Association Cycles: Changing of the Guard or Rinse and Repeat?

Lori Halley 19 September 2011 0 comments

While writing my recent post on Managing Board Development and Expectations, I started thinking about the challenges that small associations, clubs and non-profits must face each year as the board members and other key volunteers pass the baton (or should I say gavel?) on to a new group.

Of course, I realize it’s not entirely a wholesale changing of the guard, since there are likely a number of board and committee members staying on for another term. But if an organization is wholly volunteer-managed, who leads the march? And how does the group manage to stay on course with its strategic plan as a new cycle of volunteers take charge?

Do You Rinse & Repeat?

In a post – Association Cycles - C. David Gammel, CAE suggests that this cyclical nature is a tremendous strength that also brings some challenges. The strength is that associations have significant momentum stored up in the flywheel of their annual cycle” He suggests that organizations can use the annual cycle to your advantage by using this stored energy to contribute to strategic goals, while ensuring you don’t simply succumb to the dreaded default:

the default action of any association is to repeat the process over again, often precisely like it was the year before. Do nothing and you do the same. Status quo is the much easier path for associations, more than other types of organizations. This can result in a gradual decline since the world around us is constantly changing and failure to adapt will erode performance over time.

Enabling Smooth Transitions

In looking for some help in understanding what goes on during the transition from one volunteer cycle to the next, I found the article, Turbulence-free Transition” by Don I. Tharpe,  that ran in Association Management magazine back in 2002. While the examples Tharpe uses in the article are about staffed professional associations, it offers some helpful advice on defining your board’s role and “how to keep the association moving steadily forward in times of board transition.”

The ASAE Associapedia Wiki resources for Board Succession Planning, also offers some great advice about ways to ensure continuity by looking to volunteers who are already well versed with and entrenched in the association’s work. They suggest that without even realizing it, most associations “are rich in opportunities for rank and file members to participate in a multitude of task forces, ad hoc committees, and work groups” through which you can create “the fundamental process for board member succession.”  By encouraging and tracking volunteers who are involved in association programs and efforts, you have a wealth of experienced volunteer talent (and potential board members) who, they suggest:

  • truly embrace the organization, and are willing to invest sweat equity in helping the association achieve its mission
  • have been exposed to a richer awareness of the organization’s culture, ethics and values
  • have already demonstrated their group decision-making skills, or lack thereof

Staying On Course and Passing the Torch

As your association or non-profit begins to wrap-up this year’s work and plan for the next cycle, be sure that along with offering up board orientation packages and updated membership lists, you ensure that the data and details of the great work and strategic planning that was undertaken this year is also passed along to the incoming volunteers.

How does your group stay on course?

We’d love to hear from small member-driven or volunteer-led organizations on how your group manages to stay on course – please share some of your ideas, stories and tips in the comments below.

Photo credit: Ben Ward's Flickr Photostream

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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Monday, 19 September 2011 at 9:59 AM

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