New in Town? Here’s a Strategy for Gaining Support at Your New Gig

When she was hired as the new executive director of the Wood Component Manufacturers Association in April 2013, Amy Snell, CAE, took over at an organization that needed a new lease on life. Her first year on the job offers lessons for other association leaders championing change.

Just over a year ago, the Wood Component Manufacturers Association was in a tough spot. The organization’s longtime executive director had just stepped down after 30-plus years. A membership decline that had been exacerbated by the recession hadn’t recovered, and the organization’s mission needed a reboot.

WCMA’s board of directors pegged Amy Snell, CAE, as its next leader and charged her with finding a way to turn things around—an experience she described in an article published on the website Woodworking Network last week.

When she arrived on the job, Snell noticed right away that it wasn’t going to be a quick fix. “At that time, the board had become somewhat stale, because they relied so heavily on the previous executive director to do the work of the organization,” she said. “They weren’t engaged in any sort of planning or looking at the future of the organization, there was no committee structure, and they only met once a year.”

Board members understood that they needed to get more involved to ensure a successful turnaround, but motivation was lacking, Snell said. At the same time, she knew that, despite having her own clear vision for the organization, she couldn’t force a slate of new initiatives on her volunteer leaders.

“It was clear to me that they didn’t understand the value that they actually had in driving what the goals are for the organization,” said Snell. But she had an idea of how to get through to them: hold a strategic planning session.

“Once they got to that strategic planning session and I started asking the questions—what do we do, why do we do it, how do we do it, what’s the purpose of this, and what is it that you want to see happening?—and looking at what we had done in the past and where we wanted to go in the future, it was like a light went on for every single board member,” she said. “They walked out of that experience and said, ‘Wow, that was really great. Why hadn’t we done this before?’ That was so helpful and really energized everybody, encouraged their engagement, and got them motivated to start working on some of the goals that we had set.”

Out of that meeting WCMA identified a new mission statement for the organization, reestablished the committee structure and introduced four new committees, and pinpointed several initiatives aimed at increasing return on investment for members. These included upgrading the website; bringing in a new association management system; rolling out a members-only online community forum; and relaunching a spring networking and educational conference. WCMA is also retooling the organization’s bylaws to introduce new policies on whistleblowers and conflict of interest.

“It’s a lot of work in a short period of time, but because there was open communication and because these were community decisions, getting that work accomplished will be much easier,” Snell said.

While resistance to so much change was minimal, it was also inevitable. Snell eased the tension by offering up “as much supporting documentation and real-case scenarios that showed why whatever I was suggesting would work,” she said. “What it came down to was the common understanding that if we didn’t start doing these things, the organization wouldn’t be around much longer.”


Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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