Staffing Effective Assocation Leadership

Harriett Edwards

Staffing the organizational board for effective association leadership is one of the keys to success for any nonprofit or membership association. In Jim Collins’ Good to Great (2002), he points out the importance of having the right people “on the bus” and in the right seats on the bus to ensure that the organization has the resources to accomplish its mission and goals. But where do you go to find the right people, and how will you know when you’ve located them?

Research tells us that there are several helpful strategies that can help lessen the pain of identifying potential board members. McNamara (2008) shares several ideas, including maintaining a list of potential board members developed with assistance from current board members and organization members. A Board Development Committee or Nominating Committee can help to manage this process. This committee can help the organization by keeping applications, conducting interviews, answering questions potential board members may have, and by helping assess the presence of any conflicts of interest.

McNamara (2008) also suggests that prospective new board members be invited to a board meeting both to meet the other members and to get a better understanding of how the board operates. Following up with these prospects then gives the individual an opportunity to ask additional questions or to express interest in officially joining the board. This, of course, is challenging when working with boards that span a large geographic area (e.g. a regional or national board), however including prospective board members in some aspects of communication with the board will allow the individual to gain a sense of the working culture of the group prior to making a longer term commitment.

Wait a minute! How do we even know whom to suggest as a good candidate for board membership? Providing board members and organization members with information about characteristics of successful board members might be a place to begin. Susan Ellis, Steve McCurley, and Mary Merrill, all international volunteer consultants who have written and presented on staff and board relationships, agree that there are several common qualities of board members. Among these characteristics are a commitment, both to the board and to the mission of the organization; knowledge of the organization and of organizational structure; a capacity to listen to others and apply that information to the work of the board; strong personal ethics to avoid conflicts of interest; and a willingness to engage in the work of the board.

Fitzgerald (2007) adds that boards also need members who are effective at fundraising and partnering to bring others into the work of the organization. He also points out that the board should reflect the diversity of the organization’s membership or potential membership. He continues by stating that board members must be prepared to play myriad roles, among them ambassador, sponsor, and consultant.

At the end of the day, decisions about board recruitment and board membership are unique for each organization and its members. The critical component, however, is to invest energy and resources in designing a process that fits best with your organization or association and its mission.


Newsletter - February 2010

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