Category Archives: Issues Management

Even Associations Experience the “Seven Year Itch”

Seven Year ItchThe “Seven Year Itch” is more than just a romantic notion made famous by Hollywood, where partners take stock of their relationship and decide whether it’s working or it’s time to find something new and “better”.

This also happens to associations and their association management partners.

After all, association management is like any other relationship. In the beginning, each partner is excited and looks forward to a great future together. However, after a time, the “honeymoon period” comes to an end; reality sets in and both parties realize neither one is perfect.

It is at this point that both parties must address any challenges or concerns that arise – real or perceived – in a timely, open way. Otherwise, one or both run the risk of becoming resentful and dissatisfied. These negative feelings can further fester and negatively impact the relationship.

Communication is key to managing the “itch”! – 4 tips

  1.  The moment you think you have an issue – big or small, address it right away.
  2. Keep all conversations open, honest and constructive with solutions and measures of future success identified.
  3. Coordinate quarterly “touchpoint” meetings with the association’s leadership and the association management executives to discuss the relationship. This is when you both highlight what works and where improvements can be made.
  4. Once a year, conduct a more in-depth annual review that includes board and staff feedback prior to your discussion.

Don’t be intimidated by the “Seven Year Itch”.

I am aware of many associations who periodically evaluate their management services and/or conduct an RFP process to compare other services and fees – often around the seven-year timeframe. This is healthy and is a great opportunity for each partner to assess the current and future relationship. It represents a new stage in your relationship, where both of you have the opportunity to build upon what you have accomplished together.

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Bylaws – Your Association’s Playbook for a Winning Team!

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Many directors think bylaws are something the association is required to have but don’t see it as a vital tool for how they do business. It is considered complicated and full of legal language that no one really understands. Often no one looks at them and they gather dust.  This is a CRITICAL mistake!

Think of your association as a sports team and the bylaws your playbook. Essentially the bylaws provide important instructions about the team and individual players and how the association plays the game. If the board doesn’t follow the “rules”, the association and individual directors can face serious consequences.

Association bylaws are designed to ensure stability, continuity, and structure. They are a required legal document that represents an agreement between the association and its members. They provide the foundation for good governance practices which in turn should lead to positive results.

It is important that your bylaws: 

  • REPRESENT REQUIRED LEGISLATIVE REQUIREMENTS AND INTENT: The jurisdiction under which your association has been incorporated has specific acts and legal requirements that must be included in your bylaws and governance structure.

TIP: Invest in hiring a lawyer who specializes in not-for-profit legislation to provide the bylaw content and ensure your bylaws are compliant with current legislation.

  • ARE HIGH LEVEL AND SIMPLE: Provide just enough detail to ensure the association has adequate direction and is compliant. Address high-level governance issues such as the association’s purpose; board and officers structure, position descriptions, responsibilities, terms of office, succession and removal, official meeting requirements, membership provisions, voting rights and requirements, conflict of interest processes, how bylaws can be changed, and other non-negotiable items that reflect the association’s work.

TIP: Create policies that are separate from the bylaws. They will allow your association to address more detailed governance requirements in a less rigid format.

  • ARE RELEVANT: Things change and your governing documents need to reflect new realities and opportunities. The board and staff should review the bylaws annually and make revisions as needed.

TIP: Make sure the changes make long-term sense and will not unduly restrict the organization’s progress.

  • ARE SHARED AND UNDERSTOOD: All directors are legally bound to follow everything in the bylaws and what it means for the association. If a grievance is filed by a board member, volunteer, employee or recipient of services, the law typically sides with the bylaws. Ensure that new directors receive the bylaws upon installation and all directors and staff re-familiarize themselves with the provisions regularly.

TIP: Ensure an overview of the association bylaws are part of an annual Board Orientation session.

Don’t leave your bylaws on the sidelines – make them part of your winning team!

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When Should the CEO Tell the Board, “No”?

