ASAP’s New CEO: A Career and Life of Growth, Connection, and Embracing Change
The appointment of Nicole Boston as ASAP’s new CEO ushered in a new era for the association. Boston brings an outgoing, people-centric style of management in driving member engagement, all while prioritizing an organization’s most critical strategic objectives. After all, whoever said revenue growth is a secondary priority for a nonprofit never ran one—and never met Boston.
“I like to remind people that ‘nonprofit’ is a tax status not a successful business model,” she explained.
What will Boston bring to ASAP? What can ASAP members expect from the association under her leadership? What are her philosophies on management and life in general? What does she do in her spare time? We caught up with Boston to learn a little more about the person charged with spearheading ASAP’s next phase as she took the reins this week.
Tell us about your career up until this point and how your experience will apply to ASAP.
Over the last 10 years or so I served as CEO at the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE). I came in with a very similar mandate: to grow. They were in a growth mindset—member expansion, chapter expansion, global expansion, research expansion. They wanted growth everywhere, which is common for small organizations with ambitious missions.
I’m happy to say that we delivered. We grew our membership and chapters globally. We set up a separate legal entity in Brussels, Belgium in 2020 to better accommodate our European and global members. And we reorganized the research foundation to be positioned to strategically partner with academia worldwide and secure significant funding to develop solutions for the industry’s global challenges.
From operational initiatives such as relocating our offices and converting to digital platforms to the examples above, I believe my experience and lessons learned will help us prioritize, right-size, and scale ASAP’s growth.
Aside from growth, what other priorities have been front and center for the organizations you have led?
Engagement and relevancy have been big ones. When I got started in association management in the mid-90s, the association's role was primarily to provide opportunities for members to connect with each other and with their suppliers. Thus, the focus was on meetings, exhibits, volunteer committees, etc. During the early 2000s it was all about technology. We had to incorporate tech into our operations, as well as focus on how connections were being made online. The last decade has largely been focused on content creation and ensuring that our profession’s content is delivered and consumed across tech platforms to broader audiences.
Now what comes next? I think over the next few years businesses will continue to deal with a multitude of impacts from the pandemic, coupled with the surge of AI. People are redefining and reasserting their values in new ways, questioning who they trust, and looking for new ways of connecting and finding a sense of belonging. This is critical for associations. At the same time, AI is disrupting all aspects of society, and we need to adjust to ensure that we are utilizing and managing it wisely.
What other past experiences will apply at ASAP?
Prior to SFPE, I was at the University of Texas’s Cockrell School of Engineering for 11 years. I ran a research consortium called FIATECH (Fully Integrated and Automated Technologies). It’s a good comparison with ASAP in that it involved very large global companies that were coming together to streamline and implement technology and innovation into their very robust and complex systems and environments.
We had C-level executives and corporate leaders working together to address challenges one company couldn’t do on its own. A lot of it was also working with technology software companies and manufacturers—and bringing them to the table so that as issues were being discussed, all parties better understood the needs and processes and were able to work together on solutions.
What other skills and resources do you bring to the table?
Throughout my career, I’ve had a strong passion for learning and connecting with others. We rely so much on digital communication now that it’s easy to forget the value of personal connections forged through phone calls, meals, and genuine conversations. These interactions not only contribute to personal success but also lay the foundation for effective professional collaboration.
I think we all learn from our failures, too, and that is integral to growth. That’s one of the reasons why people come to conferences—to get insight into what works and what doesn’t. Oftentimes, success comes down to knowing who not to work with or what not to do—and those are often things that aren’t shared publicly. In that respect, I’m very fortunate to have a diverse and unique CEO network of STEM leaders who provide invaluable advice. I served on the Council of Engineering and Scientific Society Executives’ (CESSE) board of directors for several years and as the organization’s chair from 2019 to 2020.
Most associations deal with similar issues around volunteer management, board governance, successful meetings, and the like. Being a part of the CESSE network has been indispensable, offering not only a sounding board for challenges but also insights into industry trends. That collective wealth of experiences, including both successes and failures, has been an asset, supplementing my own skills and knowledge.
What drew you to ASAP?
I am excited and energized by the work our members do and ASAP’s mission to support them. I’m motivated by change, innovation, and fostering collaboration which aligns with ASAP’s objectives. And being a part of creating global solutions that provide hope, inspiration, and a better quality of life is very aligned with my values and where I want to spend my time.
I also saw an opportunity for growth and was drawn to the challenge of applying my experience to drive success. ASAP’s size and the opportunities at hand are similar to situations I’ve been in before, which gave me confidence that I can help propel ASAP forward.
How do you best foster volunteer engagement?
Understand how your volunteers can best contribute to the mission and then ask them.
We need to recognize the importance of accommodating diverse schedules and interests, aligning tasks with skills and aspirations to ensure a rewarding experience, and look for concise projects with shorter commitments and flexible collaboration schedules to better accommodate global teams and those seeking more work-life balance. The days of five- to 10-year committee terms are over. We need to think more nimbly and be more flexible to accommodate our members at all stages of their career.
Once we have meaningful opportunities identified, we need to ask our members for help. We can’t just sit back and expect them to come to us. And when they do contribute, we need to ensure they are recognized and appreciated.
When we can harness our volunteer’s talents and skills and they can contribute in a rewarding way, it’s a win-win for everyone as this results in increased member satisfaction (and retention) and hopefully a deeper, life-long commitment to the association.
What are your hobbies and interests outside of work?
I have a 12-year-old son who keeps me busy when I’m not working. Whether it’s soccer, basketball, swim team, or music, there’s always something to be done or somewhere to go. This spring our family started playing pickleball and we all agree, it’s so satisfying when you whack that pickleball and the sound it makes. We can get a bit competitive! My husband and I met golfing. I haven’t played much lately but I am hoping to do so more as my son gets older.
I also volunteer with other organizations, including serving on the board at my son’s school and supporting its various activities and programs. I continue to volunteer for CESSE, speaking at its events and instructing a course on association management. I also volunteer in my neighborhood, coordinating programs and activities to connect neighbors and bring the community together.
Whether it’s work or play, I enjoy making connections and helping others. Coming together with others who invest their time and resources for the larger good, despite our busy lives, inspires and energizes me.