Boards and Staying Ahead of Change
Federal rulings and legislative changes can impact professions and industries in myriad ways. As a result, associations can play an invaluable role in filtering these kinds of issues through industry- or profession-specific lenses in order to most effectively guide their members through such changes. This starts with informed association leaders who dedicate time to looking at the big picture, exploring future outcomes and having the willingness to act when needed.

A board of directors can play an important role in helping an association stay ahead of change, and the following approach can offer guidance.

Looking Forward

Board members are the eyes and ears of a profession or industry, and they also represent years of experience that can be of great benefit to the membership. At every meeting, boards should devote some time to discussing the broader industry, professional, political and economic issues that may create disruptive forces and have downstream effect on members.

Scoping the Terrain

Some changes originate from obvious sources — regulatory agencies that govern aspects of an industry, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the US Department of Labor, for example. But other disruptive forces can be more subtle, or can impact some of an association’s member segments more than others.

Board members can seek counsel from staff and other experts as needed about any such issues. Only by identifying and putting the topics on the table for discussion can boards begin to weigh potential member impact, and then work toward courses of action that help mitigate them.

After identifying issues that require attention, special ad hoc task forces can be formed and charged with following a specific issue, overseeing impact assessments, and making recommendations about potential association strategies.

Taking Action

For the kinds of developments that occur rapidly or in the short-term, tactical vehicles such as webinars, web-based surveys or petitions, conference calls and position statements can all be incredibly helpful to members. Thought leadership content can be created and adapted as subsequent developments or rulings occur.

For some large-scale issues or those that take months or even years to unfold, it may be prudent to garner input from members through in-depth surveys, focus groups or town hall-style sessions during conferences. That will help both the leadership and staff more fully understand all aspects of the issue from the membership’s perspective, and yield real-world solutions.

In addition, it could be effective to look at external organizations and potential allies that might benefit from joint efforts. Along those lines, your association’s educational partners could be engaged to help put together informative webinars or conference sessions to address upcoming changes, and/or corporate sponsors or partners could provide in-kind or discounted services that serve to inform and help your members.

Finally, it is important that the board consider the complexion of its own governance structure from time to time in order to ensure that the organization itself is well-positioned to recognize changes that require attention, and adequately equipped to protect the interests of its members.
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Board Forward is published 10 times a year by SmithBucklin, the association management and services company more organizations turn to than any other. SmithBucklin has served volunteer board members for 70 years.


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