Monday, April 30, 2012

Are association (and governmental) boards too big?

If you’ve read Race to Relevance, you know that Harrison Coerver and Mary Byers observed that “most associations are tradition driven, slow and risk averse.”

They note that large boards are cumbersome, slow, full of political entanglements and difficult to manage. And, if you’ve ever been involved in a large board of directors (as I have), you know the truth of these points.

Coerver and Byers offered five recommended changes beginning with overhauling the governance model by reducing the size of the boards.

And, most association executives I’ve talked with, note how difficult it would be for them to get their board to reduce its numbers.

So, it was with interest that I read this story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on an effort to reduce the size of the St. Louis City’s Board of Aldermen.

  • "Some (St. Louis) city officials are trying – again – to reduce the size of the city Board of Aldermen. But, this time, the fight is coming from within the board itself. Phyllis Young, alderman for downtown, Soulard and Lafayette Square, is set to introduce a bill at Friday’s board meeting that would cut the number of city wards to 12 from 28. Young said the city must change with the times – get more efficient, more streamlined and easier to navigate. And the aldermen, she said, should lead the way."
If association boards are too big and if city governance boards are too big, what about the U.S. Congress? After all it has 435 Representatives and 100 Senators. And, the last few years have clearly demonstrated that Congress fits the words of Coerver and Byers: “cumbersome, slow, full of political entanglements and difficult to manage.”

Most frustrated citizens in the U.S. feel Congress’s ineffectiveness results from the ranker between the two political parties.

But, perhaps the problem is not politics but the basic model which results in 535 people trying to “govern” the U.S.

One of Coerver & Byers key points in the current association governance model focuses on the huge costs and resources allocated to “manage the boards.” Well, think about the huge costs allocated to run the U.S. Congress. According to a January 2012 report from the Congressional Research Service, the average member of the House has a budget of $1,446,009 and the average budget for a Senate office is $3,206,825. So, the cost for members of congress runs at $949 million ... and, this does not include the costs of running the Congress (offices, buildings, committee staff, etc.)

But enough about Congress, how much does it cost your association to operate your Board of Directors? How much staff time is allocated to preparing for, attending and following up with a board (and committees) meeting? How much staff time is spent handling “special requests” for individual board members in between meetings?

My experience showed that the last thing to go in budget cutting is reductions in the cost of board meetings.

Nevertheless, if you have a large board, I encourage you to calculate the total cost of board operations (including travel, meals, room rentals, value of staff time) and share it with them. And, when you share it with the board plus give them Race to Relevance or at least a copy of Chapter 2.

Slow moving, risk averse, expensive boards threaten the existence of our associations.

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