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ASAE Leadership Retreat Summary: Key Learnings on Member Engagement

Posted By Ewald Consulting, Tuesday, June 25, 2019

This year’s American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) Leadership Retreat focused on methods for engaging members deeper into the professional community. We discussed “the power of purpose” as a compelling way to communicate why a professional should join and engage in an association. Association membership and engagement promotions should have as their underpinning a strong “why” message related to the individual’s ability to contribute to the greater cause being championed by the profession. This connects the individual’s personal mission for having chosen this profession for him/herself to the mission of the organization and its ability to serve as a vehicle for personal/professional fulfillment. If your association has a strong cause-related mission, you should focus on the need for each professional to commit to “advance our profession’s impact on [insert important societal challenge that the profession aims to address].” Associations must go deeper than this as well. A cogent message needs to be accompanied with examples of how your association manifests this message throughout its activities and member benefits. For example, frame the annual conference as a forum to bring together the most influential, innovative, and successful minds in the profession to shape its future. Articulate how participating in part of an online learning series will empower an individual with a clear understanding of the issues impacting practices in the profession and tools to address them. Describe how participants in the online discussion group lead the conversation about topics shaping the next stage/future of the industry and accompany this with testimonials.

The “Staff/Volunteer Dyad”

A strong relationship between staff and association leaders is critical to the success of a member engagement plan. A key component to this relationship is clarity of roles. Associations should have written chairperson position descriptions that include delineation of what the chair/committee is responsible for and what s/he can count on staff to provide (staff will… volunteer will…). Staff need to entrust areas of industry subject matter expertise to the association leaders and association leaders must respect the specialized knowledge, expertise and talent of the staff. Having someone “from the profession” in a staff position comes with positives and negatives. It can be a faster, more dependable source for content and industry perspective but there must be an expectation that the individual has significant time dedicated to garnering feedback from industry leaders and is not the sole source for content ideas, insights and guidance.

A recommendation toward achieving more overt and intentional attention to member engagement on an ongoing basis was to change the “Nominating” committee to the “HR Committee” responsible for identifying resource needs and the recruitment, engagement and assessment of all unpaid human resources to address those needs. The HR Committee is complemented by a “Council of Future Practices” that reviews industry data through the lens of the association. The Council of Future Practices provides a report to the board of directors based on industry data and their individual/combined experience. This report serves as a forecasting guide to portend the impact that trends are expected to have on the profession and what the association should do to address this. Once the board determines the action the association should take and whether to resource with staff or volunteers, the HR Committee begins its work anew.


Measuring volunteer performance is the best way to optimize a volunteer-dependent system. That being said, ASAE leadership agreed that insufficient metrics exist for tracking volunteer performance/engagement. A model based on HR best practices would make sense — but none of the association leaders engaged in the discussion had a working model to share.

Rather than attempting to tackle the problem at once, it was recommended that associations start with a “Simple Assessment” solution:

  1. Have chairperson rank each volunteer’s performance on a scale of 1-3
  2. Have staff liaison rank each volunteer’s performance on a scale of 1-3
  3. Average the two and give feedback to each volunteer (most in writing; conversation where necessary)

Six Drivers of a Quality Volunteer Experience:

  1. Quality of staff coordinating their activity
  2. Receptivity of staff to give their input consideration
  3. Quality of orientation/introduction
  4. Quality of the volunteer leadership
  5. Ability to debate/discuss issues
  6. Time and timing

Orientation Questions

  1. Why are you choosing to engage further?
  2. What gifts do you have to offer to the organization?
  3. What do you want to gain through further engagement?
  4. What don’t you want to do as you get more involved in the organization?

4 levels of volunteerism (example from ISACA):

  1. Micro: one-time tasks
  2. Short-term/limited: e.g. support for an event or publication
  3. Annual commitment: serve on the XYZ Committee
  4. International/Local Governance

Below is an example Volunteer Engagement Model that was shared from R.A.P.S. using the Higher Logic online community tool:

Volunteer Engagement Model


Tags:  association management  engagement  member development 

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Innovation from Within: A Focus on Mission-driven Work

Posted By Ewald Consulting, Friday, December 14, 2018
Updated: Friday, December 14, 2018

By Arzu Alimohd, Assistant Account Executive, and Paul Hanscom, CAE, Vice President of Growth Strategies

Paying close attention to the strategic plan can help a board or committee reach new goals.

It is easy for a board of directors, committee, or other governing body to fall into a cyclical work pattern year after year. Most organizations operate on an annual schedule that includes budget approval, nominations and elections, orientation, and other essential governance functions. When leaders are caught up in the cadence of addressing tactical governance practices, they run out of time and attention for important conversations about strategic-level goals, industry trends and innovative initiatives that have the potential to augment and perpetuate the organization’s value proposition.

