3. OUTDA TED
Now more than ever, associations must
assess their portfolio of programs and
products and eliminate those that no
longer align with member needs. This
process is not as simple as it sounds,
as emotions and personal biases make
difficult decisions even harder, causing the association to:
Just as good economic times can pro-
mote bad financial reporting habits,
they can fuel the survival of dysfunc-
tional governance models under which
bad behaviors and poor decisions
often go unnoticed. Examples of poor
governance models include those that
support unmanageable board sizes,
extravagant board meeting destinations
or other bad but commonly accepted
habits. The recession is likely to expose
boards’ worst habits and practices,
• Neglect popular programs as a
result of strained staff and resources.
To neutralize these strains, boards
which left unchecked could result in:
• A backlash against leadership by
members or core volunteers who
have lost trust in the board and
question its motives.
• The sacrifice of future offerings as
a result of unnecessary expenses
that do not directly contribute to
member benefits or value.
• A lost opportunity to eliminate
harmful practices that have become
embedded in the organization’s
To neutralize these strains, boards
• Establish a small task force representing paid staff, board members
and members at large to conduct
an objective review of offerings.
• Use available expertise to create
best practices and systems for reviewing programs annually, resulting
in informed decisions about what
programs to retain.
• Commit to positive and ongoing
• Consistently and transparently communicate their long-term agendas
to elicit constituent support.
• Conduct an independent “
governance effectiveness audit” by
empowering a small task force to
objectively conclude what is working well and what is not, then
seek an independent governance
expert to help fix what is broken.
• Establish a diversified task force
to review both documented policies and undocumented “habits,”
then publish its findings to create
a two-way dialogue between the
board and the membership.
Because associations are people busi-
nesses, individual relationships are at
their very core. These relationships
are based upon mutual respect, trust,
common expectations, shared objec-
tives and collegiality. Regardless of
the management model — e.g.,stand-
alone or management company —
True to history, this recession —
like others before it — is slowly but
surely coming to end. When it finally
gives way to recovery, some associa-
tions will find themselves revitalized
and positioned for growth. Others, how-
ever, will find themselves fighting to
an economic recession can strain
even the best relationships, not only
between individual board members,
but also between board and staff.
After all, it is easy for collegiality to
break down during periods of stress,
• Major board decisions that are
based on reactive feelings and fail
to consider a broader and longer-
term context, causing an erosion
of trust and a decline in mutual
respect between boards and staff.
To make sure they’re in the former
group, not the latter, governing boards
and paid staff should begin examining
and discussing the sources of strain that
are impacting their organizations. By
openly analyzing their issues, they can
put best practices to work in order to
resolve them, stimulating the effective
• Short tempers and emotional reac-
tions that make discussion difficult
and interactions uncomfortable.
To maintain positive relationships,
paid staff executives and board members alike should:
• Communicate openly.
• Clearly restate their roles and
• Initiate open-door policies at all
levels of the organization.
leadership that members deserve and
need in uncertain times.
David Schmahl is a vice president at SmithBucklin,
the world’s largest association management company. He may be reached via the SmithBucklin Web