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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.

The Will to Perform-Association Volunteer Leaders (539 words)

The will to perform among volunteer leaders is crucial to a non-profit's success

The Will to Perform

Oh how things have changed, where has the will to perform gone?

The association world was once filled with members that pretty much did everything…and if they were lucky, they could afford an executive secretary…mostly to keep the clerical in order. Today, that executive secretary, in many associations enjoys the CEO title. This is because they really do act as the CEO of the association. The chief staff executive runs the HQ office and directs the staff to achieve what members (volunteer leaders) once did themselves.

But, what about the members, are they still doing their share? In too many circles, an observer would have to answer with, no they are not. Today everyone’s world is compressed—we are all trying to do too much in too little time. It is common to hear among the volunteer leaders, “The staff will do it; it’s their job. “ This sentiment is heard across the association-sphere, regardless of how full the staff members’ plates are.

Let’s bring this discussion to membership. While we all “mouth” that membership is important and it is the life-blood of an association…our actions do not always demonstrate this. In too many associations, and let’s be honest, membership is an afterthought or the department gets far less than necessary resources, attention, and prestige.

While the above can also be said for other departments in associations, membership in my experience is the most egregious.

What can we do? First, we must embrace that in today’s world of associations—there must be a partnership between staff and volunteer leaders in each silo/department of the organization. This is where the Will to Perform is most crucial. If either side of the partnership does not perform, trust is lost and the partnership is ineffective. Staff has to abandon the, “I have a life” as well as volunteer leaders must abandon the, “I’m just a volunteer; I have a job or a company to run.” Neither of these excuses for lack of performance is acceptable.

While this idea can be extrapolated throughout the organization into all silos/departments, specific to membership, we must communicate to our volunteer leaders and staff alike that, Membership is Everybody’s Business. We are all in this together and together we will resolve all issues. Members of today, unfortunately, have been trained by staff to expect everything to be done by staff. Moving forward, this must be changed.

Give your members a precious jewel. All volunteer leaders need a reason to perform before they can muster up within themselves the Will to Perform. What is the core value to them and the organization for them to desire to perform well? In the membership silo/department it is this—membership is a good business, financial, and career decision. If the association’s CEO can broadcast this message in a way that staff and volunteer leaders accept as a precious jewel that membership is a good business decision and held close to the heart—then it can and will be shared with others—the uninitiated.

If you are an association CEO, Executive Director, Executive Vice President—the chief staff executive, your job is to demonstrate in deed, more than in word, that Membership is Everybody’s Business and that membership in your organization is a Good Business, Financial and/or Career Decision. (c) 2017

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