How do you measure engagement of your association board? Aren’t volunteer boards engaged by their very definition? They aren’t paid, so isn’t it enough that they just show up most of the time?
A few weeks ago, we wrote about the role of boards in taking association strategy sessions more seriously. While we believe that making and actively stewarding effective strategy is one of the most critical areas requiring strong engagement, there are a number of other areas where we need our boards to be engaged. So much of our focus on association board performance is what happens in meetings that we neglect all the areas where we often need board assistance. Every board is different and so is every board member, but here are the first 5 of our top 10 where association boards generally have room for improvement. We will cover 6-10 in our next blog.
- Attendance is the obvious one and although we have actual bylaws setting out performance requirements, most boards are hesitant to take action when attendance goes off the rails. There are of course legitimate reasons why people cannot attend board meetings. If travel and other work obligations are in constant conflict with association board attendance, then give the spot to someone else.
- Assistance with local engagement is critical to many associations and a strong barometer of board engagement. For most smaller associations, board members are the only representatives of your association on the ground. Associations that don’t have strong chapters or staff that can fly across the country count on board members to build and maintain local engagement. How does your board measure up?
- Access to their personal network is a critical measure of board member engagement. Associations don’t just elect board members because of what they know…but who they know. Associations often need access to their own industry or practice area and the most direct path is usually through the board. If your board won’t make occasional introductions, are they engaged and effective?
- Active engagement in your conference seems easy enough but there are so many examples when board members are more of hindrance than a help at association conferences. Do your board members clump together or do they fan out and help members maximize their networking and overall conference experience? We need board members to take a very visible and active role across a range of important conference duties.
- Sponsorship support from their own company and others is one of the ultimate tests of board engagement. While this does not apply to every type of association, many of us need boards to tap networks to get us funding. Asking for money or just making an introduction to staff to ask for money takes a certain skill set and makes many volunteer board members uneasy. But isn’t this one area where we really need their active support?
Association Board Engagement. Are your board members slackers?
When Associations make the choice to go with an Association Management Company (AMC) it can be challenging to decide on which one. Each one claims that they will do the best job for you and will do your best to impress you. After seeing a series of great presentations for similar services it can be hard to distinguish between who has the best presentation and who will give you the best service for your money.
Ensure you are getting the best deal and experience possible by doing the three things below while meeting with AMC’s.
Be Prepared. Be direct with what you expect from your AMC. Is it membership growth? Accounting? Social media and ad management? AMC’s offer a suite of services so be sure to know what you want for your association and why. Make sure each one you talk to can fulfill everything you need for you association and keep good track of how much they are charging for what.
Ask for examples. Likely there was a moment that caused your association’s board to decide to seek out an AMC. Explain the situation and be clear about where your association is in everything from membership to finances. Then ask how the AMC has dealt with other clients in a similar position to your association. A good AMC will have plenty of experience dealing with situations like yours and should be able to walk you through in exact terms how they can improve your situation.
Set tangible goals. AMC’s aren’t magical. They cannot fix each one of your association’s issues in a single day. So share with your prospective AMC’s what you want to accomplish and have them say honestly whether those goals are realistic. Strong AMC’s will be able to estimate a timeline to accomplish them. They will also tell you which goals they cannot reach for you. This clear communication is essential.
What are your tips for selecting for a great AMC? Let us know in the comments or through social media.
When associations become too large to be managed solely by volunteers they are left with a choice to hire staff or an Association Management Company (AMC). We know that the board’s objective is to deliver great value to members so should they hire staff or go with an AMC? Each association needs to take time to have a discussion about what is best for them.
Here are four essential questions your board should consider when choosing between hiring staff or an AMC.
- What is realistic for our budget?
- Are there people who are part of the association who can take on staff roles?
- Is there a clear goal that you hope to achieve by bringing in an AMC or Staff?
- Is that clear goal trackable and realistic?
When your board considers those four questions they will be able to make a better choice. By setting realistic goals your association can get the results they need from either an AMC or staff. What else would you consider before deciding between a staff model or AMC for your association? Let is know in the comments or on social media.
In the last blog we discussed the serious side of taking association board strategy sessions seriously. This blog will focus on the tactical tips to achieve the same goal. We have run nearly a thousand strategy sessions over the past 15 years and learned many valuable lessons…some the hard way.
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Here are a few basics to running a great strategy session:
- Hire a professional facilitator. While the wrong facilitator can backfire terribly, some due diligence can ensure success. This is simple: do not hire a facilitator for an important session without glowing references from another association.
- Take your meeting off site. You must separate your session both physically and mentally from day to day operations if you want to get strategic. Make sure the session doesn’t become all about the venue…just take it off site.
- Set ground rules up front. This is as simple as it sounds and yet almost never gets done: ask your planning team how they will conduct themselves and what they hope to accomplish before you start. For example, if you can’t get your group to agree to keep the discussion confidential, you have a low likelihood of real success.
- Conduct individual interviews in advance. Your facilitator should do this and it is critical to session success for many reasons. Many people don’t do well in a group setting and will provide a wealth of insight in a one-on-one phone call. The facilitator can use this to stoke the session. Volunteer board members have day jobs and just don’t give a lot of thought to your strategy, but interviews within 2 weeks of a session will get them thinking strategically and make them better participants.
- Use simple tricks to drive real participation. Some people think, speak and perform well in strategy sessions and some do not. Facilitation tricks need to ensure your strategy isn’t based entirely on the views of your eloquent board members. Give lots of time for thinking and list making individually, in pairs and in small groups before opening conversation up to the larger group. This will help keep people awake too.
- Use pre-reads for good not evil. Too many association managers use pre-reads and existing strategy documents to drive a predetermined conclusion…their conclusion. We also see irrelevant pre-read materials pushed just to appear effective. Use pre-reads only if necessary and then only to educate and prepare. Be open to the wisdom of your board.