Why these things matter

Get involvedChances are that if you are reading this, you consider yourself an association professional and you appreciate the tremendous good that associations do for society. You are probably also concerned about some of the issues impacting associations, and maybe even support advocacy by groups like ASAE to address them.

But do you ever involve the boards and membership of your own association in these matters?  Probably you consider these issues too much “inside association baseball” for that.

But wait a minute.  If your association’s ability to interact with the agency that regulates your members were curtailed, wouldn’t that have an impact on your association’s ability to meet your members’ needs? If the net dollars your association has to spend on association programs were reduced by taxation, wouldn’t that impact the level of service you deliver to your members?

Recognition of the positive impact that associations have upon society and what constitutes the appropriate level of taxation and regulation upon their activities matters to more than just association professionals.  They matter — or at least they should — to your association’s membership, too.

Read more in my latest Association TRENDS commentary, here.

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What the world needs is more association executives

Closing the ASAE annual meeting in Dallas, author Dan Pink argued that, regardless of profession, we are all in sales. But the characteristics, skills and traits he described as essential for success sounded to my ears like precisely the attributes that distinguish effective association leaders, and differentiate us as a profession.

Read more in my latest commentary in Association Trends: What the world needs is more association executives | Association TRENDS

ISO consumate association professional … plumbers only need apply.

Suppose you were an association executive with a medical need. You have identified the leading doctors who specialize in the field. The decision is important. Your health is at stake. So you take very seriously the process of deciding which doctor is the best fit to work with you to diagnose your problem and prescribe treatment. You prepare a list of questions to ask each potential care giver about their qualifications.  

I guarantee those questions would not include asking these doctors whether they understood the difference between a 501(c)3 or 501(c)6 tax exempt organization. You wouldn’t exclude a doctor from consideration because he or she didn’t have the Certified Association Executive (CAE) credential. You’re looking for a medical professional, after all, not an association professional.

And yet how many times do associations demand that their chief staff executive hold a degree or even a license in the field the organization represents? This legacy attitude of the association as a guild, best run by a master of the craft, is generally an issue more for professional societies, than for trade associations, but the trades are not immune. I understand it, but it just doesn’t make sense.

A few months ago I had the privilege of moderating a seminar on a new book on association governance called Race for Relevance. One of the key issues the book raised was the need for a competency-based board, selected on the basis of who possesses the specific skills and expertise to make the association a successful enterprise for its members. But I ask you: how can an organization aspire to create a competency-based board when so many associations haven’t even grasped the concept of a competency-based selection of their chief staff executive?

I could provide a large collection of real-world position descriptions, painstakingly composed by CEO search committees, with much input from professional search agents, which provide page upon page of descriptions of the leadership, financial, managerial, organizational and governance competencies required to do the job. But then end with a requirement for a degree or even a license in the trade or profession represented.

I know a lot about the court reporting profession, about the wireless industry, about telephone messaging services, having successfuly served  those fields in a professional staff capacity at their respective associations. Any of my association peers could claim the same about their employment histories. Arguably, there are some aspects of the industry or profession that each of us represents that we actually know better than the average practitioner in the field. But none of us would ever claim to be remotely competent to step in and perform the professional roles or functions that our members perform with distinction every day. That’s not the job we were hired to do. That’s not what we are educated to do. That’s not what the association needs us to do.

Why then, does it seem so logical, so natural, and so “just the way things are” to start an executive search with a statement to the effect: “In search of consummate association professional; plumbers only need apply.”