Dynamic Agendas and Meeting Content
While a predictable meeting schedule is practical and efficient for a governing body, the agenda and content of the meeting must be made dynamic. Financial, status and year-end reports are important to ensure the overall stability and growth of an organization, and an innovative board will discuss each of these within the context of whether the activities being reported upon are aligned with and advancing the mission and vision of the organization. Those that succeed in staying focused on the strategy-level implications of the organization’s initiatives dedicate time to assess their efficiency and impact. This assessment can yield gains in both areas.

The Benefits of Introspection
Boards must be willing to remain flexible and adaptable to unforeseen circumstances (be they challenges or opportunities) as they may arise. The board of directors takes a high-level view of the organization’s overall role in relation to collaborative partners and industry trends. This makes it easy to become displaced from operations within the organization. It is rare and too-often perceived as cavalier for an individual or governing body to question the direction/need of a long-standing initiative or introduce something that is completely new or unproven. Innovative board leadership demands introspection about whether to create, continue, or eliminate initiatives that help, hinder or simply do nothing for the organization. This all starts and continues with effective and productive meetings.

Building in consistent time to review, analyze and discuss mission-driven goals will enhance the value of board meetings and, by extension, the organization’s leadership and relevance to the professionals it aims to serve. There are many ways to maintain strategic focus while monitoring and evaluating operational performance. Build a brief strategic plan review into every agenda. Invite a different committee leader to each board meeting to provide an update on progress and strategy alignment. Set aside time each meeting to articulate the connection between a specific initiative and a need the industry is facing; if board members cannot do this effectively in the insulated security of a board room, how can they be expected to do so as ambassadors of the organization when meeting with members in the professional community at large?

In the end, the organization and what it represents are what draw industry leaders and members together. Keeping this in focus throughout the year brings all the important activities of your organization together.

For more tips on how to build an exceptional board, download the 12 Principles of Governance that Power Exceptional Boards.

Arzu Alimohd joined Ewald Consulting in 2016 and is an Assistant Account Executive in our Association Management Department. She can be reached at arzua@ewald.com or at 651.290.7483.

Paul Hanscom, CAE, who joined Ewald Consulting in 2004, is Vice President of Growth Strategies. He can be reached at paulh@ewald.com or at 651.290.6274.

We want to hear from you! Email your feedback to us about Ewald Advantage or any aspect of your Ewald Consulting experience.

Tags:  association management  member development 

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Board Member Term Limits: Pros and Cons

Posted By Ewald Consulting, Monday, October 22, 2018

Are term limits a good fit for your organization? These considerations can help you make a sound determination.

Conversation around the pros and cons of board terms is not new to the nonprofit world. While there are strong arguments both for and against term limits, a majority of organizations opt to adopt them. According to a 2017 study, Leading with Intent: 2017 Index of Nonprofit Board Practices, 72 percent of boards have set term limits — with the most common configuration being two three-year terms. Despite these findings, term limits do not work for every association; some find strength in keeping a strong core of tenured board members.

A synopsis of reasons for and against the practice of board member term limits follows:


  • Term limits encourage new talent acquisition, which is essential for the long-term health of the organization.
  • Board composition/diversity (skillset, perspectives, networks) is strengthened to meet the current and future needs of the organization.
  • Term limits reduce the likelihood that a board or board member becomes tired and loses vigor.
  • Limited terms encourage focused participation.
  • New board members are more likely to speak up with new ideas.
  • A board with term limits helps to avoid a potential concentration of power among tenured volunteers.
  • When terms are staggered, it provides balance and continuity.
  • There is a respectful and effective system for the exit of inactive, unproductive or potentially troublesome board members.
  • As the board turns over, it cultivates a broad base of dedicated volunteers, involving more of your members.


  • Organizations may experience a loss of institutional memory and historical knowledge.
  • Organizations may lose dedicated, highly effective, tenured volunteers.
  • Succession planning takes time (identification, recruitment, orientation, continuous development).
  • Boards need to allocate additional time to build cohesiveness among board members.
  • Network relationships that may have been tied to a specific board member may be difficult to maintain.
  • There may be disruption to the oversight and operations of an organization.
  • Some associations experience difficulty in filling open board seats.


Regardless of where an organization falls on the matter, it is important that leaders are familiar with best practices on term limits to ensure the longevity and relevancy of their organization.

Katie Wallstein joined Ewald Consulting in 2014 and is an Account Executive in our Association Management Department.

We want to hear from you! Email your feedback to us about Ewald Advantage or any aspect of your Ewald Consulting experience.

Tags:  board  leadership  member development 

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