Is Your Association Board Nimble?

Image Credit: Alex Jones
Image Credit: Alex Jones

By Jalene Bowersmith, Executive Director

The board for the Widgets of the World Association (WoWA) is having their monthly meeting. During the meeting the president announces that the National Thingamajig Association (NATA), a rival organization, has just released an online certification program. The program will provide NATA with additional revenue for years to come and may pull members from WoWA.

Let’s face it, in today’s fast paced world boards need to make well informed decisions quickly. The above example is fictitious, but the concerns are real. Deliberations that linger on meeting after meeting can be draining and leave your association rehashing the past, focusing on barriers to progress (like WoWA) while more nimble associations (like NATA) are focusing on the future, creating the next big thing. How do you get all your board members on the same page and help them make well informed decisions quickly and concisely?

Effective board members aren’t born, they are developed. Most volunteers don’t join a board knowing the skills needed to be effective, efficient board members. (In fact, a recent Stanford study showed that most nonprofit boards are largely ineffective.) Providing board members with effective tools, an understanding of expectations, and a common vocabulary is crucial to the success of any board. In addition, having difficult conversations about the barriers to success, before they arise, provides board members with a basic understanding and underlying foundation to become effective board members.

In 2014, I attended a session facilitated by the Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA) Center for Leadership Development, at ASAE’s Conference in Nashville. The session presented by Bill Shepherd and Elaine La Chappelle outlined training materials developed by OREA to combat the problems stated above.

At just over two hours in length, the tutorials OREA developed – Nimble Decision Making – provide a basis for board training, a common vocabulary to work more effectively together, tools to communicate and help board members think more strategically, as well as a candid discussion of barriers that can derail a board. The video recorded sessions are divided into three tutorials, which provide flexibility of delivery, and include workbooks with activates, discussion topics, and template tools which keep members engaged.

  • Tutorial 1 – Emerging Trends and making timely decisions
  • Tutorial 2 – Barriers to nimble decision making and Inspiring behaviors
  • Tutorial 3 – Planning, communicating and monitoring decisions to evaluate results

The tutorials come with a facilitator’s guide, so the Executive Director and/or President can lead the sessions without bringing in an outside facilitator.

Through a donation to OREA, our organization received the materials and we implemented Nimble Decision Making last fall. I have found it to be well received and very successful. Since implantation our board meetings have become much more effective. Our board members understand what is expected of them and can now take ownership in meeting since they understand their roles. We have improved communication at meetings by instituting several of the tools provided in the tutorials, such as briefing notes, discussion guides and dashboard. Board members are more engaged and excited about their role in shaping the future of the organization and when the board needs to make a difficult decisions, such as whether to raise membership dues, we can have a candid conversation about the barriers that are holding us back, so we can move forward together as a united board.

We are now incorporating Nimble Decision Making into our new board member training and all board members will review the tutorials at a face-to-face meeting once a year to general discussion and keep their focus on the future of the organization.

For more information on Nimble Decision Making contact Elaine La Chappelle with the Ontario Real Estate Association Center for Leadership Development. Email: Phone: (416) 445-9910

Want to know more about association management? Contact us to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.

Governance: Foundation vs. Association

Image Credit: Bernadette Gatsby
Image Credit: Bernadette Gatsby

By Whitney Bertram, operations manager 

These ideas are inspired by the session “Get Your Governance House in Order” at the ASAE Annual Meeting on August 10, 2014, presented by John Bartoletti, M.Ed.; Michael Butera; Eileen Johnson Esq.; and E. Paul Roetert, Ph.D.


If you create a foundation, foundation board members need to be separate from association board members.

The board should be selected for expertise, such as expertise in fundraising, management, finance, public relation and a passion for the foundation mission.

Consider asking foundation board members to pay/raise a certain amount of money to sit on the board.

Association Boards

Association boards should refrain from being involved in operations, but instead be involved in a higher level of policy setting. Ideally, the day to day management of the association should be handled by staff with expertise and specialized training in providing administrative services to trade associations, professional societies and educational foundations.

