Monday, May 2, 2016

Paradoxes in Association Management

Last week I tweeted this post by Amanda Kaiser of the Smooth the Path blog. In it, she wonders which members association staff should pay the most attention to: those most or those least actively engaged in the association's activities. She makes points on both sides of the argument, but eventually comes down on the side of those most engaged.

It is okay to welcome everyone. But it is better to serve only some. The best ones, the most forward-thinking ones, the most engaged members. These members are the professionals who will help us make our industry or profession better.

In my tweet, I called it one of the paradoxes of association management, meaning that inherently inclusive organizations needed to embrace a certain level of exclusivity in order to be successful.

It got me thinking about other possible paradoxes of association management--counterintuitive practices that we must embrace if we want to be successful. One I've already written about (although I didn't call it a paradox at the time) is the idea that committees shouldn’t report to the Board, but to the staff executive.

Here I'm talking about "program" committees, those formed to help the association conduct its programs. "Governance" committees, those formed to help the Board fulfill its governance functions, should always report to the Board. But a committee whose job is to execute programs risks undermining the operational effectiveness of the organization (and the authority of the staff executive) by reporting to the Board.

What are some other paradoxes of association management?

Success comes when staff learns the language of members, not when members learn the language of staff?

Strategic agendas must create strategic boards before strategic boards can create strategic agendas?

Organizational alignment flows more easily from decentralized decision-making than command-and-control bureaucracy?

Each one of those might be fodder for a future blog post, but I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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