Wednesday, October 30, 2013

13 scary board situations for association executives

©2013  Mike Drake

In managing their nonprofit organizations, association executives often find themselves facing unexpected situations. Many situations don’t offer easy answers. Many of these situations are not covered in association management literature. I’ve pulled from the recesses of my brain some scary situations from over 35+ years of association management. Happy Halloween!

  1. A board member goes rogue and begins challenging association staff and leadership via Facebook and Twitter. Many of the statements are false. What do you do?
  2. Despite your best checks and balances, you discover one of your key staff members has embezzled association funds. Yikes, this is a tough one for the association executive.
  3. A “large” member of your trade association “balks” at a new association policy and threatens to withdraw if he doesn’t get his way. How do you finesse this one?
  4. A large chapter hires its own lobbyist to pursue federal policies different than yours. This becomes self-defeating for both organizations.
  5. A convention attendee has a stroke and dies at your conference. Tough call. Be prepared.
  6. A board member goes behind your back and initiates a search for an Association Management Company. Really happened. Later this same person became the association’s president!
  7. Your board holds executive sessions without you; president shares one of the comments (which you know is not true). Problem is executive sessions. You can’t respond until the next board meeting. Never leave the room!
  8. An “idea person” on your board keeps surfacing “new ideas” ... some of which are “barely linked” to your association’s strategic plan. Have policies about too many ideas.
  9. At the end of his first meeting with the executive committee, the incoming president says, “I have a couple of other items.” And, he proceeds to ask questions, the answers of which are in your office but not with you at the meeting. I chastised him for not sharing these topics earlier.
  10. A member of the executive committee – with aspirations to be president – corners you with a history of committee assignments of past presidents. Later, he challenges you about the number of times his photo shows up in a “convention film” versus the number of photos of one of his perceived challengers. This was a mess. He did not become president.
  11. A rogue group of board members and state chapter presidents independently hire a major consulting firm to “audit” everything at the national office. The firm’s report is filled with errors. No win here! It’s your career. Time for you to get out. 
  12. Staff member sues you and your association for unlawful discharge. You have facts to successfully defend the case but your liability insurance company decides to settle and offer a year’s salary. Insurance companies look to cut their losses: get over it! 
  13. A volunteer (in front of a large audience) asks your salary and the salary of your #2 staffer. Our response: the president of the organization has all salary information. Contact him or her.
PS. If you want more details about one or more of these situations or if you want to add your own situation, please go to my comment box at

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