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Enlist Board Members for Projects That Match Their Skills

It can build board cohesion and lead to a stronger association

By Tom Kimbis

Association CEOs are under constant pressures and deadlines. Tapping into board members’ skill sets can help lessen the load and make you a more productive executive.

Association CEOs are adept leaders capable of juggling many tasks, but even the most effective executives become overwhelmed.  When staff are equally swamped, your lifeline may be as close as your board of directors.

Association board members often have project leadership and management skills that are readily transferable from their professional backgrounds, and they can serve valuable roles leading or assisting on specific projects. Projects can be as minor as making key introductions to potential member companies or as significant as leading a strategic planning initiative.

If you want to enlist board members’ help with a specific task, first lay some groundwork. Start by identifying board members who have assets, skills, or experience that can assist the association, keeping in mind the amount of work involved and those board members’ availability. Clear the proposal with your board chair, highlighting the benefits of the effort to the association, such as saving money, resources, or staffing.

Discuss project concepts with selected board members using a clearly outlined proposal. Describe the exact nature of the support you need, the proposed project team, project duration, and how often you will connect. Be sure to stress the importance of the project to the association mission. Communicate frequently as the project progresses, respect their time, and never forget your board members are volunteers, not staff.

Campaign Support

What might board support look like? One area where board members can be highly effective in helping shoulder a CEO burden is in a communications, membership, or advocacy campaign. No matter the size or scope of the organization, any association CEO can benefit from additional outreach to member prospects, the media, social media followers, policy makers, or industry allies around a well-organized campaign.

By empowering interested board members as advocates for a campaign, you can leverage new levels of stakeholder buy-in and support, reaching beyond staff bandwidth alone. Your board members might not be experts in representing associations, but they likely have deep professional networks and enormous influence among other stakeholder groups.

Follow these four steps to successfully engage your board in an association campaign:

  1. Working with staff and board members, determine the highest-value target audiences for your campaign. For each audience type, prioritize the methods of reaching audiences, create messaging, and set performance targets to measure success.
  2. Present your campaign plan to the board. Use this opportunity to gather feedback and ask board members to consider whether they might play a role in the campaign based on their personal skills, interest, and expertise.
  3. Building on your knowledge of their strengths, provide board volunteers with detailed information on specific campaign targets. Meet with volunteers individually or in small groups to ensure that they fully understand what you expect of them.
  4. Provide training to volunteers from internal staff leads, such as your marketing, communications, policy and/or membership directors, who can ensure that board members feel comfortable and confident in their outreach efforts.

During any project in which you enlist board members’ direct participation, remember that you work for the board, and not the other way around. But as CEO, you remain the champion of the board’s work and they will look to you for guidance. Focused and frequent communication is imperative to success.

Participating in highly collaborative and outcome-based work may not only provide that helping hand you desperately need today, it may help build board cohesion, satisfaction and lead, in the long run, to a stronger, more vibrant association.

About the author: 
Tom Kimbis is principal consultant at Enflection, LLC, and former interim president and general counsel of the Solar Energy Industries Association in Washington, D.C.

This article originally appeared on ASAE's Center for Research. OSAE thanks ASAE for their commitment to strengthening the association community and its members' business acumen. Please select this link to read the article as it originally appeared on ASAE's website.

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