Why Communication and a Peer Network Help Build Effective Leaders

by Sue Fern, CEO and founder of Fern Management Services

To become a leader capable of propelling your team and organization forward, it’s crucial to develop a leadership support group and be a strong communicator. Cultivating both will allow you to become more self-aware and effective.

During my professional journey, I have held senior positions at major global companies and associations, plus served a diverse clientele, including large corporations, governments, and nonprofits.

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Developing Your Inner "L"

You may wonder about the "Leadership" component of VSAE’s Association Leadership Virginia (ALV) program and how ALV sets itself apart from VSAE’s other offerings.

You may also wonder, "I'm not a CEO, so how is a program like this relevant to me and my organization?"

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Get To Know Your New President

Get To Know Your New President – Shannon McCabe, CAE

What drew you to the association industry? As I was finishing grad school, an association for which my advisor served on the board was hiring a programs coordinator.  He knew I'd be interested in the position because it had forestry education components which was the focus of my Master's research and continues to be a passion of mine.  Over time, my focus shifted from programs to comprehensive association management, which allowed me to grow in that position and prepare for my current role.

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Cohort-Based Learning for Personal and Professional Growth

The fall begins the new cohort of VSAE's Association Leadership Virginia (ALV) program. For those new to cohort-based learning, it is a learning style where a group of students work together towards a common goal. This collaborative learning approach has gained popularity in recent years, especially with the rise of online learning platforms. Here are some of the benefits and value of cohort learning.

Inclusive Environment

Cohort learning encourages students to participate actively in class activities, discussions, and projects. When students interact with each other, they learn to share ideas, provide feedback, and clarify their understanding of the coursework. This interdependence among students fosters a more inclusive and engaging learning environment, encouraging students to invest more time in their studies.

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Board of Directors Slate for 2024-2025

The Nominating Committee and the Board of Directors nominate the following slate of directors for the 2024-2025 year (May 1 - April 30):


Shannon McCabe, CAE
Executive Director
Association of Consulting Foresters

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Why We Are All AI Ethicists Now

AUTHOR'S ATTESTATION: This article was written entirely by Jeff De Cagna FRSA FASAE, a human author, without using generative AI.

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, I attended dozens of webinars and online sessions. This is not an unusual statement for a person whose privileged life made it possible to remain largely sequestered from direct harm during the 2020 lockdown period. Far more unexpected, however, is that I continue to think deeply about (and act on) the words of one webinar presenter. Maria Luciana Axente, serving then (and now) as PWC’s Responsible AI & AI for Good Lead, challenged her audience to accept that we all must be AI ethicists because our futures were on the line as AI development and adoption continued apace, and addressing AI’s ethical problems and questions required the full participation of a genuine diversity of voices and perspectives. 

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Congratulations to the ALV 2023 Graduates!

The 2022-2023 Association Leadership Leadership (ALV) class was recognized by their peers during graduation ceremonies on May 8 at the VSAE's Annual Conference in Hampton, Virginia. Over the past seven months, these professionals have gained valuable leadership and association management skills, built professional and personal relationships with colleagues from across the Commonwealth, and mapped out a plan to achieve their individual goals. The graduates:

Rebecca Butler, Vice President of Marketing, Communications and Development, VA Association of Free and Charitable Clinics
Ali DiGuardo, Director of Marketing & Communications, Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS
Lucy Firebaugh, Communications and Membership Specialist, Association of Consulting Foresters
Katharine Garner, Vice President, Education and Communications, VA Association of Community Banks
Kelli Gaudreau, Director of Operations, VA Beer Wholesalers Association
Eric Hash, CEO, Harrisonburg-Rockingham Association of REALTORS
Priscilla Monti, Convention Sales Manager, Marriott Virginia Beach Oceanfront
Haley Osborne, Manager, Corporate Governance, National Restaurant Association
Jamie RawlsConvention Sales Manager, Virginia Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau
Kristen Reid, Vice President, Education & Training, VA Bankers Association
Laiya Haywood-Rollins, Membership & Workforce Development Coordinator, LeadingAge Virginia
Erin Schrad, Communications Manager, VA Association of Chiefs of Police & Foundation
Beth Stockner, Senior Director, Marketing & Program Development, Independent Petroleum Association of America
Samantha Walsh, Operations Coordinator, Association of Technology Leaders in Independent Schools
Kelsea Watson, Director of Marketing and Events, Association of Technology Leaders in Independent Schools

