Category Archives: Leadership

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


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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Tips for Chairing a Meeting

chairing a meetingThe primary role of a chair is to:

  1. Ensure the agenda is followed and completed on time
  2. Ensure the meeting stays on track
  3. Ensure both sides of a discussion are aired
  4. Ensure the necessary decisions are reached

Some tips for better-run meetings include:

  • Ensure clarity; explain the overall purpose at the start of the meeting, specific discussion items, identify action items, roles, responsibilities and timelines;
  • Create a balance between people, issues and time;
  • Talk less, listen and facilitate decision-making without imposing your position on the group;
  • Be impartial ensuring that your leadership position does not tilt the scales in favour of your position over others;
  • Ensure meetings are run in the spirit of fairness, equality and mutual respect;
  • Keep the meeting on track: remind people of the agenda items and intervene if they digress;
  • Manage the meeting time and work within the allotted timeframe. If more time is required, determine as a group whether it needs to allocate more time to the topic, reschedule another meeting or move to the next topic;
  • Encourage and manage participant contributions by creating a balance of speakers. Allow everyone to have an opportunity to speak and be part of the discussion;
  • Encourage members who oppose something to propose an alternative;
  • Follow up and review the agreed action points in between meetings; and
  • Review the effectiveness of the meeting to ensure future meetings are effective and efficient.

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Corporate Culture can make you or break you

I just read a very interesting article written by an ex-Microsoft employee. In it he identifies seven points related to the Microsoft Culture which need focus. I implore you to read this, and think about the impact on your organization. You may find yourself rubbing your chin in thought.

  1. Say “Yes” instead of “No” and support someone’s wild, unusual, different idea. No is easy. Yes is difficult, and perhaps better.
  2. Try. Failure should be supported for the learning it provides.
  3. Vision is a long term thing. Vision can guide you over the inevitable speed bumps. Give up on vision and those bumps become insurmountable.
  4. Sniping and negative comments are a cancer in any organization.
  5. Staff alignment. Managers and product masters are not the same. Not every great product person is a great manager. And not every great coach is a great product person.
  6. Being diverse means rewarding and encouraging different paths to success. It doesn’t relate to race, sex or religion. It relates to different ways of thinking.
  7. Managers should be invisible. Their job is to clear the way for their talented team to do its job and making sure their employees are getting recognition and credit.

So take a few minutes; grab your relaxing beverage of choice; fire up the tablet and check out seven-things-satya-nadella-should-do-next-to-truly-change-microsofts-culture/


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Fear and Loathing – Many Association Leaders Are Missing the Point of Preparing a Budget

business-budgetA lot of smart people hate numbers. They have a vision, they know what they need to do, but for them, preparing the annual budget is a tedious formality and a low value exercise.

The annual budget exercise is the life blood of association sustainability. A good budget is creative, intelligent and practical. It’s the numerical picture of where we’re going and how we’re going to get there. It shows how we’re going to use the money we bring in the door to serve our members. If we create an excellent budget and follow it, line by line, will be both sustainable and successful.

Here are some common, but bad practices, and some best practices:

Common bad practices

Revenue projections: Revenue projections are a “plug” figure

  1. The revenue projections are not thoughtfully prepared. A revenue number is simply inserted to match our planned expenditures. When revenue projections are not met, they’re discounted as “out of our control”!
  2. Performance expectations: As long as we meet the bottom line target at the end of the year we’ve done our job. Individual line items are not respected.
  3. The CFO or Treasurer prepares the budget based on last year’s numbers. The management team is not engaged in the process.

Best practices

  1. Revenue Diversification: If member dues/fees revenue is greater than 50% of the total, we’re vulnerable. Member dues should be important enough to keep us focused on why we exist but not so high that we’re forced to reduce member services during a decline – just when our members need us most. Revenue diversification should be an important objective.
  2. Thoughtful Planning: Every line item in the budget should match our strategic objectives for that area. What do we need to invest in? How can we increase efficiency to reduce costs? Where do we need to focus our revenue sources?
  3. Meaningful tracking: Track budget/actual monthly to keep on top of activity. Saving money on one item is not an excuse to over spend on another expense item. Revenue windfalls are not an excuse to fall short of other revenue projections.
  4. Team engagement: The whole management team should be engaged in the budget process and line managers should have accountability for their sector of the budget.

If you’ve never done a really thoughtful, meaningful, budget, the first time will be time consuming and may be a little painful – particularly if you’re one of those smart people who hates numbers. But it will get easier each year – and you’ll see the results. If you would like help and support to get there ask us about our Leadership Support Program.

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When in doubt – hire it out! Get what you need at a price you can afford.

Way Signs "Outsourcing - In-House Solutions"Running a successful association is a lot like building or renovating a house – it requires different talents to do the best job. You have talents in certain areas, but you can’t take care of everything and affordably build a sustainable, beautiful home. Even Mike Holmes uses sub-contractors.

Your association may do a better job, more affordably, by using outsourced services and expertise. Taking a targeted approach will help you find the right partner, at the right price – the first time.

Here are the most common mistakes – and how to avoid them:

Mistake #1: Doing it all yourself

Assess and leverage your team’s talents. Is high level talent doing low level work? Are some of your team members operating outside of their expertise?

What is missing or can be done faster or better by an external partner?

You can easily outsource operational oversight and administration or technical services. This allows you to deliver higher-level member services with limited risk. And it gives you time to focus on taking your organization forward.

