Monday, January 23, 2017

Association Staff and the Marriage of Strategy and Resources

I had another experience this week that helped reinforce the important role that association staff must play in successfully marrying strategy to resources.

My association recently applied for a federal grant to fund a program we deem important to our educational mission. When discussed at our most recent Board meeting, it was determined that the program represented an ideal way of executing one of the association's key strategic objectives. So much so, in fact, that the Board decided that the program should advance, in whatever form it could, even if the federal funds were not awarded.

That's where me and my staff stepped in. The reason we applied for the federal grant was we didn't have the resources necessary to execute the program on our own. With the new strategic decision by our Board, we had to take another look at how our resources could be better utilized for supporting the new program. That generally meant two things.

1. Reduce the resources needed to successfully manage the program. What could we do to lower the cost of managing the program without overly diluting its anticipated effectiveness? This was certainly a bit of a guessing game, since it is a new program -- based on a successful pilot -- that we haven't worked on before. But, by looking carefully at our expected outcomes we were able to strip out some costs that seemed less directly connected to our goals. We also reduced the overall scope of the program -- thinking regionally rather than nationally -- both as a way to reduce costs, but also to give us closer oversight and control.

2. Repurpose resources allocated for other programs to the new one. What were we currently doing that we could stop doing in order to provide more support for the new program? This was an even greater challenge than just stripping costs out of the new program, because everything else we do already has a validated strategic purpose and a set of stakeholders that support it. Rather than suggesting we sacrifice items from wildly different parts of the organization, we instead focused on resources and programs within the same department in which the new program would live. When looking at how the new program could support or compete with established activities in the same strategic envelope, we were able to identify several areas that should logically be re-purposed in order to make a more efficient whole.

It was an exciting and productive exercise, and the revised budgets and proposals are going back to our Board next week. It will be interesting to see what they make of it. To me, if nothing else, it was a textbook example of the level of decision-making that is best performed at the staff level of an association.

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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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