Sunday, October 28, 2012

3 Reasons Why One-Year Terms are Better for Association Board Officers

Establishing the length of terms of office represents a key governance issue ... especially if your association attempts to change the terms. (As I share below, I see 3 key reasons why one-year terms are better for most associations.)

Folks on ASAE’s Executive Management Section Collaborate are having an ongoing discussion on which is best for association boards: one year or two year terms for officers. Here is the original question and excerpts of the responses:

Barbara Tulipane, CAE, President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Recreation and Park Association, began the dialog with this question:
“Does anyone have experience with a two year term for the chair? We recently changed our bylaws to allow this and we are struggling with how this impacts the other officers. The chair can choose to have a second year but its not mandatory.” 

Winnett, Executive Director, Energy Council of the Northeast:
  • “Our chair and vice chair are two year terms. Our Treasurer is appointed by the Board and serves until they wish to resign or the Board requests a change (which has never happened). The 2 year term works well for us, giving the chair plenty of time to feel comfortable in their role and see projects develop. I should clarify: we are a trade association with member companies. Member companies select their board representation and there are no term limits on board service. Pros & cons to this situation, I know. But when you get the right people on the bus, and in the right seats, they can really take your organization to great places!”
Dawn Champney, President of the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association:
  • “Our chair-elect just left the industry. Our Executive Committee decided to keep the current chair in place for another year, allowing everyone else to move up in normal succession. Everyone seems good with this and appreciates the importance of having continuity and ensuring that each officer obtains the full experience of having served in each of the seats - and fulfilling the responsibilities that come with each position- before ascending to the Chair.”
Roger Wentz, CAE, President and CEO of the American Traffic Safety Services Association:
  • “ATSSA has always had a two year term for the chair. What this translates into is an 8 year commitment: two years in each of the following positions...chair elect, chair, immediate past chair, past past chair. An additional benefit is that by focusing on the strategic goals of the association and giving the Chief Elected One time to achieve something in that context, we have never suffered from having a chair that has his own "agenda" or goals for his term (which are so often overlaid onto existing staff workload).”
Michael Barry, CAE, Executive Director of the American College of Preventive Medicine:
  • “We're a professional society with all officer positions, including President (serves as Board chair) and President-elect, serving two-year terms (one term only). They are nominated by a nominating committee and elected by the full membership. While we have a number of problems with our governance system, particularly with our Board structure and nominating and election processes, that we're working to fix, I think the two-year President/Chair position has worked well. I just don't think one year is enough time for a President to leave a mark and achieve what (s)he wants to achieve, and from what I've seen in other associations, it can create problems with continuity.
  • “One negative we tend to see is immediate past presidents beginning to "check out" once they get into that final year of that position, mainly a result of a six-year commitment on the Board/Exec Com. But that's not a major problem. The only time I see a two-year presidency as a problem is when you get the wrong person in that seat (a problem we've had to face one time, unfortunately). But that is more of a systemic problem -- one of leadership development and the nominating/election process -- which we are working to fix.”
Andrew Prazuch CAE, Executive Director of King County Bar Association:
  • “I'm surprised by the almost exclusive number of replies posted publicly in favor of two year terms. Maybe there's a silent majority responding directly to the original poster.
  • My two cents: one year works fine for professional membership associations (e.g., lawyers). The amount of time asked of our bar presidents is very significant, and time volunteering is time they aren't practicing law. At most bar associations I'm aware of, presidents work up a leadership ladder, starting as a second vp, first vp, etc. So they make a 3-5 year commitment to the organization. And that final year as president involves more hours than the earlier ladder years combined -- on average 10+ hours a week, which is a lot of time for a busy professional who has responsibilities to his partners and colleagues. I have yet to meet a president at a bar association who wants to (or can afford to) be a president for a second year.”
Shirlyn Adkins JD, Executive Director, American Association of Neuromuscular and Electrodiagnostic Medicine:
  • We have a 1 year presidency. By the time the person gets to be president, has been on the Board for 3 years, probably served as a chair of a committee for 3 years prior to that and participated at Board meetings, and was the President Elect for a year. So the person has had up to 7 yrs to make an impact on the organization before becoming president.
  • Every once in a while a president has asked me if I think his/her term should be 2 years. My answer is always no based on the fact that we already have more people wanting to be president than we are able to accommodate and increasing the term to 2 years would significantly cut back on the number of people that get to be president. It is a lot of talent to discourage. There are also bad presidents that you wouldn't want to be president for 2 years. I admit is happens infrequently but it does happen. 
  • One of my recent past presidents had a very particular idea to create papers addressing standardization in the industry. He proposed the idea when president and it was accepted. He has pushed for $ for the project as past president and that too was accepted and he created a task force that he was a member of and now has taken over as chair to be sure it accomplishes his goal. My point is, he accomplished it all without a second term as president and probably more effectively because he could focus on it and not the other presidential duties.
Here are some observations I’ve seen in my 30+ years with 16 different associations ... both as staff and as a volunteer officer:
  • One client volunteer served 17 years as the organization’s Chief Elected Officer. She “held on” for the last four years because she wanted to be the CEO for the organization’s centennial. But, she offered very little leadership in those final years.
  • A few years back, one of my associations could not find anyone to serve as president because no one wanted to take on a two-year term. Fortunately, one board member volunteered to serve one year if another board member would do the second year. 
  • On several occasions, I’ve experienced volunteer presidents who were either “incompetent,” “disrespectful” and/or “following personal agendas.” Most associations and staff can “get through” a one-year term of such a leader but a two-year term of such a “dysfunctional” president causes real strains on the staff and other board members.
  • As highlighted in the above comments, some volunteer presidents feel they should “leave a mark” on the association. Such feelings can create havoc for the association and staff if the president’s “mark” does not fit within the association’s strategies. I had one president who announced at the association’s annual meeting that the organization would create a research endowment fund and match a major donor. We ended up pulling $50,000 from the association’s reserves to match a donation.
Which term option works best?
My experiences lead me to prefer one year terms for officers for three reasons:
  • 1. In some professions and industries, two-year terms reduce the number of potential volunteer leaders willing to serve because of the time commitments. I worked with one national organization where the two-year terms meant that a volunteer needed to commit to 10+ years to fulfill his full commitments (when “advancing” through the officer chairs).
  • 2. I’ve watched chairs in their second year begin to act more like staff than like a volunteer. This can/has resulted in conflicts between the Chief Elected Officer and Chief Staff Officer.
  • 3. Working with multiple-year officer terms reduces opportunities for new volunteer leaders to move up within the organization.

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