The functional relationship between the professional staff of an association and the organization's elected leaders parallels the relationship between a corporation's directors and corporate management. The elected leaders determine what the association should do to accomplish the objectives of its members and provide the resources human, financial, and material required. The professional staff works toward the objectives set by the elected leaders. The top elected officer is analogous to the corporate chief executive officer; the senior professional staff executive is analogous to the chief operating officer
Like professional business managers, the professional staff of an association is responsible for following the directives of the elected leaders. As experts in the field of voluntary membership organization dynamics and operation, staff have a responsibility to advise and counsel the elected leaders, but authority and responsibility ultimately lie with the officers and directors.
We emphasize roles of staff and elected leaders for three reasons. First, we know leaders of voluntary membership organizations sometimes have the idea that a management company or a paid professional manager will take control of the group. In fact, most association professionals regard weak elected leadership as the most serious hazard they face.
Second, twenty years of work with voluntary membership organizations has taught us that one of the most frequent and serious problems is confusion over the responsibilities of the elected leaders and the professional managers. All too often a convention chair will try to negotiate and deal with a meeting site instead of concentrating on developing the strongest possible program for the event. A publications committee will spend hours discussing graphics and graphic production areas in which they normally have no training or experience and devote minutes to publication content and an editorial plan.
Finally, we emphasize the roles of the elected leaders and the professional managers, because it points up the need for effective communication. Communication failures probably account for more problems in voluntary membership organizations than any other single factor. Over the years we have devised a number of tools to facilitate the flow of ideas and information at the leadership and management levels. Depending on the size and nature of the organization we may employ one or more of the following communication metnods.
Board of Directors Meetings
The board meeting is both the primary means of management control for elected leaders and the major medium for communication among the leadership and the professional staff. It is at board meetings that the important decisions concerning the operation of the organization are made. And it's at board meetings when the elected leaders tell the staff what they are to do to further the goals of the organization.
Prior to every board meeting the staff prepares a "Board Book." This document, which may range in size from a few pages to hundreds of pages, includes an agenda, written reports on all activities and matters scheduled for discussion or action, reports from all active committees, the revised minutes of the previous meeting, a progress report on tasks resulting from previous meetings, financial and statistical information, and other information and documents that require board action or may be of interest to the board.
This preparation helps the board conduct business in an efficient and orderly manner. The "Board Book" is also a permanent record of each meeting.
In some cases AMC sends a periodic "Management Report" to every board member and, usually, to committee chairpersons. This report tells the elected leadership what the professional staff has done since the last meeting or written report, and what staff intends to do in the future. Half of every "Management Report" page is reserved for comments by the leader.
Broadcast FAX and e-mail have made it simple to keep organization leaders informed on a real time basis, and is reducing the need for formal Management Reports.
Real Time Communication
FAX and e-mail technology have made it easy and inexpensive to keep organization leaders informed of issues and staff activities on a daily basis. AMC has internal and external technology resources to facilitate such real time communication.
In some cases, normally when an organization has an exceptionally large board or many chapters, AMC publishes a special newsletter for national elected leaders and chapter officers.
Executive Committee Meetings
Since board meetings are infrequent events it is sometimes necessary to hold officer or executive committee meetings to handle matters that arise between meetings. Although these are sometimes face-to-face, conference calls are usually faster, easier, and less costly and just as effective. Such meetings are usually scheduled a week or more in advance. An agenda and documents relating to the topics of discussion are usually mailed to those scheduled to participate.