and personalized information to their inboxes. And our BHAG reflects just that: “By 2030 we will improve the lives of one billion people around the world with better information.”

Our BHAG together with our Core Purpose

At, our core purpose is To Better Inform The World. We seek to deliver the most relevant information to people, and we do so one inbox at a time.

So how do we do it? How do we cut through all of that content noise? We leverage Artificial Intelligence in order to pull only the most relevant information into a given user’s email newsbrief. We are inspired to be the so-very-needed filter on the endless stream of not-so-useful content.

We help associations and other organizations spread their missions of informing their members and greater communities. Once our customers identify the most authoritative content outlets in their industry, we ensure that only the most relevant articles from their sources are delivered to their members’ inboxes. And it takes no extra work on the part of the organizations in order to reach these ‘segments of one.’ This allows our customers to be at the forefront of the most important news in their spaces and deliver that news under their trusted brands.

BHAG and our day to day

So how do we work on meeting our BHAG and progressing toward our ultimate aspiration? Our BHAG, along with our core purpose, (and our supporting values), inform and guide us in our daily interactions. We talk about all of these tenets that guide our business on a regular basis: we reference them in making important decisions; we acknowledge them in our successes and failures; and we let them inform discussion in our huddles, our various weekly meetings, and our company meetings.

Most importantly, in our company meetings, we measure a critical number that directly reflects progress toward our BHAG: the number of people who have received information from Although we are relatively early in our purposeful journey, it is fun to objectively monitor and measure the movement we have made, and we have already touched the lives of thousands upon thousands.

Using to develop and meet your BHAG

We want to support others on their journeys toward meeting their Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals. One aspect of our AI technology that our customers appreciate most is the fact that they can use to send industry news automatically to their members. This can help them concentrate additional time and effort on other methods of fulfilling their core purposes, experimentation, and meeting their BHAGs.

We are excited about the progress that we have made and the future that awaits us. We will be sure to keep you informed of our progress as we work toward our one billion person BHAG, and we are here to teach you more about’s mission in the meantime.

association experimentation with an artificial intelligence email newsbrief

How to Experiment with New Ideas Using a Trial Program, Part II

When it comes to professional development and networking, your members have lots of options. But, they’ll stick with you at renewal time, and engage with you more the rest of the year, if they experience the value of membership more frequently than the occasional event or publication. You can keep members coming back to your association if you find ways to help them build an association habit: the opportunity to regularly experience and reap value from their membership. The challenge is finding new ways to deliver a better value than the competition for their attention and time. You can experiment with both brilliant and unconventional solutions for your most stubborn engagement problems with a trial or pilot program.

In Part 1 of this series, we explained why you’d want to foster a culture of experimentation by trying new ideas using a pilot or trial program, how to select participants, and how to market the trial to participants. Now it’s time to roll out your trial program.

Rolling out your trial program

Before you start the trial, define how you will measure the program’s effectiveness — both the metrics and the tools you will use to do that, like a survey. These metrics should show how well (or not) the trial program serves your target audience. For example, the typical email open rate for our AI newsbrief trial is 30%, so we aim for that benchmark.

First, put together an onboarding plan for participants. Map out your communication with them and be sure to emphasize the greater purpose of revitalizing problem-solving through implementing new and different ideas.

Go over the details of the program: what can community members expect from you and what can you expect from them? For example, before trials, participants are sometimes asked to help pick relevant news sources that can potentially be included in their email newsbriefs. Reemphasize how valuable your members’ participation and feedback are for shaping the program for the entire membership.

Set a start and end date for the trial. Participants are more attentive if they know their cooperation is needed for a limited time only. Document what worked well and what could be improved during onboarding so you can make necessary changes before rolling out the program to a larger group.

Getting feedback from trial participants

Give participants the opportunity to share feedback throughout the trial. If necessary, tweak the program as you go, and let participants know how you’ve applied what you’ve learned from them. When people see you take action based on their feedback, they’re more likely to offer it. What’s more, is that an effective feedback cycle promotes an atmosphere of trust, which is an important component of a progressive and experimental culture.

