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Investing in Your Board as Leaders

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, November 5, 2019
Board room

by Darrin Hubbard

When non-profit association board members are elected, they bring a variety of experience and talent to help further the organization. Some board members have risen through the ranks of volunteer leadership while others may be industry figures who elevate the stature of the organization. What can we as association executives do to not only maximize their contributions, but also provide a rewarding volunteer experience? In my 15 years working with non-profits, I have seen boards coalesce and perform as a high-level team and others finish their term feeling like they did not accomplish as much as they could have.

What is the difference between the two? While no single factor typically determines a board’s success, I will review two common challenges I have seen and some strategies to address them.

Challenge #1: It takes the board too long to get going

For the purpose of this example, let’s assume a board is seated for one year with staggered terms. At the beginning of your board year, you will add new board members; at the end, some will transition off. Even if you maintain a strong core on the board, the dynamics (and likely the performance) change.
What can you do get new board members up to speed faster? Effective board service starts with an orientation. Several models and examples are available online to use with your organization. What I find most effective is an orientation that addresses:

  • Both the history of the organization and the current state of affairs;
  • Key documents like bylaws, policies, procedures, board-staff responsibilities, list of staff with contact information, etc.;
  • Time for you ask key questions of your incoming board: What do you want to accomplish during your term? Why did you decide to run for the board?

I try to schedule at least an hour for my board member orientation to discuss the materials at a high level and allow time for Q&A. Typically, I do this soon after the election, often using a video conferencing platform so it can be recorded and referenced again later.

An effective orientation will allow for a faster start and give you information about individuals’ desires so you can better align their interests with opportunities and understand individual dynamics that are being added to the group.

Challenge #2: Leaders have different talents

When you have an effective leader or someone who was adept at managing the board, their successor may possess a different skill set.

What can you do so the organization does not lose momentum? The governance of many organizations allows for the incoming leadership to be named through succession of the chairs or elected well in advance of the beginning of their term. This is your opportunity to understand and influence the preparedness of your next leader.

Several in-person and virtual trainings are available to help you and your incoming leaders prepare for their term. ASAE has an Exceptional Boards course where the chief elected officer and chief staff officer attend together. BoardSource has an online certificate program. Perhaps there are organizations in your industry that provide training programs specific to that vertical.

Another strategy you can use is including that incoming leader in “business review” meetings with current leaders. These meetings allow the incoming leader to be involved in determining the strategy in ongoing projects, so they have the background and knowledge to bring it to conclusion during their term. Some associations do this in-person for a day, meet at an association event or in a series of meetings as their term approaches.

Start early! Several organizations publish quality thought leadership around board effectiveness. ASAE has its Guide to Volunteer Leadership, Bob Harris has a library of templates and resources available at no cost, BoardSource is a DC-based organization with a focus on effectiveness, to name a few. Check with your local SAE to see what kinds of resources they have. By sharing resources throughout the year with your leaders, you demonstrate your care for their development and also the success of the organization.

Invest in your volunteer leaders today to reap benefits tomorrow. Keep your Board’s momentum strong by developing your volunteer leaders.

What are some things you do to invest in your volunteer leaders?

Tags:  board  board member  leadership 

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The Value in being the last one to leave - GUEST POST

Posted By Gene Sullivan, President of CAI-MN, Tuesday, September 8, 2015
Updated: Thursday, September 3, 2015

As a kid growing up, I remember hating anytime we went out somewhere as a family.  It didn’t matter if it was coffee hour after church, a wedding, a picnic, or the grocery store, we always seemed to be the last ones to leave.

The reason for this was because you could always find my father striking up a conversation with someone he had never met before, and he was always interested in finding out who that person was, what they did for a living, or their views on a sundry of issues and matters.

Consequently, it seemed that people, and I mean everyone loved talking with my father.  At any gathering, he was a very popular man, and always in the center of any gathering.

Watching him as I did growing up, I came to realize the reason behind his popularity, my father had a genuine love of learning, and the sincere belief that he could always learn something from everyone.  That is what I think the satirist Will Rogers meant when he said “I never met a man I didn’t like!” 

