Monday, July 24, 2017

Getting New Voices Heard at the Board Table

The Board of my association uses a structure we call Strategic Task Forces. I think I've written about them before on this blog. They are task forces of the Board, but we invite a number of non-Board members to serve on them as well.

Their role is to help the Board examine our key areas of strategy, work to define what success “looks like,” codify that description into a set of metrics, and track our progress over time. We have found it especially helpful to have important stakeholders from outside the demographics of the Board serve on these task forces, as those voices help us shape and define strategy in ways that serve a constituency broader than the Board itself.

The other nice trick about our Strategic Task Forces is that they meet at the Board meetings themselves. Our Board meets three times a year, roughly for a day and half at each meeting, and the segment that is the Strategic Task Force meetings is a couple of hours at most. We err on the side inclusion by inviting the non-Board task force members to not just attend their task force meeting, but instead to attend the length of the Board meeting itself, essentially participating as non-voting Board members in all the other sessions and social functions. Since many of the folks that we ask to serve on the task forces are candidates that we are considering for future Board service, this tactic gives the existing Board an opportunity to meet and interact with the candidates, and gives the candidates a great orientation to the Board and its operations.

This past week I reached out to one of these candidates and asked him to serve on one of these task forces during our upcoming fiscal year. His company represents one of those stakeholder groups whose voice we want to hear more from. When I spoke to him on the phone I could tell that he was surprised by the invitation. His company just joined our association in the past year, and he has been in his position at the company for about the same amount of time. He didn't ask this question directly, but his tone of voice seemed to question why we would want to bring such a newbie into our Board discussions.

And that made me realize that inviting fresh voices into Board discussions like we do with our Strategic Task Forces is still something relatively rare in the association community. Lots of associations still view Board access as something to be earned, not to be given away so cavalierly. Yes. You just joined the association and are still relatively new to our industry. Not only would we like to hear what you think of the strategy we have built -- the ends we want to achieve on your behalf and the methods by which we are pursuing them -- but we'd like to give you a hand in shaping them for the future. That, for many associations, is still a fairly scary proposition.

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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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