#ASAE18: Get Your Boards Ready for Change

Four association executives discussed getting volunteer leadership up to speed on future planning, from short-term retreats to long-term overhauls.

Volunteer leaders may be willing to talk the talk about preparing for future trends, but they may not always be prepared to act—which is when the CEO needs to step in to provide assistance.

That was one of the main takeaways from Tuesday’s Deep Dive session, “Prime Boards to Talk Foresight and Act for the Future,” in which executives from four associations shared their experiences practicing future planning in connection with the ASAE Foundation’s ForesightWorks research initiative.

Good governance enables good strategy.

The panelists focused on what they identified as six best practices for initiating foresight discussions with boards. The first, “engage the future the way your members think,” stressed understanding the association’s cultural mindset before introducing future-planning efforts. For instance, Shawn Boynes, FASAE, CAE, executive director of the American Association of Anatomists, took advantage of his membership’s problem-solving mentality and comfort with grant applications to launch an innovation competition for members around concepts in AAA’s new strategic plan.

The second and third practices—“acknowledging your association’s maturity and readiness for change” and “be brave enough to lead the future for your association”—emphasized the importance of understanding the current volunteer leadership and being willing to change processes to make boards more future-focused.

Guiding boards in that direction may require extra time and room for them to discuss those issues, said Bruce Levi, general counsel at the American Academy of Neurology, who recommended board retreats and other opportunities for dedicated discussions. “You have to make room for foresight,” he said. “You need to have a safe space to allow boards to have a meaningful conversation about it.”

But the task may also require more robust restructuring of boards to make them more efficient. Boynes and CoreNet Global CEO Angela Cain both discussed whittling down the association’s committees and strengthening their nominations process to ensure that board slates have candidates who are equipped to do forecasting. “Good governance enables good strategy,” Cain said.

Peter O’Neil, FASAE, CAE, CEO of ASIS International, highlighted the fourth practice—“identify and equip your champions”—and said that CEOs don’t necessarily have to find people who are enthusiasts for every part of a new strategic plan. “You want to find people who get it, or even get a piece of it,” he said.

The final two practices—“put your money where your future is” and “make foresight a practice you keep”—spoke to the importance of making foresight sustainable and ongoing. The most successful boards, Levi said, will recognize that work as central to its efforts and not a side project. “The board needs to understand that this is part of their fiduciary responsibility,” he said.

(Portra/E+/Getty Images Plus)

Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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