In the 1980s, a fast food commercial spoofed the composition of chicken nuggets. Asked if nuggets are made from chicken breast, they shrugged and said, “parts is parts.”
Associations, too, are a combination of “parts.” For instance, committees, board, staff, volunteers, bylaws, budget, members, advisors, reserves, strategic plan, meetings, programs, positions and priorities.
The parts combine to form an association. Every association is unique. Even with similar missions, they can be organized in drastically different ways.
This is an interview with a newly elected president. She said to me, “Now that I’m installed, I’m trying to figure out all the parts of our association.”
She felt overwhelmed. Her year would pass quickly. The learning curve seemed steep.
She had her own successful business to manage, and family priorities. The many parts of the association didn’t make sense for efficiency and effectiveness.
From experience, I knew it was a healthy organization, with excellent performance metrics, dedicated volunteers and professional staff.
Here are her perspectives. She is trying to understand and position all the parts to fit into her 12-month term.
Committees: We have two dozen volunteer groups that seem to do their own thing. I’ve heard some years a few are effective but just as many are dormant. We call them by different names: councils, sections, committees, task forces and SIGs.
I found a few have a three-year appointment. The bylaws indicate I appoint some committees and the board approves others. A few exist perpetually for no known reason.
House of Delegates: We have a 17-person governing body, but it is overshadowed by a house of delegates. It meets every six months. Is there a need for a 170 body of advisors when the board meets quarterly?
Governing Documents: There are reams of governing documents, “so many that I don’t know where to begin.” Are they all necessary, or have they become cluttered and outdated? Can they be organized so directors better understand responsibilities?
Strategic Plan: I inherited a plan dated 2014. Few of the directors were around then and nobody seems to use it as the roadmap. If the last plan was seldom referenced, do we need a new one or not?
Budget and Finances: I was installed last month but our budget was adopted last year. It doesn’t’ reflect my priorities. Why is the fiscal year different from the election year? I know we have significant reserves, but nobody can tell me why and if we can us the savings for membership projects.
Authority: I was told we work under the regulations of the state’s Division of Corporations, as well as the U.S. Department of Treasury and IRS. “Do I need to understand their requirements?” We have an affiliation with a national association above us and components below us; are these relationships documented and analyzed?
Programs: A host of programs exist — from conferences to certifications. “I understand the board’s role is to monitor performance and make enhancements; as well as abandonment of underperforming programs. “What assessment process works best?”
Communications: Our social media has expanded to four platforms and two websites. The newsletters are printed and digital. What are my responsibilities for external communications?
Staffing: My relationship with staff is collegial and professional. Some of the staff ask me about everything they do, while others act on their own. “Who guides the protocols of the board-staff relationship?”
She closed our conversation by saying, “I’m a month into my position and losing valuable time.”
The advice of Clare Louder of Louder NonProfit Strategies is, “It’s far too easy to operate an association on autopilot. To improve efficiency, appoint a task force to assess committees, board, structure and governing documents. Nobody should deny an effort intended to bolster efficient and effective processes.”
The books “E-Myth” and “Traction” both promote adoption of an efficient structure. The best questions to ask in dealing with the varied parts of an association is, “If we were recreating the association for the next decade, what would it look like?” And, “does everything we do add value?”