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August 12, 2004

Governance & Structure

Chapter 1 of Professional Practices in Association Management. Here we go...

First things first. It's important for your association to be incorporated, and also to have bylaws which typically contain: Membership categories and qualifications; Application and resignation procedures; Membership privileges; Board size: Qualifications of officers; Duties and terms of office; Description of standing committees; Nomination and election procedures; Methods of filling vacancies; Methods for amending bylaws; Indemnification of board and officers; and Procedures for dissolution.

Although 77% of associations give their members direct voting privileges (who are these 23% that don't give their members voting privileges? AAA is one I suppose?) , for efficiency's sake, most associations have a structure of volunteer leaders to run the association. Typical groups in an association are:
Board of directors
This is the main decision-making body for the assn. A three-year tenure is recommended to foster stability from year to year.

Executive committee
A subset of the board, usually its officers, which has the authority to act on behalf of the board of directors.

House (or assembly) of delegates
A delegate representative system of association governance. Basically, a really large board of directors.

Standing committees
Usually they are set up in the bylaws. A board liaison to each committee is recommended.

Special interest groups
a.k.a. SIGs. I always considered SIGs and Membership sections (see below) to be synonymous. Not so, says Wayne Leroy, CAE, the author of this chapter. SIGs are usually "transitional" in nature. They are incubators for an evolving need. However, a SIG may eventually become a Membership section under certain conditions.

Membership sections
Groups of members who organize around a particular issue or geographic area. The terms SIG and section are increasingly being replaced by "community of practice" in much of my reading. I suppose regional chapters would fall into this category as well.

Leroy then turns to strengthening the volunteer relationship. This is one of my core responsibilities currently, so this section was really on-target for me. Leroy encourages assn managers to foster:
Recruitment: Both staff and members should be working to identify future volunteer leaders.
Volunteer Orientation: Volunteer leaders should be familiar with the association's bylaws, policies and procedures, finances, strategic plan, org chart, as well as expectations for them and staff, past activities of their cmte, etc.
Recognition: Recognize members regularly and publicly.
Support: Provide superior staff assistance by arranging meetings, taking and distributing minutes, etc.

Next, Leroy describes the appropriate roles of volunteers and staff. Essentially, volunteers provide the strategy by "establishing direction and policies for programs, products, and services." Staff carries out the strategy by "implementing procedures that deliver the programs, products, and services to the members."

Finally, Leroy stresses that frequent and open communication between staff and the members is extremely important.

This strategy development issue has been on my mind recently. I've been learning a lot about communities of practice recently thanks to Jeff DeCagna and Etienne Wenger. One of the key points they make is that knowledge resides with those who work on the front lines.

We association managers are so far into the nitty-gritty of carrying out the strategies of our respective assns that we often feel we know the strategy best and feel we know what's best for the assn better than our own members. We read the member surveys, we hold ourselves accountable for the assn meeting its goals, we know more members than our members do, in many cases we are more committed to the success of the assn than the members are! This is what we do every single day. So why are the members shaping the strategy, and not the staff?

Despite the above, I firmly believe that associations belong to their members, and rightly so. The ultimate authority for their assn rests with them. But we staff bring a great deal to the table as those who are on the front lines of servicing members. Volunteers and staffs need to realize that they both bring "front lines" experience. Increasingly, I'm learning that the ideal of staff/volunteer partnership needs to be reinforced again and again through the spoken word and in practice. I don't pretend to know how that's best carried out. But for an association to be truly great, it is a belief to which staff and volunteers must both ascribe.


Anonymous said...

>>who are these 23% that don't give their members voting privileges?

Um... ASAE, for one.

Ben said...

Can you elaborate? Sections 4 & 5 of article VI give ASAE members voting privileges. Check out their bylaws.