Donté P. Shannon, FASAE, CAE, has 16 years experience in association management, 7 of those years include experience in the C-suite. Donte has worked with professional and trade associations, across many different industries. He’s served in numerous CEO roles ranging from state associations to national associations with global impact.
Donté is a highly recognized influencer in the association community, having led over 20 association management presentations, ranging in topics from strategic leadership and organization rebranding, to career development. Additionally, he has been featured in, and co-authored, numerous articles related to association management. A devoted professional, Donte recently served as Chair of the CAE Commission, the governing body of the global CAE credential and was pivotal in launching the credential in Australasia. He also contributes his industry expertise as a member of for-profit and nonprofit Boards and Councils. His career highlights include being selected as a 2020 digitalNow Leader of Distinction, a 2020 ASAE Fellow, and a 2011-2013 Diversity Education Leadership Program (DELP) Scholar.
Donte is a strong advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion and enjoys giving back to the various communities and industries he touches. Donte earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Education from the College of Charleston in 2003 and received the Certified Association Executive (CAE) credential in 2015.
What You’ll Learn In This Episode
- The future of the Association Profession
- The Great Resignation
- Executive Recruiting
- DEI in Exec. Assoc. Roles
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: [00:00:02] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX studios in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s time for Association Leadership Radio. Now, here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:17] Lee Kantor here another episode of Association Leadership Radio, and this is going to be a good one. Today on the show, we have Donte Shannon, who has been a CEO and a strategy advisor for associations for a minute or two. But we’ll get into that shortly. Welcome, Donte.
Donte Shannon: [00:00:34] Thank you so much, Lee, for having me.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:36] Well, I’m so excited to get your thoughts about the the future of the association profession. So why don’t we dig right in and get a little bit about your backstory? How long have you been serving the association world?
Donte Shannon: [00:00:50] I’ve been in associations for about 17 years now, and I got started in associations back in 2007, I believe, or eight or six or seven. And I was referred into my first association job by a colleague at the time. And I tell you, within a week of starting with the association, I knew I had found my professional home.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:17] So what about that world kind of excited you?
Donte Shannon: [00:01:20] So I got to get my start in associations doing member facing activities. So I my role I started a very large association so my role was mostly comprised of managing committees. So I managed three or four committees at the time and I really loved being able to engage with the volunteers, engage with the membership. There was a component of my job that involved meeting planning and program development, education, curriculum. I just love the way it really allowed me to use utilize many different aspects of my brain. But my favorite part was the volunteer engagement piece.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:05] Now talk about kind of the impact you make in an association for the young people out there listening that maybe they’re they hadn’t really considered association work as a career direction. It’s not usually top of mind for, you know, the young kid out there going one day I’ll run an association.
Donte Shannon: [00:02:25] You know? Right. Yeah. And if you talk to a lot of people, most of the stories you’ll hear, they will tell you they kind of fell into associations, right? Like you just kind of stumble upon it. But the great thing about associations is that and why I also love it is because you are truly impacting industries and professions. You are really influencing and transitioning the world literally, because everybody in some way, shape or form is going to be associated with an association or knows about an association in their profession, whether they join or not, and use that association for resources, for professional, for continue professional development, career development. And so to be able to work for an association and have that kind of impact on someone else’s professional life for me is extremely rewarding and it’s an opportunity. I’ve always thought about it as a way to give back for what associations have given to me and my career growth and development.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:34] Now, do you find that as we are, you know, I guess they’re terming it this great resignation where there’s a lot of upheaval in employment nowadays and and folks just don’t have the patience to be a cog in the machine. They want to make an impact. They want to see the effect of their work be meaningful. And I think there’s no better place than an association to really attract some of these folks, to get them on board, because I think that’s what you do every day.
Donte Shannon: [00:04:00] I can agree morally, I think for people who are looking for more meaningful work and who are looking when they get home every day from their job to say, what did I what how did I make a difference today? Association should be one of the top places that they are looking to get that type of fulfillment from. Because like I said, you’re impacting people’s professional lives and even sometimes their personal lives as well. Because some of the work that associations do, you’re you’re impacting their lives. And, you know, it’s very rewarding to to really know that you’re making a difference in that way and not just working to increase someone’s bottom line or to make someone else rich, you know, or for someone to to get more money for some sort of non influencing cause or something. Associations are definitely should definitely be a very viable option for people who are looking for meaningful work. I think the great resignation is well is an indicator number one of how our times are changing is shifting, which some people are still ignoring and how we are going to associations soon are going to have to be looking at themselves because as we start to get an influx of people who are resigning from these roles that are not meaningful, associations are going to have to look at the work that they’re doing to and and how our profession is changing, especially in the next ten years and how we we don’t let the same thing happen to our profession, where we have people leaving because of some sort of grievance that they have with the profession.