That statement is the key to understanding and getting the value of this organization - CAI.

And what a rich resource it is!

From the articles written in our bi-monthly magazine Minnesota Community Living, to our Tradeshow.  From our educational events, to our social gatherings; there is always an opportunity to be a little sharper, a little more knowledgeable, a little more of an expert at the end of any gathering from the time you first walked in.

But the key is to never stop loving to learn. 

Next time you are at a CAI gathering, make it a point to meet someone you have never met before, and take some time to find out what they do, what they know, what is important to them.

That is what networking is really all about.  It is not going through and handing out your cards quickly to everyone and leaving, but trying to find something out you never know before.

The knowledge, the real life experiences of the members in this organization is amazing.  There is a lot we can learn from one another, because once again, in the words of Will Rogers “Everyone is ignorant, only on different subjects!”

Tags:  associations  board member  networking 

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10 Hot Moves to Use in the Boardroom

Posted By Paul Hanscom, Thursday, September 25, 2014
Untitled Document

1. Read the “owner’s manual”
Whether you’re new to the board or just starting a new term, it’s always a good move to familiarize yourself with critical governing documents. This includes articles of incorporation, bylaws, policies and any additional governing documents that guide the association. These documents should be readily accessible and used regularly. Governing documents dictate how the association operates, and you need to understand how things get done if you are to be successful on the board. Having a clear understanding of the association’s governing documents helps you avoid any unnecessary questions as well as potentially embarrassing or damaging misunderstandings.

2. Embrace your responsibilities
The board as a whole has a number of important responsibilities to fulfill. Different experts will define these in different ways, but they essentially all relate to three things:

  • Setting and monitoring the direction of the association to ensure efficacy and service to the mission, which includes goal-setting, policy-making, and fiduciary duties.
  • Oversight of the chief staff executive, which includes hiring, replacement, and regular performance review.
  • Serve as ambassador of the organization to key stakeholder groups, and the industry at large through membership and fundraising outreach.

Strive to go beyond simply knowing what is expected of you as a board. Make it clear which of these responsibilities is being fulfilled through each board discussion and action.

Individual board members have responsibility to carry out the board’s work between board meetings in a number of ways that are nuanced to every organization. Articulate these in a position description that is reviewed annually.

3: Bring stamina to board recruitment efforts
Having a strong board is rarely the product of chance. A nominating committee that convenes a few short months prior to the board election will be substantially less successful than one that makes a year-round effort. Each year the board should inventory the skills and demographics of its directors (e.g. personalities, backgrounds, industry positions) compared to organizational goals and demographics of its membership. This type of “gap analysis” helps the nominating committee to target its recruitment toward areas of need over the coming year. Clear criteria should be established and used uniformly to ensure that individuals are qualified and committed to serve on the board. Individuals who sit on the board but do not meet the identified needs of the association do a disservice by prohibiting more qualified members from a position on the board.

4. Get active in the boardroom
Board service is a privilege that is not afforded to everyone. Board meetings are a unique opportunity to gather the brightest minds in the industry to guide the future of your profession. Fellow directors on the board, and the membership as a whole, expect each board member to be an active participant in board meetings. This means:

  • Prepare for meetings – read materials and ask clarifying questions in advance.
  • Attend all meetings and arrive on time.
  • Follow the agenda – if there is something you would like added to the agenda, request that before the meeting (ideally, before the board materials are distributed).
  • Actively listen during discussions so you make well-informed decisions.
  • If you leave the meeting with an action item, execute it with alacrity and report when finished.
  • Support others in their work and keep each other accountable.

