Gretchen Couraud, CAE, CFRE, assumed the executive director’s position at NACUFS (National Organization of College and University Food Services) last November 1. Only the third executive director in NACUFS’ 54-year history, she spent much of March on a national “listening tour,” attending all five NACUFS regional conferences.
After spending her first months in strategic planning meetings with the NACUFS board and familiarizing herself with the organization and its staff, “I needed to hear first-hand from members where the organization has been and where they want to see it go in the future,” she says.
FM Editor John Lawn interviewed Couraud following the Midwest regional and asked her to elaborate on some of her remarks to the membership there.
You alluded to a need to do a better job of telling NACUFS’ “story” to members, the educational community and the public. What parts of that story would you emphasize?
NACUFS has a proud 54-year history of promoting the highest quality of foodservice on school campuses and providing members with education, training, technical assistance, scholarships, information and research. At every level, we should articulate that value through personal stories and data.
We need to show members how our programs and services can help campus dining programs and their staff succeed in today’s competitive and changing environment.
In terms of the larger educational community, we need to articulate the value of quality dining services to higher level administrators, showing their positive effect on recruitment, retention, achievement, student satisfaction and graduation.
The message for the public should show how campus dining programs are serving students through timely and cutting-edge programs and initiatives. I am thinking of NACUFS members’ great efforts at culinary innovation, at educating students about allergen awareness and at promoting wellness, nutrition and sustainability.
Do you think NACUFS’ value is perceived differently by different members? If so, how do you think they see NACUFS evolving?
Interestingly, our data shows us that all our members value the same things about NACUFS, regardless of institutional type, job title or age. They value its emphasis on professional development, information and networking.
The greatest differences appear to be generational. Associations have changed over the past 20 years and are becoming more strategic. As volunteers find they can no longer devote extraordinary hours to serve their associations, Boards are becoming more strategic in their approach to governing, while delegating significant responsibilities to staff to develop, assess and manage associations.
This lets Boards focus on outcomes they want to achieve and on ways to measure their success at reaching these goals. Association staff professionals are able to guide the association with improved business systems, data and technology.
Volunteers will always lead their associations, but the roles are changing. It’s my hope that the long-term, loyal members who built NACUFS will stay engaged while enabling the next generation of leaders to make the changes necessary for us to grow, be strong, and remain relevant.
NACUFS’ benchmarking program is often used for the latter objective. Is it your sense that this program needs to be strengthened or changed in any way?
The membership is telling me two things about our data. First, while our operating performance, salary and customer satisfaction surveys are excellent tools, they need to be updated to reflect changing trends.
Second, we need to do a better job of leveraging how the data tells our story. We will be taking a close look at each survey and how to connect them to value.
You’ve made it clear that membership growth is one of your and NACUFS’ top priorities. What do you think is the key to growing your institutional membership? Where will NACUFS focus its efforts?
The key to membership growth is determining who our core customer and target markets are and aligning our products, programs and services to meet their changing needs. NACUFS is at a pivotal moment in time and this provides an opportunity to step back and assess the organization.
We beed to take a hard look at industrty and member data. While NACUFS serves higher education institutions that have dining programs on college and university campues, it also serves individuals within each of these organizations.
A review of our value proposition to customer markets is key, and may call into question the alignment of our product mix for those customers.
You spoke of emphasizing a strategic approach to member service development and of doing more extensive data analysis to provide focus in applying NACUFS resources. Where do you see the focus increasing or decreasing?
NACUFS recent membership survey show that 80 percent of our members are satisfied or extremely satisfied, which is excellent by industry standards. Data also shows that professional development, providing technical and timely industry information and networking are our members’ top priorities. The question we’ll explore in greater depth is whether there are ways we can deliver these services and reach more people faster with a greater use of technology, while still maintaining the human touch.
That requires that we take a had look at our governance model. I’d like NACUFS to review national association best practices and other national/regional governance models. A review of our committee, regional governance and staffing structure to to better align with our strategic plan also appears to be in order, and may change our focus.
What about the kinds of partnerships NACUFS develops with other industry organizations?
Remarkable associations today pursue alliances that form a tight fit with their mission, purpose and strategies. They establish criteria and expect true win-win relationships. NACUFS is frequently approached by outside organizations seeking such partnerships, and I see the Board emphasizing those that will help it achieve measureable results.
If elevating the perception of dining services among administrators is a top priority for NACUFS, then our partnerships should reflect that.
Based on your conversations with the membership, what is your biggest takeaway in terms of what they are looking to see NACUFS accomplish in coming years?
I sense that the next generation of leaders is ready to step up and lead, but also that they want change. They want us to be more nimble, responsive and technologically savvy. They value our educational offerings but want us to reach more people, with faster access to best practices and tools to do their jobs. They want NACUFS to help them compete in a rapidly changing environment.