Lee Kantor: [00:05:44] So now put on your CEO hat. If you were to advise some of these association leaders right now and give them advice for maybe kind of squeezing some juice out of this great resignation to attract some of these folks into their world and to get some of that talent that maybe has been in the private sector to at least consider joining forces with an association or at least, you know, kind of checking them out a little bit. What would you tell the the leaders of an association today in order to be more attractive to that group, number one? And number two, to make sure you’re not leaving anybody behind, because a lot of industries, if you look at the demographics of the industry, their leadership is not looking like their demographics. And how do you help them kind of attract some of those people into the fold as well?
Donte Shannon: [00:06:41] Yeah. So, wow, that’s a loaded question. Lee and I have had this conversation with myself in the shower, but have imagined that I’m talking to an audience of other CEOs because I do feel like the association profession and many and not just the association profession, but many professions are really missing what is happening. Meaning right now and in our world. So what I would say to CEOs is you want to be able to sell what you’re doing for the future of whatever industry or profession you’re representing or whatever cause you’re trying to further in the world. You need to be able to talk and speak passionately and quickly to to how you are impacting that for the future. So when we think about the younger generation, we want to be talking to them about the world we envision for them and for their children. Right. And how our associations are doing work to make the world better for them and for their children. I think that’s going to be a selling point to attract younger people into association management. I think what we have to do also is understand the times we’re in. I have talked I’ve talked with one of my dear mentors, Cynthia Mills, in which she always refers to the time we’re in now as a turbulent twenties. And I completely agree with her, because what we are realizing and witnessing now are shifts in generational workforces. We’re witnessing shifts in generational power. And not only like a transition in the next generation of people who hold wealth coming into coming into power, taking over for wealth for their families or things like that. We’re also witnessing transition and generational power from younger people stepping into executive roles, right? So baby boomers, retiring, people who have been who are seasoned executives leaving those roles and now a different generation stepping in as you see Xers and Zinnias, as I call them, millennials, stepping into these roles now.
Donte Shannon: [00:09:02] Then we are also seeing shifts and buys for power in in the world. Right. So countries who are who are trying to achieve world dominance and become the number one country or the number one power dynamic in the world and all of these things that we’re seeing happening is going to impact every industry, every profession at some point or another, in some sort of way. And so we’ve got to be paying attention and associations have got to take their head out of the sand and hit and get their head out of whatever they’re focused on right now and whatever they’re dependent on right now for revenue or for relevancy. And they’ve got to start looking at where what is what are we doing to impact our profession, our industry, our world in 2035, 2040, 2050? What are we doing now that we want to bring to fruition at that point? And I think the more passionately, the more vivid you can make your vision for what that is going to look like in the future years and communicate that back to the younger generations is going to be compelling for them to to join your to join your association or join whatever cause your association is working towards in the future. And you’re right, we cannot forget about diversity, equity and inclusion and and how our executive teams and our leadership of these organizations need to reflect more, more diversity and then the culture really advocating and cultivating inclusivity within those organizations as well.
Lee Kantor: [00:10:54] Yeah, I think that associations have a unique opportunity to be the role models for the industries they serve and and to be aspirational. This is what it could be. And if they’re not role modeling that behavior, it’s hard for the members of the association to think, Oh, I’m going to be the one that set it up. If my own association isn’t kind of walking the walk, it’s it’s kind of giving me cover to not walk the walk myself as a member. So I think it’s almost, you know, they should be the true north of what could be in the industry, not just keep the status quo. The status quo.
Donte Shannon: [00:11:34] You’re absolutely right. But some of the sometimes the problem with that is that even our members don’t know where we need to be. Right, or where we need to be heading as an association. Sometimes our membership can be so comfortable in how things have always been and they can be comfortable in how they’ve been benefited from the things that the association has done in the past, that they are not quick for change or quick for how things have to be different in the future. And so I think you’re right. We as associations have an opportunity to be the leaders, but it’s going to take really bold, strong leadership from CEOs and executive teams to even say listen and say to their membership, I know, I know this isn’t what you want, but this is going to be what you need from our organization in the future. And while you may not see it now, we have to make changes for the benefit and the longevity of our association in the future and for the industry we represent or for the profession we represent.
Lee Kantor: [00:12:41] Right. And that’s called leadership. That’s the definition of leadership is to be able to kind of see into the future a little bit, have a vision, and then just, you know, get people to buy in and move the ball. And I’m not saying that you have to flip a switch and say this is how future us is going to look like, but you better be doing pilot programs and you better be, you know, at least playing around the edges somewhere.
Donte Shannon: [00:13:03] Yeah. Yeah. It is a transition, not a light switch. You’re right. Yeah.
Lee Kantor: [00:13:07] So so now in your work over the years, what has been kind of maybe look back a little bit and share what has been kind of an impact that you’re most proud of, that you came into a situation that maybe was struggling and you were able to make a difference.
