I have been speaking at conferences and events for over 30 years. The first time I was asked to speak publicly, on a stage, with a microphone, was in February 1988 when I was a Rotary Exchange Student in Canada. My highly introverted-self was more than slightly terrified.

That year I think I gave 40 presentations, mostly on what it was like to grow up in Australia, and how different life as a teenager in Gosford, NSW was compared to life as a teenager in Brandon, Manitoba*.

By presentation #12-ish, I had come to love the thrill of holding a microphone and being on stage, so it’s no surprise to many that these days it’s a core part of how I generate an income.

As I speak at a lot of conferences and events, I’m also given a lot of thank you gifts (yes, as well as being paid to speak). Over the years these have included umbrellas, portable phone chargers, beautiful notebooks, gift vouchers to buy books, wine, champagne, chocolates (my husband particularly loves it when I’m given chocolate!), food hampers, locally produced art.

All quite thoughtful gifts, and all given with gratitude, but almost all designed to primarily benefit me.

Richard Stokes, Executive Director, ABSA and me

Last week I spoke at the Australian Boarding School Association’s International Boarding Conference. This is a fairly unique Association in that they have 100% membership. Yep, every boarding school in Australia is a member. They renew year after year because Richard, Tom and Josh are absolutely committed to providing the best level of service to their members that they can. And their members love them. What this also means, is that Richard, Tom and Josh know their members very well, and they know what keeps them awake at night.

This means they know that their members are currently worried about the impact the drought is having on the students in their boarding houses and their families. Because 65% of kids in boarding schools in Australia come from rural and regional Australia. And the vast majority of the families of this 65% are struggling with the awful impact drought brings.

So when Richard, Tom and Josh sat down to talk about what gift to give the speakers at their conference this year, they decided not to give something we all had to squeeze into our suitcases to get home. They decided to give us a gift that would show us they were grateful for our involvement in their conference, and at the same time, show members and their students that they care. The gift? A donation in each speaker’s name to Rural Aid’s Buy a Bale Campaign.

The next time you’re looking for a gift to say thank you, think about how you can do something that also shows value to your members.

* If you’re curious, there are a LOT of differences! Especially for a girl who grew up at the beach and then spent a year where the closest surf beach was over 2,000km away! The biggest differences for me were the weather (WEEKS of -40c were a bit of a shock), the food, the language (yep we all spoke English, but slang was VERY different!), the housing style, how casual school was, the yellow school bus and the overall freedom kids had. It was one of the most life-changing experiences I’ve had and I loved almost every minute.

Mel Kettle works with CEOs, Boards and leaders of associations, not-for-profits and other organisations to help them communicate effectively and authentically so they attract, retain and engage their people. To inquire about working with Mel, please email mel@melkettle.com or call her on 0404 600 889.

Order a signed copy of Mel’s book, The Social Association – 5 key skills not-for-profits need to increase member engagement, generate ROI and create a thriving online community, published in February 2018.

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