Association Power Struggle

Power Struggle Among Paid Staff and Volunteer Leaders (858 words)

Power Struggle between Paid Staff and Volunteer Leaders Can Kill any Non-Profit Membership Organization

Power Struggle between Paid Staff and Volunteer Leaders

Power Struggle

For a number of associations, power struggle is the primary core issue hampering membership growth. This revolves around the power struggle among volunteer leaders and paid staff desiring control of the organization. While I have worked hard with a number of organizations to help them shore-up symptoms, this pervasive challenge remains. I realize that paid staff could sometimes be the problem, but that is for another post.

I believe it is now the time for many organizations to honestly face this hampering core issue. Too many organizations have held a central belief that any non-(your industry, fill in the blank) person is simply not capable of understanding the industry issues and as such is incapable of effectively managing the organization. Today, such dismissal of professional association management personnel is a mistake. This is not a critical commentary but rather a (frequent) honest observation. Most hampering symptoms seem to emanate from this core issue.

Days Gone Bye

There was a time when your organization’s leadership was composed of the most influential names in the industry. These captains of the industry had legions of secretarial staff to whom they could assign their volunteer leader responsibilities…and things would get done in a timely manner. Questions could be easily answered and decisions made. This capability made it logical that the organization’s volunteer leadership would hold power as they could direct implementation (by their employees). This void of days gone bye have clearly contributed to the power struggle that many non-profits experience.

Today’s Paradigm

Many volunteer leaders today do not have an army of clerical staff at their beck and call. If they have association work, they have to do it themselves. Couple today’s dynamic with yester-year’s idea that volunteer leaders are in charge (of everything) and what transpires is a continual and massive bottleneck.

Too many of today’s volunteer leaders rely on the excuses of “I have a job” or “I’m just a volunteer” for non-performance of their accepted duties. A symptom of this can be the lack of clear and concise volunteer leader job descriptions. And, most are not held accountable for their performance. I have seen it time and again where volunteer leaders will go “underground” for weeks at a time while important organizational business/duties need to be resolved—the bottleneck. It is completely understandable that people have to earn a living, and conversely perhaps your organization is tapping the wrong people on the shoulder to be leaders or needs to accept a new method of operation. This is a core cause of today’s non-profit power struggle.

Who has the Power?

Today’s non-profit volunteer leaders, especially those of baby boomer age, joined and matured within their association/society at the latter days of the bye gone era. They observed earlier leaders hold absolute power over the organization and to some degree, covet the same for themselves. That paradigm would be fine except for the key ingredient—the army of secretarial help that “got the job done” in the old days.  This by the way is not uncommon within mature societies/associations throughout the United States. For a new era, new “power and control” considerations must be adopted in order to minimize power struggle.

The Partnership

Volunteer leaders have approved the hiring of paid staff—some staff members are more association-professionally trained than others. Bylaws generally state something like, “The Executive Director shall be the administrative officer of XYZ functioning under the immediate direction of the President and the Executive Committee. The Executive Director shall have charge and direction of XYZ’s office and its employees and shall conduct the business of XYZ. It appears to me that there is a myriad of interpretations of the above within volunteer leadership ranks which adds to the confusion causing power struggle.

In benchmarking today’s more successful associations and societies, there is a partnership between the chief staff executive and the chief elected officer. Partnership is the key word. Each must understand their duties and execute accordingly—the CSE with his/her staff and the CEO with his/her volunteer leaders and membership at large. I frequently find this missing in organizations. Yet, this is to where many must evolve.

In today’s world of professional association/society management, the role of CSE is frequently given the title of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) because that is truly what the role necessitates.

What I unfortunately see too much of—is volunteer leaders (current and past) considering the paid staff as their minions—much like the clerical staff that the leaders of old once enjoyed. This should not be the case. Today’s association/society staff is more professional than those of years ago. Today’s staff has educational and certification opportunities that were not available to them just a few decades ago.  On the flip side—rarely do non-profit volunteer leaders take advantage of the plethora of association/society leadership and governance education available to them—they are too busy “at their day job” to dedicate the necessary time and energy. Again, this is simply an observation rather than a critical analysis.

However, this is necessary for organizational survival and hopefully success, to develop a respectful and effectively working partnership between volunteer leaders and staff.

Moving the Needle

In many organizations the Staff is positioned to help launch a successful member recruitment campaign, and what is needed is some horsepower behind the launch—which is only available from the volunteer leaders. The choice is in the domain of volunteer leaders, they can encourage or continue to corral. The power struggle must be resolved.

The key to safeguarding your organization’s future…is to research, embrace, and maximize…your member ROI.

Member ROI

Build it and They will Come? (440 words)

Membership growth through value and return on investment (ROI)

Membership Growth

My work in non-profit membership growth since the late 1980’s has revealed to me that if the member perception of value is paramount. What members (or prospective members) believe is all that matters.

Associations frequently do a good job of creating member value, but not such a good job of communicating that value in a way that matters to members. It is a particular skill set to be able to write influencing (sales) copy. Most association marketers write about the features of membership but forget to tell the member or prospect how those features will make their life better. (It is all about me :>) Everyone wants an exceptional return on their investment (ROI) of time and money, but how many association marketing and/or communication pieces clearly demonstrate that. (Not many.)

What many association executives do not understand for sustained membership growth is the relationship bank issue. Making no, or few, deposits throughout the year equals bankruptcy–but at the end of the year association executives try to take a withdrawal (ask for renewal) when there’s nothing in the bank. Crazy, isn’t it? How can you expect to drink from an empty glass? Funny how some think they can.

Qualitative research, specifically the Member ROI Valuation Process reveals member perception of value…helping association staff and volunteer leaders to determine what products and services to sunset and what to keep. If something you do only benefits a very few, why are you spending resources in that area? Invest your organization’s resources (time and money) in things that benefit MOST of your members.

Build it and they will come is important for membership growth…but only if you build it correctly (member expectations) and do an excellent job of communicating why it is in their best interest to come (not the association’s best interest). In my book, Developing Strategic Alliances I when into great detail about relationship bank deposits. Key for this discussion is an understanding of what creates value for the other? If you develop something your members and/or prospects do not want–you get frustrated that they do not take advantage and they get frustrated because your are shouting from the rooftops about something in which they have no interest.

To earn my Certified Association Executive (CAE) credential, I had to understand the SPIE model: Scan, Plan, Implement, Evaluate and so do you. Scan what your market offers and what your customers (members) want. Then develop a plan to build it. Now build it. After you build it, review–did they really want it? Did you build it correctly? Did you market it correctly?

The key to safeguarding your organization’s future…is to research, embrace, and maximize…your member ROI.