"We congratulate each of our graduates for achieving this milestone in their professional careers and look forward to witnessing the great things they will achieve individually, within their organizations, and on behalf of Virginia's association community in the months and years ahead,"  said Terry Monroe, VSAE Executive Director.

Thanks to Design Build Institute of America, Retail Alliance, VisitNorfolk, and Visit Virginia's Blue Ridge for sponsoring this program and to our generous donors.

Get to Know VSAE's Incoming President

What drew you to the association industry?
My father had started our Richmond based medical association management company in the 70s. For my first 10 years out of college (1982-1992), I worked in a few different Washington DC area hotels. I was fairly well-groomed by the time I left the DC hotels to start as Director of Meetings at my father’s AMC and it seemed like the logical next step.

What goals do you have during your presidency of VSAE?
Like most presidents I’m going to say it’s all about membership. I would love to see continued progress in gaining new members outside of Richmond. I’m also a big believer in engagement. We need to give jobs to as many members as possible. I know when I wrote my first VSAE newsletter article years ago, I was hooked on remaining active in the society.

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VSAE Members Elect 2023-2024 Board

At their Annual Membership Meeting on April 14, VSAE members elected the following slate of officers and directors for the 2023-2024 year (May 1–April 30). The new board will be inducted on May 8 at the VSAE Annual Conference in Hampton.  


Stewart Hinckley
President & CEO
Ruggles Service Corporation

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Common Questions from NOVA Association Professionals

If your work for a national or international association, its natural to question the value of belonging to a state association. Here are the questions we commonly hear (and answers to them): 


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Age Is More Than A Number

You know you’re getting old when…I’m betting that each of you reading this - regardless of your age – has an answer. When we think of age, we’re reminded of the physical aspects and the words of Mick Jagger, “what a drag it is getting old”. But it’s important to understand there are considerations beyond physical aging. These include how we feel about ourselves, our connectedness with society, and how we are treated by society.

Age in the workplace was the kickoff topic in February as part of the Workplace Inclusion Network series — a new partnership between VSAE and the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities (VCIC). Dr. Jenny Inker, Assistant Professor & Co-Director, Assisted Living Administration Specialty Area, VCU, noted how ageism is all around us, from advertisements to comments to perceptions of ourselves and others. As workplaces include employees from multiple generations, she emphasized the importance for organizations and their leaders to understand and address ageism, and to include age as a part of their inclusion strategy.

One interesting part of the conversation dealt with generational stereotypes. Participants were asked to identify traits they associated with different generations. Rather than devolving into a new round of “ok boomer” vs. “snowflake” sparring, what came out of the conversation was hopefully a better appreciation that generational differences need not by themselves be generational barriers, and that each generation has something to contribute and learn from one another.

As importantly, we need to change the way we think about ageism. It is not something limited to older workers. According to a November 2020 article from Harvard Business Review, “Am I Old Enough to Be Taken Seriously? “young adults are more likely to report experiencing ageism at work than their middle-aged and older counterparts. Among the author’s recommendations is to start or join a working group for young professionals.

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VSAE Highlights Value of Virginia's Associations

Letter sent 12/5/2022 to the Honorable Todd Gilbert, Speaker, Virginia House of Delegates:

On behalf of the members of the Virginia Society of Association Executives (VSAE), I’m writing to highlight the wide-ranging benefits that trade and professional associations provide to the Commonwealth of Virginia and its citizens. VSAE’s 400-plus members consist of association executives and those who serve Virginia’s association industry with products and services.