For every “member benefit” proposed, ask if it is what the members want and if there is a return on investment. A “good idea” isn’t a good idea if it doesn’t connect with members and carry its own weight.

Reduce the size of the board. When an association has a large board, executive committees sometimes become “a board within a board.” Smaller boards are more nimble with decision making.

The board should not have to review and act on any and all governance. Committees should be established that have specific expertise. Watch for duplication of committee efforts and silos. Consider forming task forces instead of committees. Don’t forget, task forces have a beginning and end.

Conduct board orientation and training. Make sure training is held regularly to keep everyone sharp and each member of the board contributing. Ask board members to complete self-evaluation forms periodically. See BoardSource from ASAE for more information on board self-assessment for associations.

Do you have more questions about foundations or association boards? Ask us in the comments below!

Want to know more about association management? Contact us to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.

What to Consider When Re-Organizing Volunteers

Image Credit: Canva

By Jalene Bowersmith, Executive Director

These ideas are inspired by the session “Re-Imagine Volunteering” at the ASAE Annual Meeting on August 12, 2014, presented by Debra BenAvram and Peggy Hoffman.

Considering how to help your organization’s volunteers be more effective? Maybe it’s time for a re-organization of your volunteer structure.

What to Consider When Re-Organizing Volunteers

Define success.
Before you get started, make sure you have the end result in mind. What are you looking for? Do you want to increase documented engagement, stronger member satisfaction, or added interest groups? Make sure you have an overall plan with a clear timeline, expectations and commitments. Establishing where you want to go is critical to knowing how to get there.

Remember, change it takes time.
It seems to take about 18 months for a board structural change to take affect and everyone to get on board with the new process and roles. Be prepared to be patient – and to help your volunteers settle into their new holes.

Clarify roles and responsibilities.
Make sure every one – board, chairs, volunteers, and staff – knows what their responsibilities are. This is critical during a transition to keep projects moving forward and to make sure all tasks are covered.

Go slow to go fast.
Take the time to communicate well when you are onboarding volunteers. A good foundation will help speed the transition and make for more effective volunteers in the long run.

Listen to the experts.
Let the volunteers determine their skills and expertise. Always start by asking your volunteers about where they feel they would fit best within the organization and work from there.

No volunteer left behind.
Every new process will have people who need help getting on board with the change. Use education to help the stragglers see the benefits of the new process and let them be a part of the solution. Each of your team members can be a positive advocate for the change.

Want to know more about association management? Contact us to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.

7 Evergreen Ideas to Engage Volunteers

evergreen ideas for volunteers jpgBy Jalene Bowersmith, Executive Director

These ideas are inspired by the session “Re-Imagine Volunteering” at the ASAE Annual Meeting on August 12, 2014, presented by Debra BenAvram and Peggy Hoffman.

Don’t miss these 7 evergreen ideas to engage volunteers – and keep them engaged.

1. Make sure the board and volunteer messaging is positive and collaborative.
Proactively establish that the organization works as a team to accomplish the goals.

2. Hold comprehensive training every year for all volunteers.
Group experiences like training help volunteers to feel more invested and anchored in their volunteer experiences.

3. Sunset committees that aren’t needed anymore.
Closing committees that are no longer active allows the volunteers’ energy and efforts to be poured into new tasks where they can see the fruits of their labors.

4. Formalize the volunteer application system.
Having requirements and an application for volunteers will help you to gather information about volunteers and place them in projects that will be the best fit.

5. Know when the project is too big.
No one enjoys volunteering on a project that is struggling. If initiatives are floundering, then it might be time to consider bringing in a staff member or an outside consultant to take over all or part of the project.

6. Develop non-traditional volunteer roles.  
Stop thinking of “positions” and start thinking of tasks and projects that need to be accomplished. Pool the creative resources in your team!

7. Use volunteer satisfaction surveys.
Volunteer satisfaction surveys help your volunteers know that your organization cares about the volunteers. Ask what made participants decide to volunteer, what strategies are working, and how they would like to see the organization change.

Want to know more about association management? Contact us at to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.