5. Engage the right volunteers
Board member attention should be focused on a handful of key governance responsibilities. Encourage additional volunteerism in the organization to help fulfill the work of the organization toward the board-established outcomes. The #1 reason why members say they don’t volunteer with their industry association is because they were never asked. “Asking” someone to volunteer doesn’t mean sending an email to every member of the organization soliciting their participation (although that is a valid approach). Asking a member to volunteer should be a direct, personal, one-on-one request that reflects a thoughtful effort by the board or committee chair to match needs of the organization with skills/passions of qualified members. Board members who serve as good ambassadors to their organization are well-connected in the membership community. When a situation comes up that requires volunteer support, they collectively know of at least one or two individuals who can be asked to step up and get involved.

Additionally, members have a stronger commitment to the association if they volunteer. Research by ASAE and The Center for Association Leadership has shown that volunteerism has a direct positive impact on an member’s sense of connection and the likelihood that s/he will renew his/her membership in the coming year. By this rationale, the more volunteers you can recruit from among your membership, the stronger your association’s community will become and the better your member retention.

6. Take time to plan
Periodically devote time to deeper examination of your industry and the organization’s role in it. Prepare for your planning by conducting both quantitative and qualitative research to better inform your examination. Review these data and identify what trends emerge in perceptions, participation, and funding streams. What do these trends say about the way your association is serving its members? Additionally, how do professional, economic, political and industrial environments impact the way you do business now and into the future? Spend time together as a board crafting goals and strategies that are responsive to current as well as future market conditions.

A stumbling block for many groups can be determining the “right” way to conduct annual and/or strategic planning. There are as many different approaches to planning as there are organizations going through the planning process. Don’t let your search for the “right” way keep you from initiating this process. Start by collecting just a few critical data points and gathering input from members and program participants. Dedicate a short amount of time during a board meeting to discuss what was learned from this feedback.  You may be surprised to find out what issues members are most concerned about and how your association can better position itself as a resource to address them.

7. Don’t get confused by “experts”
There are plenty of articles, websites, videos, and consultants that serve as resources to support organizations in good governance practices. They each share unique perspectives, experiences, knowledge and best practices to guide associations to perform better. However, the sheer scope and variety of opinions on governance can be overwhelming. By the same token, ascribing to one governance model as the “right and only” one unnecessarily boxes an association in, making it inflexible to changing market conditions that demand new thinking. Don’t get confused by tomes of expert opinions regarding board governance; be open to adjusting your approach so it works best for your board in its current state.

8. Check the dashboard but keep your eyes on the road
Key performance indicators (KPIs) are critical metrics for your organization’s operations, much like dashboard gauges in your car. It is extremely important that the board identify what KPIs to assign to organization-wide goals in order to perform adequate oversight over time. At the same time, it can be unhealthy for a board to ruminate over numbers and reporting and lose sight of big picture changes in the industry. Sticking with the dashboard/car metaphor, it is important to watch the speed of your vehicle and adjust it appropriately if the road begins to curve. Keep an eye on the dashboard, but make sure you are watching the road.

9. Know the resources available
The most successful boards are not those with know-it-all directors; they’re the ones that know the resources they need to get the outcomes they desire. This can be as simple as knowing and implementing basic rules for decision making in meetings like Robert’s Rules of Order. It can also mean having connections to experts on legal, financial, insurance, and industry-related nuances that support the organization through a unique challenge. Benchmarking and best practice resources are available through ASAE, state societies of association executives, BoardSource, and many other organizations. Publications and professional networks, whether in-person or online, can be invaluable as you address governance matters.

10. Show appreciation and have fun!
Serving on a board of directors can be challenging, but it can also be a whole lot of fun. We often forget to take the time to thank our peers on the board for their commitment to serving the greater good of the industry. There is a value exchange between the contribution that individuals make through board service and the satisfaction they receive as a part of being involved in a great organization. Set aside time to thank board members and volunteers frequently for their work making your organization one with which people are proud to affiliate. Make your appreciation genuine and specific to something they’ve done or results they’ve achieved.

Do good work and enjoy your volunteer leadership experience!



The Decision to Volunteer: Why People Give Their Time and How You Can Engage Them. Gazley, Beth and Monica Dignam (Aug 16, 2008).

Tags:  board member  boardroom  ewald consulting  member recruitment  paul hanscom  tips 

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