Like any important asset, governance needs to be actively managed.
“Congratulations and welcome to the board!” New board members often hear these words with a myriad of emotions ranging from “What did I get myself into?” to “I can’t wait to shake things up!”
Accepting a board position for a tax-exempt entity is a unique opportunity to be an asset to the organization. Boards are seeking better resources to carry out the oversight role, which requires association leaders to realize the strategic benefits of good board governance.
One key aspect of board participation is the opportunity to develop and build leaders. This is valuable for the organization and for board members themselves, who often are leaders in their industries or professions but don’t have previous experience serving on tax-exempt boards. That’s why the process of finding good board chairs and selecting, building, and developing volunteer leaders needs to be well-structured. In addition, organizations must strive to attract and retain qualified directors and board leaders who understand the organization’s needs and make the time commitment required.
Volunteer boards are a unique and critical component of tax-exempt entities, yet governance often is viewed as impeding the organization’s or the CEO’s ability to achieve objectives. Good governance should be an asset that is actively evaluated, measured, and managed. Boards need leadership in governance, and association CEOs are uniquely qualified to provide guidance in this critical area. However, it’s a shared responsibility between board leadership and the CEO to push for active management of governance. It should be part of the annual evaluation process of goals and objectives.
Another area that associations need to actively manage is the issue of diversity at the board level. This includes diversity in multiple facets: gender, age, race, sexual orientation, professional status, and diversity of thought. Numerous studies have shown the benefits of diversity within groups for decision making and management. Too often, boards tend to be homogenous and not reflective of the current or future membership of the association.
If associations are to be models of leadership, actions need to speak volumes about what we stand for and what we stand against. ASAE has been at the forefront of diversity and inclusion, not only at the board level but also in its supporting committees and its commitment to developing diverse future leaders through the Diversity Executive Leadership Program.
Board members need to ask themselves the following as they consider their board roles: What does the board say about the association or profession? How can I contribute to creating a productive and rewarding experience? And how can I ensure that we have the quality and quantity of board members needed to support the organization today and for the future?
The active management of governance sets the stage for organizational success at all levels.