At the end of the trial, survey your participants. If your group is small enough, host a conference call or web meeting to discuss their experience. Ask them what they liked and disliked, what’s missing, what’s not necessary, and what would make it better. These group sessions also give members a chance to connect with, and share in something special and innovative, with their peers.

Follow up individually with participants to get testimonials about the program’s impact. Ask them to use specific examples in their testimonials to make them more relatable and compelling. Use these testimonials to sell the program to stakeholders and decision-makers, and to introduce and market the program to the rest of the membership. You can also use testimonials in membership marketing materials and in correspondence to inactive members about benefits they’re not leveraging.

Beyond the trial: next steps and the upcoming, final part of our experimentation series

This blog is the second of a 3-blog series on the importance of experimentation through trial programs in order to solve engagement problems that plague associations. In the next and final part of our experimentation blog series, we will explore the critical steps involved in turning your trial into a full-out implementation: making your case to key stakeholders for the launch of the program and adjusting your project in order to make it applicable for your entire association.

Learn about how can work with your association to engage members on a daily basis by sending an email they will actually open and look forward to. Schedule a meeting today.

association experiment with trial program using artificial intelligence email newsbriefs

How to Experiment with New Ideas Using a Trial Program, Part I

Every year, when an association member (or their employer) looks at your renewal invoice, the question crossing their mind is: “What have you done for me lately?”

Value is top of mind for members and employers. They expect to see a regular return on their dues investment. How do you continually demonstrate the membership value that invoice represents?

You can’t rely on the episodic patterns of engagement provided by conferences and seminars. Only a percentage of your members participate in those events. Besides, even those attendees want to experience the value of membership far more frequently than that. If you can find a way for members to regularly experience and reap value from their membership, they won’t think twice about paying that invoice. Even more importantly, they’ll stay engaged so you’ll have more opportunities to serve them with other products and services.

How do you find new ways to deliver a better value to your members? You can tackle and solve even the most stubborn engagement problems with experimentation through testing out solutions with a trial or pilot program. Based on our work with association clients, we’ve rounded up several of our best practices for successful trials and ideas around the benefits of solving old problems with innovative and experimental ideas.

Benefits of using a trial or pilot program to experiment with new ideas

A trial or pilot program is the best way to experiment with a possible solution to a perennial problem. With a trial program, you practice rolling out a new product or service, evaluate how it was received, and validate its benefits (for both you and your audience) before investing additional time and money. What’s more, is that test programs like these foster a culture of experimentation throughout your community.

When you offer a trial program to a group of participants, you can watch how they use the program and learn what they really value—instead of making assumptions about their needs and preferences. You can identify any hitches and refine the program before committing to a full-scale launch. Along the way, the conversations you have with participants lead to closer and more trusting relationships, and your members grow to appreciate the fact that you are cultivating a culture that explores new ways of tackling old problems.

And it’s easier to make a business case for a pilot or trial program. Decision makers aren’t scared off by the words “pilot” or “trial.” Trials are seen as less risky since, by definition, they’re just an experiment.

Selecting trial participants

Depending on the nature of your program, you may want to limit trial participation or open it up to as many people as possible. For example, when we roll out a trial of with an association, we encourage member participation so our Artificial Intelligence has as much data as possible to do its work. A large group also provides a healthy sample for post-trial feedback.

Your trial program might benefit more from a limited number of participants if you need to consult individually with each one of them about their experience. If that’s the case, ensure the participants will be able to provide extensive feedback at the conclusion of the program.

You can either select specific participants for your trial or invite any member to participate. If you decide to select participants, pick those who are representative of your overall target audience. For example, if your audience is made up of companies of different sizes and verticals, or individuals of different ages and specialties, the trial participants should represent that diversity.

If your association has chapters, you could select a few of them for the trial. Once again, choose chapters that reflect the entire chapter network. Pick “influencer” chapters—the ones other chapters look to as models for success. After the trial, they can help you sell the idea to other chapters.