Crowds of people protested against environment pollution in outdoorThe CEO reports to the board. Right? Yes. So if the board directs the CEO to do something, he/she should do it. Right? Not always.

When should the CEO say No? When the CEO’s responsibility to the organization is in conflict with a directive from the board.

How might this occur?

When the board directs the CEO to take an action that puts the association and/or the CEO at risk of meaningful liability or seriously threatens the sustainability of the organization. Examples include jeopardization or violation of contractual agreements and violations of relevant legislation and bylaws.

Here’s a real life example.

A client of ours was experiencing a cash flow challenge. The CEO and CFO informed the board and made recommendations. The board ignored the recommendations and instead, instructed the CEO to immediately draw down the entire amount of the organization’s line of credit. The CEO and the CFO were both aware that this action would trigger an emergency alert at the bank, resulting in a negative outcome for the organization. Despite this knowledge, the CEO immediately executed the board’s instructions.

The bank, predictably, responded by cancelling the line of credit and demanding immediate pay-back of the funds drawn. The organization narrowly averted bankruptcy and limped along until another organization took it over.  Predictably, the board fired the CEO and the CFO.

The members were not well served. Had the board followed the recommendation of the CEO the outcome would have been different. What should the CEO have done instead?

Before executing the board’s instructions, the CEO should have advised the board that he/she would be requesting a confirmation of the board’s direction in writing with an acknowledgement of the advice provided by the CEO and the risk associated with executing the board’s instructions. The CEO should then have communicated with the board via email. The email would have reiterated the advice that the CEO provided and requested confirmation of the board’s decision to direct a different path.

Verbal conversations will be remembered differently by participants after the fact. It’s human nature.

When the board is requested to confirm a questionable directive in writing, where the consequences are clearly articulated, it inspires sober second thought. Had this happened, the results for the organization might have been different.

Is this a career limiting decision for the CEO?  Quite possibly. Let’s not sugar-coat the outcome.  The CEO’s job is to accept the risk of job loss to fulfill his/her obligation. Humans are complicated and directors are all human. But they don’t have your knowledge. That’s why they hired you. Have the courage to take the personal risk to fulfill your obligations to the association you serve.

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What Toronto Politicians Can Teach Us About Issues Management

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When it comes to getting your message heard, humility is no virtue.

I’ve noticed that many membership organizations put a lot of hard work into their advocacy efforts but often their efforts are barely noticed by their stakeholders.

If you’re hiding your light under a bushel you’re sabotaging the impact of your efforts.

Instead take a proactive approach to get your message in front of your members and the decision-makers you want to influence. This demonstrates leadership and can provide unique platforms to deliver your advocacy message. Often untapped resources are media stories. An organization can cleverly tap into a somewhat related news event to share information related to its advocacy message – reaching an often unattainable, broader audience.

The late Rob Ford was a great example of utilizing this technique to communicate his messaging. No matter what question he was asked by the media, he repeated his key messaging. For example: “Mr. Ford, do you smoke crack cocaine?” His response, “My record stands for itself. I saved the tax payers of this city one billion dollars”.

This is the blunt instrument approach but you can use a more eloquent segue. Seek a news story that has garnered broad attention and use it as a spring board to expand your advocacy reach through press releases, letters to the editor, social media, etc.

Consider this example:

In February 2014, pundits everywhere were talking about Toronto mayoral candidate John Tory’s controversial statement that women should learn to play golf to forward their careers. This would have been a prime opportunity for golf associations to share advocacy messaging such as:

“We read with keen interest the article that reported on John Tory’s statement about the importance of women playing golf. One of the key objectives of the ABC Women’s Golf Association is to attract sustainable funding that will enable young female athletes to have access to a career as golf professionals. We are dedicated to working with the decision makers within government, the sport community and the private sector to make this vision a reality for women across Canada.”

Ironically, as I scoured the news and internet the week the story broke, I did not see any such responses – the opportunity to reach the masses and influence potential stakeholders was lost. But I did read “I saved the tax payers of the city one billion dollars”.

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