Donte Shannon: [00:13:24] Oh, wow.
Lee Kantor: [00:13:25] You don’t have to name the association, but just maybe, maybe talk about the challenge that they had and how you were able to help them overcome that.
Donte Shannon: [00:13:32] Yeah, it was. I will say I had an opportunity in my career to make a huge leap from being a manager to a first time CEO. And it was rewarding for me because when I came to that organization, I really can say after three years of working with them, I left them better than I found them. Now, again, as we talk about members not really understanding where the organization’s where organizations need to be or understanding the future of the organizations. I had those challenges with members as well. Right. But I’m a strategist. I’m a visionary. And I stayed true to that and I stayed true to my leadership. And luckily I had a board that supported me and had my back when a lot of the changes we needed to make to make that organization viable again and also to attract the younger start attracting a younger demographic there future members of that organization. And so we were able to make we try bold experiments with our trade show. We started to see significant changes in our membership and in our membership demographic changes. We started to offer some programing that started to be extremely receptive to to members. We changed the financial trajectory of the organization. So for that to be my first CEO Executive Director experience, I knew that experience as much as I was trying to. Give all I had to help that organization. They were also helping me at the time because it was a sink or swim type of moment in that situation. So it was really sort of a as I gave to them, they gave back to me in my career.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:30] Now. Any advice for that association leader right now? And let’s talk specifically about attracting younger or maybe a more diverse member base. Like what are some things they can do? Is there anything you can share that’s actionable where they can say, you know what, let let’s take this baby step. What are some baby steps somebody that’s leading an organization can do to attract this younger, more diverse member?
Donte Shannon: [00:15:54] Yeah, the first thing I would say is don’t assume you know what they want or what they need. I think if there’s a younger demographic or a different membership demographic that you’re trying to attract, you need to go where they are. Learn as much as you can about them. Do research and find out what they need and what they want from an organization. If they were to join it, or if they were to get involved in an organization and then slowly work to build those things or those products or their services, are the types of engagement that they’re looking for. Slowly don’t I would say don’t do it in a rush. And as I think we mentioned earlier, these are the things you want to do focus groups for, right? So bring a few of them together and say, hey, we’re trying to launch this program or we’re thinking about doing this. What is your feedback for us or what? What would you do differently? I would say do small nuggets of engagement, but definitely start working to build your association or make your association attractive to those people because again, those are your future members. Those are the future board members, the future of the profession that you’re serving or industry that you’re serving. So yeah, that would be my first monumental piece of advice is don’t assume you know what they want or what they need. Go to where they are, meet them where they are, and do some research on what what it is they need and want in an organization. In a membership organization.
Lee Kantor: [00:17:30] So now are you are you bullish about the association industry and the association profession? Is this something that you’re optimistic about? Like, where do you think they are right now and what’s trending ahead?
Donte Shannon: [00:17:42] I am extremely optimistic about the association. I always, in the back of my mind know and understand the power of a is a say is coined. I think associations are extremely powerful and we haven’t even I don’t even think we’ve tapped into that power yet or the fullness of the power that we have to change the world as representatives of our industries and our professions, we have power to influence people. And I think even when we think about our elected officials and things, the policies that are impacting our world and impacting people, associations, I think, have an opportunity to have extremely large leverages or things to leverage in those conversations and in those discussions when those policies are created or talked about or get made. And so for the future, I think we’ll see associations really start to lean more into that impact and power, especially as they start to draw in younger demographics of people who are more vocal about what is happening, happening in the world and who want to see certain things and shifts and in the world. I think associations will will find an opportunity to really lean into that power and utilize it more. So I’m optimistic about where associations are going, especially also as we try to get more diverse executive leaders, CEOs and executive directors into roles of power. I think we’ll see we’ll continue to see a driving force into a positive trajectory for the association management profession.
Lee Kantor: [00:19:33] Yeah, I agree. I’m optimistic as well. And with people like you out there battling, I think that that’s a dream that can come true.
Donte Shannon: [00:19:41] Well, thank you. I appreciate it. And I do, too. And I think it’s platforms like this, too, that help us get our voices out and express what can be done in the possibilities of our future.
Lee Kantor: [00:19:55] Now, if somebody wants to connect with you, have a conversation about maybe help in their association. What’s the best way to get ahold of you?
Donte Shannon: [00:20:03] The fastest and quickest way is to reach me on LinkedIn. You can just search me at Don Shannon. You can also email me at Dante Shannon DPS at gmail.com.
Lee Kantor: [00:20:15] Well, t, thank you again for sharing your story today. You’re doing important work and we appreciate you.
Donte Shannon: [00:20:21] Thank you, Lee, for the platform and the opportunity.
Lee Kantor: [00:20:24] All right. This is Lee Kantor. What’s your next time on Association Leadership Radio?