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VSAE 2022 Awards of Excellence Recipients

VSAE announced the recipients of its 2022 Awards of Excellence on December 2 at the Hilton Richmond Hotel and Spa Short Pump. 

  • Ray Mattes, CAE, President & Chief Executive Officer, Retail Alliance, recipient of the CEO Award of Excellence, given to an outstanding chief staff executive in recognition of their leadership and achievement.
  • Phyllis Errico, JD, CAE, General Counsel, Virginia Association of Counties, recipient of the Association Staff Award of Excellence, which recognizes an outstanding association staff professional for their contributions to their association.
  • Jamie Mitchell, CMP, Convention Sales Manager, Virginia Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau, recipient of the Associate Member Award of Excellence, presented to VSAE member suppliers or vendors who have distinguished themselves through their leadership qualities and professionalism.
  • Bob Holsworth, Managing Partner, DecideSmart, recipient of the Career Service Award of Excellence which recognizes an individual outside the field of association management who has provided exceptional service over the years to the association community.
For more information about the VSAE Awards of Excellence, please visit www.vsae.org/awards-of-excellence

VSAE Installs New Board for 2022-2023

VSAE announces its newly-elected 2022-2023 Board of Directors, whose term began May 1, 2022. The installation ceremony took place at VSAE’s Annual Conference, May 1-2 at Lansdowne Resort in Leesburg, Virginia.


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Improving Communication—and Culture—From a Distance

There’s a familiar line in the business world that says culture is “the way we do things around here.” Reading a couple of recent studies around leadership in the pandemic era, I think that line ought to be more specific: Culture is be the way we communicate how we do things around here.


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How to Hire the Right People: 4 Questions to Ask

When you are growing a business, it is inevitable that you will face the need to hire people to help you handle the increased demands of your day-to-day operations. The availability of information has made it possible for people to hone their skills and grow their knowledge base. For a business owner, this means that you have a large pool of talent from which to find the best people to add to your team. It means that you’re more than likely to find someone you can rely on and build a relationship that can be long-term and fulfilling.

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Why Become a Certified Association Executive?

What have you done for YOU lately? Consider taking the next step in your career by obtaining the Certified Association Executive (CAE) credential. We asked four VSAE members who recently earned the CAE credential about preparing for the exam and how investing in this professional designation has advanced their careers. The members are Kelly Ann Gull, CAE, Senior Manager, Governance & Executive Office for the National Society of Professional Engineeers;  Sarah Mattes Marshall, CAE, Executive Director for the VA College of Emergency Physicians; Michelle Runge, CAE, Director of Chapter Relations–Mid-Atlantic Region for the American Inns of Court; and Steven Williams, CAE, Partner with Hardiman-Williams, LLC.

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Rising Young Professionals: Laiya Rollins

Meet Laiya Rollins, a VSAE member, young professional, and Membership & Workforce Development Coordinator for LeadingAge Virginia.


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VSAE Adopts DEI Vision and Values Statement

The Virginia Society of Association Executives (VSAE) Board of Directors has adopted a DEI Vision & Values Statement, following recommendations from its DEI ask Force. 

VSAE’s DEI vision is to “build and sustain a diverse, equitable and inclusive Association that sets the example for affirmation, access, recognition, and respect of various groups, identities, and cultures to positively impact Virginia’s association community.”

In addition, the Board adopted six DEI values:

• Continually create opportunities for VSAE members to develop critical skills to lead and manage through the lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
• Create and maintain an environment that allows everyone to express their social identity and culture to foster a sense of belonging.
• Model respect, professionalism, and ethical behavior among VSAE members.
• Seek out and encourage diverse ideas and perspectives at all levels of VSAE leadership and members.
• Stand against all forms of discrimination, oppression, bias, and exclusion, as well as structural, institutional, and systemic inequities.
• Use a data-driven approach to track, measure, and understand the current state of diversity, equity, and inclusion within Virginia’s association community.


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Rising Young Professionals: Tigre Hammond

Meet Tigre Hammond, a VSAE member, young professional, and Member Relations Specialist for the Virginia Asphalt Association.


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