Thursday, March 13, 2014

What are we going to do about large association boards?

At one of the networking events at the ASAE Great Ideas conference, I met a colleague from a large national association.

He mentioned they continued having governance issues.
  • I said, “Do you still have 126 board members?”
  • “No,” he said, “we now have 274 board members!”
  • “Are you kidding?” I said.

That is not a board, it is a representative body similar to a “house of delegates.”

Regardless, think of the expense of such a large “board.” In this case, the “state associations” pay for the cost of the board members so the cost to the national organization is lower.

But, there is still a cost. If only in the “care and feeding” of that many board members.

This association executive shared that they have “worked through” the board size by:

  • The officers serve as the “executive committee.”
  • The executive committee serves as the board.
  • The board (which meets twice a year) serve as a delegate body.
“But,” this executive said, “I’m not sure what we’re doing is really legal. It is a big stretch of using the authority of the bylaws to ‘act in between board meetings.’”

In Race for Relevance, Harrison Coerver and Mary Byers CAE discussed some of the pitfalls of large boards.
  • waste time
  • impediment to effecting change
  • consumer of association resources
  • slow and cumbersome
  • full of political entanglements
  • unproductive tension between executive committee and boards
Once a national association’s governance provides board seats to chapters and/or state associations, it is doomed to have a large board.

Changing board size puts association executives in a difficult position. Taking the lead could put your job on the line. Most volunteer leaders don’t want to take on the challenge ... especially if some of the “powerful” chapters/state associations feel threatened by talk of such change.

So what is an association executive to do?

  • Do nothing and help the board work around it (as my colleague’s association is doing)?
  • Find some courageous champions who will lead the charge until the board acts?
  • Get the board to hire a consultant to offer recommendations (including calculating the real costs of the size of the board)?
What do you think? Please add to the comments page at

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