By Sammi Soutar, CAE

        "It is not enough to be compassionate. We must act." - the 14th Dalai Lama.

     A year ago in March, Fast Company published an article to set the record straight on a widely circulated email that had been erroneously credited to one Phillip Harter, an associate professor of surgery at Stanford University.

      So popular was its message that the email had been circulated for more than three and a half years, prompting many phone calls, letters and additional emails to the perplexed Harter. (For the rest of the story, check out

     That message - emphasizing the value of diversity - was illustrated dramatically by a list reflecting global demographics if the world's population were reduced to a village of 100 people, which, in part, would include the following:
  • 57 Asians
  • 8 Africans
  • 52 females
  • 48 males
  • 70 nonwhite
  • 70 non-Christian
  • 11 homosexuals
  • 6 would possess 59% of the entire world's wealth and all 6 would be from the U.S.
  • 80 would live in substandard housing
    The email version I have seen concludes that tolerance and acceptance of our diverse selves is the only sane course toward an ideal world of peace and prosperity. It also makes good business sense as we confront the challenges of finding talented staff, capable leadership and new members. ASAE leadership has long recognized diversity's value and is now actively engaged in developing and implementing policy to accelerate the process.

    For association leaders, taking up worthwhile causes comes with the territory. Executives are called upon every day to promote and help further the purposes of our respective nonprofit organizations, especially those of us operating association management companies, since we juggle the demands of not one but several associations!

     From our strategic vantage points, we can both ply our trade and press our case for many worthy causes. ASAE is asking us to do just that. As the AMC Section Council's liaison to ASAE's Diversity Committee, I can think of few causes more vital than the one expressed in ASAE's Diversity Statement, which reads in pertinent part:

ASAE will promote involvement and expand access to leadership opportunity regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, sexual orientation, nationality, disability, appearance, geographic location or professional level...

In an effort to make diversity an integral part of the fabric of the Society, ASAE has charged the Diversity Committee with investigating ways for diversity awareness and diversity activities to be integrated throughout all ASAE activities.

   The Diversity Committee has charged section council liaisons with the task of initiating discussion and ideas across 12 broad areas. Included in the abbreviated list below are the areas, followed by one or two examples of possible action steps. For the complete bulleted list, visit
  • Governance and Volunteer Structure. For instance, how best to sell the business case for diversity and how to institutionalize diversity through the organizational planning process;
  • Executive Management. Setting the stage for a diversity orientation among volunteer leaders, members and staff and providing role models for diversity in professional and personal settings;
  • Human Resources.  Hiring and promotion, training, mentoring and management;
  • Government Relations. Setting advocacy policy to reflect the interests of diverse members and constituents;
  • Communications/Publications. Reinforcing the core value of diversity through media outlets;
  • Marketing. Integrating diversity into the marketing planning process;
  • Membership. Conducting campaigns and broadening membership benefits and services to address the needs of diverse audiences.
  • Meetings and Education. Selecting venues that are accessible, attractive and hospitable to diverse groups.
  • Chapter Relations. Preparing diversity role models for chapters seeking to develop diversity programs.
  • Legal. Complying with, providing training on and publicizing open standards on discrimination, harassment and sexual orientation issues, and incorporating a formal grievance procedure.
  • Planning. Incorporating diversity strategies into organizational mission, goals, objectives and action plans.
  • Finance and Administration. Grantmanship and other funding for diversity initiatives.

   Four days after the World Trade Towers collapsed, I was asked by a local civics group to speak to the question of the nation's greatest achievements. The recent tragedy was uppermost in everyone's mind, and I also had concerns, reinforced by media speculation, that a backlash against Muslim groups was eminent.

My answer, given then on the spur of the moment, remains unchanged now:  Our proudest accomplishment, which is also our greatest reward, is our ability to accept and embrace our distinct cultural and human experiences. We are at our best when we are able to celebrate our diversity even as we set aside our differences.

You can help further the case for diversity that ASAE has set in motion. I welcome and will share with the Diversity Committee any ideas and suggestions that might sustain and advance ASAE's diversity policy. Send them to my email address, I also encourage you to carry ASAE's message of diversity back to your own constituents.
        If we want to weave diversity into the fabric of our daily lives, we must act.
        By Sammi Soutar, founder, Able Management Solutions, Inc., Columbus, Ohio.