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The Strategic Role of a Board

The Strategic Role of a Board

By Ron Knowles


Few would disagree that setting the association’s strategic direction is a key board responsibility. But understanding what that means in practice and knowing how to address it successfully is quite another matter. Approving and perhaps even helping to develop the strategic plan is a necessary part of that responsibility but is probably insufficient. 

The essence of strategy is adapting successfully to the association’s ever-changing environment, an environment that includes the evolving needs and preferences of the members. And, as a board member, the most practical way of ensuring your association is adapting well is to make sure that the strategic questions are being asked and that there are convincing answers - or at least answers that are being worked on. 

But what are the strategic questions? Of course they depend on many factors unique to the specific association, sector or member group it serves, although they are likely to fall in a few key categories such as:

  • What’s happening to the members? Are their own circumstances, businesses or professional practices thriving or increasingly challenging?
  • Is our membership growing? Flat? Decreasing? 
  • What do we know about how well we are serving member needs?
  • Is our value proposition strong and continuously being enhanced?
  • What are our revenue sources and which are growing?
  • Are we as operationally efficient as we should be? 

Boards need to find ways of enabling such questions to be asked, discussed and resolved. Governance processes need to provide opportunities for this kind of strategic discussion to take place. Answers and responses are the foundation for setting strategy and for strategic planning. Board members who ask the tough, strategic questions need to be valued and not discouraged. 

As individual board members, we need to become comfortable and effective at playing an active strategic role. Asking constructive strategic questions takes real skill and competency, not the least of which is sound knowledge of the association and its current strategic direction. 

CSAE’s upcoming webinar series for board members will tackle the question of how board members can be effective in this area.

Ron Knowles, FCMC, is President of The Knowles Consulting Corporation. Knowles has an extensive background as an executive in the private sector, and a management consultant and university instructor. He was with Western Management Consultants for 27 years and is a former National Director of the firm. He is the author of the CSAE publication, How to end the turf wars and build cohesive relationships between units in your association and co-author of Strategic planning for associations and not-for-profit organizations. On Friday, April 1, 2016, Knowles will be hosting CSAE’s webinar,Boards getting it right: How boards can play their strategic role well.



Association, Strategic Planning, Membership, Boards


Education, Op-Ed, Guest Contributor, BoardREADY



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