We are futurists fluent in association management and culture.
Our clients are almost exclusively U.S. based associations and nonprofits. Their leaders want an outside perspective to challenge their thinking and help them make the best decisions for their organizations. They prefer to confront significant change with someone who understands association culture, respects their volunteer leaders, and yet has the courage to insist they do great work together.
Sometimes the decision is as big as crafting a new vision and strategic direction for the association. More often the board of directors needs to shake up the organization’s priorities with a new strategic plan.
Our clients choose us because our president, Marsha Rhea, is a futurist, association consultant, and former association executive. This unusual combination allows us to move confidently from futures research and methods to association management expertise and effective practices. We offer bold strategy inspired by the future and grounded in the practical application today’s associations and nonprofits need. When we need special expertise, we reach out to a network of experienced colleagues to build a strong project team.
The future frequently requires an association to do something new and very big. These signature initiatives demand strategic thinking, innovation and strong project management to get from idea to implementation. Our repeat clients have asked us to join these project teams as an advisor and change agent.
Our clients also taught us we have a skill we didn’t even set out to sell--facilitation. Our clients have discovered they can have more strategic and better organized conversations with our help. We have designed and facilitated leadership meetings, innovative summits and high-stakes negotiations with multiple stakeholders.
Signature i helps leaders of organizations discover, plan and do their signature work in the world. We believe a vision is only a dream without the ability to act. We measure our results by the changes our clients lead and the impact they have in their world.
Discovering who you are and what you do best can take time, lots of experiences and personal change. For more than 20 years I progressed in an association management career, doing the next expected thing. Then in 2001 I did an unexpected thing and apprenticed as a futurist. I launched Signature i, LLC in 2008 to recommit to associations as an independent consultant with new insights and skills as a futurist. I am privileged to work with great associations and talented leaders when they are doing some of the most important work they will do. Through them, I get to do the best work I can do.
My association career runs through positions in state associations to national associations and foundations. I was able to use the skills from my first job as a journalist to move into association communications jobs then turned my avocation around learning to add education and professional development responsibilities. Eventually I migrated into senior management becoming an executive director of a small national association and taking on key positions in a large association. I thrived on new ideas and challenges; I admit I found the routine of daily operations less intriguing even though I appreciate how much they matter.
While serving as the executive vice president of the American Society of Association Executives Foundation, I discovered futures thinking. When the daily challenges of association management lost their appeal, I took seriously the question a futurist asked me: you think like a futurist, have you ever considered becoming one? In a mid-life career crisis, I said why not give it a try. This decision led to a great on-the-job learning experience for seven years at the Institute for Alternative Futures.
There were just two things missing from that experience. I wanted to test my ability as an entrepreneur. And I got tired of discovering that good futures work doesn’t always lead to change. I believed I could build a business bridging between learning about the future and acting decisively to lead that future. This business is Signature i.
Ask me for my qualifications and I will tell you about my prior job experience, my master’s degree in public administration with a concentration in nonprofit management, my continuing status as a certified association executive and my active learning and volunteer engagement in organizations like the American Society of Association Executives and the Association of Professional Futurists. I will mention my book, Learning for Alternative Futures: Anticipate the World You Want, as evidence I can produce publishable work.
This is the short version of the real story behind this life journey to discover work I am happy doing.
On Visioning. Professions or industries need visions that match where they are in their evolution. If their identity is unclear or misunderstood, they need a vision setting their preferred identity. If a major change is needed, they should choose a statement of intent. When they are ready to focus on their contribution to society, a statement of outcome declares why they make a difference in our world.
On Shaping the Future. Really big changes affect an entire system and take years of cooperation and commitment. An association that wants to prepare its members to seize the future might have to alter everything from how schools prepare graduates to the careers members choose and what employers are willing to recognize and reward.
On Designing Organizations. Leaders that first work to understand and state their opportunity in the future can design more effective and innovative organizations. That’s the simple secret to great strategy and organizational design.