For a variety of reasons, a growing number of associations are restructuring governance to increase their efficiency. Some association executives and volunteers take the plunge once they realize things aren’t running smoothly as they once did. Others do so as a result of declining membership and decreased revenues.
According to Glen Tecker, there are two signs that it’s time to rethink association structure and governance. The first is a decrease in membership, a financial crisis, or a decline in participation in association activities. The second, says Tecker, “is an impression that the organization is losing it’s energy and attractiveness….Some of that will be anecdotal evidence, such as comments you get from people, or comments you used to get but aren’t getting any longer.”
Associations that have been through the governance restructuring process have discovered several benefits. Common results of a well-implemented initiative are the opportunity to increase efficiencies and become more responsive to member needs, the ability to make volunteer service more meaningful, and the nimbleness needed to respond more fully and promptly to environmental changes.
If it’s business as usual at your association, it may be time to rethink how your association is governed and why. The very act of questioning the status quo often provides insight and enables an association to maintain its relevance to members in an ever-changing environment. Frequently, the exercise results in changing the association from a bureaucracy to an “adhocracy.” When decisions can’t be made quickly, it’s often an indication that the Board is not on top of trends and is not doing a good job of anticipation. If that’s the case, it’s time to rethink governance.
Speeding up the decision-making process often means reducing the number of standing committees. Project teams assembled on the areas of interest and expertise of members and staff can more effectively tackle narrowly defined the tasks that are often of short duration. Another advantage is that the association can identify ways to be more responsive to member needs by identifying important issues and trends and sharing this information with management and directors.
As volunteer leaders face increased demands on their time, they are less willing to spend time in unproductive meetings where they re-do committee work, hear lengthy updates, or rubber-stamp decisions that have already been made. Today’s leaders want to be challenged with more than administrative work.
Although the time issue is often cited by members as a reason for not serving on association Boards or committees, many are not really saying they don’t have time. Most people have time for things they find interesting, challenging, and useful. So to what extent are we really challenging our Board? Is it interesting, meaningful kinds of work that we’re giving them?
As Glenn Tecker says, “the nature of what the leaders spend their time talking about has to be substantively related to real issues that have meaning to their industry or profession.”