Directors are expected to represent the interests of members. At board meetings it seems like the board is disconnected or unaware of the membership.
Some associations designate directors to represent defined sectors, for example geographic regions, chapters, students or practice specialties. Many directors identify themselves as “at-large,” representing the entire membership. No matter the designations the board must work as a unified body.
Thus, one would expect that directors connect with members between board meetings. They might attend chapter meetings. Convene a focus group, conduct a quick poll or intentionally solicit input.
If the expectation is that directors represent members, the concept should be emphasized. Here’s an example from a national association.
To keep members front and center they set an extra chair at the board table. The empty seat has a name tent card identified as “Member Perspective.” It encourages directors to ask, “How do our members feel about this?”
The Member Minute
To emphasize the leadership-membership link, start board meetings with the “member minute.” After announcements the chief elected officer allocates a few minutes to hear from directors who connected with members.
No need for lengthy reports, just a synopsis. For example, a director might offer, “Several members called me about a local proposal that could damage business.” Another director might add, “I visited the student chapter, invited their input and announced our new scholarship program.”
The reports are likely to mention milestones, concerns, complaints and compliments. Keep it brief but be authentic about the connection between leadership and membership.
If directors remain quiet or say, “I haven’t heard from the members,” it may be a symptom of a serious problem. Using the “member minute” encourages directors to stay connected with constituents between meetings.
The Mission Moment
Another method for starting a board meeting is with the “mission moment.” The technique focuses directors on the purpose for the organization and the reason for meeting.
The chief elected officer calls the meeting to order, reminding everyone of the mission, or reading it aloud. Most likely it is printed on the agenda or the wall of the conference room.
Then the chair asks for examples of how the organization has applied the mission since the last board meeting.
Directors might offer information about how a new regulation supported by the association is improving business or the impact of a new benefit or service. Any example that links to the mission is fair to report in a sentence or two.
If the board has no mission-driven examples it may be evidence of disengagement of members, mission and leadership.
Both techniques take only a few minutes and set the tone for better meetings.
Bill Pawlucy, MPA, CAE, IOM, is founder of Association Options, Inc. a company that focuses on practical strategic planning (corporate and nonprofit), management assessments, Baldrige Award process implementation, AMC search and evaluation, facilitation, and governance modeling. He is also the executive director of the International Association of Interviewers and is an appointee to the U.S. Department of Commerce Board of Examiners for the Baldrige Presidential Award.