You could also use the trial as an olive branch. Offer participation to a chapter with whom you’ve had a less than ideal relationship. They’ll become stronger partners if they see membership retention improve as a result.

Marketing your trial program

Whether you select or invite participants, tell them the story behind the experiment and why the nature of new experiments to solve old problems is vital to maintaining a thriving association. Communicate:

  • Where the idea came from—bonus points if it came from a member;
  • Why you’re trying it out, i.e., what problems you hope to solve; and
  • What value it will provide to participants.

If you’re concerned about getting enough participants, make a more persuasive case by appealing to members’ social identity. Remind them of the identity they aspire to: “people like us do stuff like this.” For example, talk about “this exclusive opportunity to shape a new member service.”

When inviting people to sign up for the trial, use language to convey exclusivity as well as urgency. If you’re limiting the number of participants, let them know. Set a deadline to apply or sign up—a sense of urgency prompts people to take action.

If you’re working with an outside partner, ask them for marketing assistance. When our association partners are introducing to trial participants, we provide marketing copy and support so they have minimal work to do on their end.

This blog is part of a 3-part series on the value of experimentation in associations and how to execute a successful trial program. In the upcoming posts, we will continue to build on the importance of experimentation within your organization and the next steps of your test trial: rolling out the program; soliciting feedback; making a case for the program to other key stakeholders; and preparing for the launch of the wider implementation. In the meantime, let us know if you would like to understand how could work for your community.

The Internet Isn’t Engaging Anymore

While starting to write this, I caught myself cycling. Jumping quickly from Facebook to Twitter to my email to my phone and then Snapchat and so on. This happens all the time; there’s so much noise out there pulling my attention away from everything else. That same noise is affecting the content that I’m putting out.

There are many factors that have contributed to this feeling of “information overload” in the last decade. But this isn’t a new phenomenon. As writing became more common in Ancient Greece, Plato decried that “this discovery will create forgetfulness in the learner’s soul.” European scholars felt the abundance of books created by Gutenberg’s printing press was ruinous, even comparing it to an epidemic. And of course there’s the World Wide Web, with its ever growing glut of content and big data.

While writing and books aren’t bad-mouthed anymore (though this may depend on where you are), the age of the Internet may actually be the wave that really overwhelms us. Plato could never have imagined a constant stream of information flashing before your eyes in every waking moment. How can you make sure the content you produce is engaging?


Recommendation Matters

Recommendations make navigating the world a little easier. Trusting something is easier knowing it has good reviews or that a friend actively enjoys it. Recommendation systems like Netflix’s movie recommendations or Spotify’s Discover Weekly are a much valued part of their respective platform. It is worth delving into how your work is being recommended - not just shared - especially if you’re in the process of crafting viral strategies. The future of big data is intelligent Recommendation AI that are capable of using all the data that’s out there about what others are reading and enjoying and using that data to recommend relating and engaging content. As machine learning and AI takes off, staying on top of the revolution is something I’d highly recommend.

No more clickbait

I have a bad habit of oversubscribing to email lists. If it seems tangentially related to something I’m interested or doing, I think “why not?” One of my favorites is CBInsights newsletter which focuses on analyzing the data of private companies and their markets. And my favorite thing about them is that their emails is that the subject line sounds natural. As a conscious consumer of content on the internet, I’m more likely to stay engaged if I don’t feel actively manipulated by what I’m looking at. Be cognizant of the articles you're putting out and make sure they're trying to provide real value; not just clicks.

Steal like an artist

Poet and author Austin Rheon’s book Steal Like an Artist lives on my coffee table. It’s small and square and very black, in fact its actual shape looks very artsy and creative. Rheon’s book has an interesting thesis - nothing is completely original and all creative work builds on what came before. And this artsy looking book that I originally bought for its looks holds a capital T Truth. Through the noise of all the information, anybody who cares about putting their work on the internet should be constantly stealing. Their is modern-day Library of Alexandria at all of our fingertips and this way, the Information Age is a blessing. There is so much to take from that there will always be a chance of finding inspiration. The web is full of great content, help showcase some of it by retweeting/curating.