When an Association Dreams Big: 3 Lessons Learned - Washington DC Association Consultant

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) hosted the world premiere of “Dream Big,” a new 3D IMAX movie sponsored by the organization. The movie was terrific and recommended for all with children planning their future careers. But more than that, we as association executives can learn from their efforts.

Lesson 1: Dare to Dream Big 

Many organizations develop videos about their industries or professions, but how many invest the time and effort necessary to develop an IMAX movie? Add in an Academy Award winning production company, MacGillivray Freeman, best known for the movie To Fly, that has been playing for 40-years straight, and they took the development to the next level.

Can you imagine the reaction of some of their leadership when the idea was pitched? That’s too expensive… We can’t do it… We are too busy with other things.. Can’t we just shoot a small video?…  

Current Executive Director Tom Smith, PE, and past Executive Director Pat Natale, PE, CAE kept their focus for over 5 years. They weren’t swayed by naysayers and dared to dream big. This wasn’t a low-risk affair; it was a multi-year, multi-million dollar commitment.

Lesson 2: Find supporters with similar dreams

Workforce shortage is an issue faced by many professions and industries, engineering included. ASCE reached out to the Bechtel Corporation, a company who employs tens of thousands of engineers and construction professionals worldwide, to be a funder. The purpose of the film met Bechtel’s business needs to help to grow the pipeline of new engineers. Even more than business needs, the film fit the vision and values of Bechtel, a third-generation family-run private company.

ASCE also garnered support from the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying, the United Engineering Foundation, other engineering associations and their many contributors to the ASCE Foundation; all of whom believe in the need to encourage more to enter the engineering profession.

Lesson 3: Make a splash that makes waves

The premiere wasn’t at a local high school – it was at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. The venue added an exclamation point to the excitement of the night.

More importantly, the movie will be available to other IMAX theaters as well to show throughout the world. If “Dream Big” shows half as long as To Fly, there is a potential for this event’s ripples to last 20 years

Finally, “Dream Big” also isn’t just a movie. There are outreach and educational components that are built into the program to mobilize ASCE’s extensive volunteer network to show the movie locally at universities or to host events at local IMAX theaters.

Kudos ASCE! As an association executive and as a civil engineer, you impressed and inspired me.

Patty Leeman, MBA, CAE, is the Chief Analyst at The Moery Company. She conducts research, analysis, and assessment services projects for our client partners.

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