Tuesday, August 20, 2013

How do you tell your association board they're not the experts?

What happens when your board or committees attempt to tackle issues for which they are not trained?

Harrison Coerver and Mary Byers CAE raise this question in their new book Road to Relevance

Their specific example hit my “hot” button.

“We’ve seen physicians or engineers in committee meetings attempting to wordsmith advertising copy or critique broadcast commercials instead of leaving it to the professionals who specialize in this line of work.  And, then they wonder why initiatives fail to product results.  Do board members know anything about product promotion?”

Well, having managed at least three associations which had a major focus on product promotion, I really could relate to those comments!
  • A key board member of one board led the board to spend about $30,000 on a video that a film crew convinced him would help sell more product. It was a disaster (in terms of production and content) and was only lightly used within the industry.
  • Another board approved a major program to generate funds to build awareness of their products.  They raised nearly $1 million in the first year.  The promotion committee wanted to run TV commercials.  The associations’ new marketing agency  hired and I had to explain to them that they didn’t have enough money for TV commercials.  In year three, some major donors “forced” the committee to create a “tv commercial” which never aired.
  • I served on the board of a professional trade association.  Fortunately, it recognized the perils of having CEOs attempt to manage the marketing process.  So, rather than a committee of the board, they reached out to the professional marketing staffs within their organizations to work with the professional staff and agency they hired.  Their expertise yielded a successful marketing program.
The question is why associations let committee members “lead” initiatives for which they have no expertise?

So, what are we as association executives to do?  

How do we help our associations see that the board’s legitimate oversight role not morph into micromanagement into areas for which they have no expertise.

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