If you’re a leader of (or in) a professional association, you’ll be working with your peers to make it more financially secure, more effective in representing the interests of the membership, better at recruiting new members and better at retaining existing ones. That is what you want for your association, isn’t it? Good. Right, now that we’ve got that out the way, let’s consider how to do it.
The board is a good place to start. Ineffective board structures, processes and traditions are without doubt the biggest impediment to effecting change. Get this stuff wrong and your board can actually become a liability for your organization, rather than an asset.
Bud Crouch makes some excellent points on this topic in an article for the Canadian Society of Association Executives (you can find it here). He says that during meetings “it is not the Board’s role to take in information via live reports – rather, it should be discussing and making decisions on background information it has received and considered prior to the board session.” I agree. Crouch also points out that boards should “not be reviewing and discussing current committee work that is underway.” They should also not be “focusing on work that is already in progress or work that has already been completed.”
For member-led, volunteer-run associations to thrive, a dynamic, focused and representative board of directors is essential. Its composition and working practices should allow for maximum innovation and creativity in order to equip the association with the tools to succeed.
We’ll talk more about the habits of effective boards in later posts, but basically the main point of the board in a member-led association or professional body is to set the strategic direction of the organization. This strategic plan is a key component of the business plan, neither of which can exist in isolation.
Most volunteer boards worth their salt will do some strategic planning once in a while. That’s all well and good. But to really become a high performance association, you need to move beyond occasional strategic planning activities to a comprehensive strategic management model.
This model involves three stages: formulation, implementation and evaluation. The formulation process involves making sure your membership endorses the vision, mission and values for the association. You must then do the hard graft of determining the organization’s critical success factors, goals and long term objectives, followed by generating, evaluating and selecting strategies to accompany the vision and mission. Stage two can be characterized as doing what you said you would do, implementing your strategy. Finally, you need to evaluate its effectiveness.
Needless to say, all of this strategy work should be relentlessly tied to those things I first mentioned – financial security, increased representational effectiveness and a happy, engaged and growing membership. Easier said than done, obviously, but it is possible with some hard work and good advice. Feel free to get in touch if you want to discuss these ideas further.