Mistake #2: Assuming you’re buying a commodity

Outsourcing is an extension of your team and it should be managed the same way you’d hire an employee. Outsourced services come in all shapes and sizes. Fit matters as much as price. Would you ask strangers to bid on the salary for a position and then hire the lowest priced bidder?

Mistake #3: Starting with an RFP

This is the most time-consuming, painful way of choosing a partner and often the least successful.

Instead, start by creating a list of potential vendors by seeking recommendations from your personal and social media network e.g., LinkedIn. Do not send an RFP to this preliminary list. This shot-gun approach is often seen as a “fishing expedition” and qualified candidates may not respond.

Prepare a Request for Information (RFI) that provides a broad overview of your needs. Ask the vendors to explain how they can meet your needs.  From there, create a short list of 2-4 suppliers and interview them – ideally in person.  Be honest about your challenges, expectations and budget (provide a copy of your financials).  Focus on what is most important to you and use the opportunity to ask them what they think you need – they are experts and may suggest options you never considered.

Ask yourself- During the interview did they ask good questions? Did they understand your business and needs, and have the experience to address your challenges? Did they tell you things you didn’t know? Ask for examples of their work, and request references from their clients. This should leave you with 1-2 top prospects.

Now it’s time for the RFP (Request for Proposal). Based on the RFI and interview information, prepare a detailed RFP and send it to your top candidates. You have already started to build relationships and now it’s time to compare service delivery and pricing. Include thorough details about the organization, scope of work and expectations. The RFP development will take work, but the good news is that you’ve only sent the RFP to a small group so there’s much less time involved in the review process.

Hold a second interview to discuss each proposal and determine who is the best fit.

Mistake #4: Losing control of the process

Poor organization damages the validity of the process. Set the ground rules upfront and decide how to manage the RFP process.

  • Have one point of contact during the selection process.
  • Include a timeline that identifies when questions will be answered, the date and time when responses must be received, the decision timeline and a start date.
  • Without disclosing vendors, share questions and answers with all respondents so they can prepare their responses based on similar information.

Good organization must continue after the contract is signed. Provide a management framework that includes effective oversight, two-way communication and on-going evaluation.

Learn more about outsourcing or listen to the Zzeem webinar on “Outsourcing”.

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What is a High Performance Organization and How Do We Get There?

< Use this link to view a 2-part webinar series on this topic: and >

A membership organization is an organization, typically not-for-profit, that collects fees from its members in return for services, and whose primary purpose for existence is to serve its members. A membership organization is a business and must be operated as one to be sustainable. At a minimum, this means that revenue must exceed costs and that the organization’s resources must be used effectively and efficiently to deliver a high level of service to members. More than ever before, members are questioning the ROI on their membership fees. Membership organizations must be seen to deliver value commensurate with their fees and in excess of alternative options. A high performing membership organization (HPO) delivers a highly efficient “back stage” and a highly valuable “front stage”. Back stage efficiency drives down costs and improves service delivery. Front stage value drives revenue. The back stage elements are the internal systems and processes that support the outward facing activities of the organization. Like plumbing and electricity, the back stage is invisible when it is working well and painfully visible when it is not. The front stage includes the elements that stakeholders and members see and interact with. They are highly visible and have a direct impact on the credibility and profile of the organization.

8 Elements of the High Performance Organization

There are 8 elements to the High Performance Membership Organization:

  1. Governance
  2. Planning
  3. Resource Management
  4. Human Resource Management
  5. Revenue diversification
  6. Member Value Proposition
  7. Sponsor Value Proposition
  8. Stakeholder relations and issues management

These 8 elements comprise the front-stage and back-stage elements that tie back to the Sustainability Model for membership organizations. Each of the eight elements plays a key role in the success of the membership organization. These eight elements map back to the Sustainability Model. The Sustainability Model has 5 pillars. We have observed that membership organizations that have all of these pillars in a healthy state are invariably sustainable. In practice however, many organization are not able to provide all five pillars. Therefore they must be particularly strong in the service areas they can provide – to balance their more limited scope.

5 Pillars of the Sustainability Model for Membership Organizations

  1. Regional Networks. The organization has grass-roots chapters or networks that connect directly with members in their local area.
  2. Stakeholder Relations and Issues Management. This is often referred to as advocacy or government relations. The organization has a program that builds and strengthens relationships and influence with stakeholders and proactively manages issues affecting its members.
  3. Knowledge Products and Communications. The organization publishes and/ or provides meaningful reference materials that help its members pursue their business, trade, profession or special interest.
  4. Events. The organization provides in-person events where members can network or learn, or both.
  5. Professional Development and Certification. The organization provides recognized and relevant learning opportunities and/ or certification that helps its members to become more proficient at their business, trade, profession or special interest.

HPO Back Stage Back Stage Efficiency = Lower Costs, Better Service


(click to enlarge) 

HPO Front Stage

Front Stage Value = Higher Revenue


(click to enlarge)

Higher Revenue + Lower Costs = Higher Sustainability

How to Become a High Performance Organization?

Find out where you are now and close the gap. We’ve taken the elements of the HPO Model and rolled them out into comprehensive action steps and processes that allow membership organizations at any level to identify the gap between their performance and that of the high performing organization. These action steps and processes are identified in an assessment template that can be used to identify areas of excellence and areas for improvement. Read more about the High Performance Transformation Program…

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