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Association Boards are vital for the association community. They define objectives for their respective organizations and drive them towards those goals. Still, a board's performance is always subject to a number of challenges CSAE strives to help them surmount.

As part of our strategy for assisting association boards, the Canadian Society of Association Executives provides advice and resources to help take boards to achieve their next level of success. We also offer assistance to the volunteers and staff working with association boards to improve an organization's overall governance and ability to perform successfully.

Board Service Isn't About You

by Jeff de Cagna

This post previously appeared on LinkedIn and the views it expresses belong solely to the author.

If you currently serve on an association or non-profit board, or aspire to do so, let me share with you the most important lesson I have learned from years of board service.

It’s not about you.

Without question, your board needs the full benefit of your personal passion, professional expertise and forward-looking perspective. But board service is not an exercise in personal aggrandizement. You accept the invitation to serve to make a meaningful difference for others, not build your resume. What’s more, you are not doing it by yourself. You’re just one contributor in a broader group of decision-makers that must collaborate effectively to govern the organization.

At your next board meeting, instead of focusing on yourself, I invite you to think about the following three groups of people:

  • Your predecessors—Through a combination of shared commitment, technical skill and plain old dumb luck, your predecessors on the board were able to guide the organization from the time of its founding to its current place in the world. They are to be commended for their efforts. Now that you are temporarily occupying the same stewardship role they once did, your job is to honor your predecessors’ past efforts by building your organization to thrive in the very different future that is unfolding before our eyes.
  • Your stakeholders—To build your organization to thrive, you must develop an empathic understanding of what your stakeholders will need to thrive in the years ahead. Seeing the world as your stakeholders do instantly crystallizes the seriousness of your strategic, fiduciary and legal responsibilities. And when you’re thinking about stakeholders, remember that group includes not just clients, customers or members, but also staff, donors, business partners and others who are invested in your organization’s enduring success.
  • Your successors—I want you to live a long and happy life, but I am certain you will not serve on your board forever. (And please don’t try, okay?) One day, years from now, another board member will reflect on you and your colleagues as predecessors, just as I have encouraged you to do today. What do you want her to think about your collective performance: smart and capable or self-interested and fortunate?You can take immediate action to shape that opinion. Of course, if self-interested and fortunate is your preferred approach to governing, it is conceivable your board won’t have any successors to worry about anyway.

Board service isn’t about you. Learning this lesson has given me the freedom to fully experience both the extraordinary opportunities and the awesome sense of responsibility that governing engenders. If you are willing to embrace this way of being, you can become the kind of board member your organization needs you to be today and in years to come.

The CSAE BoardREADY Card Deck

CSAE BoardREADY Card DeckThe CSAE BoardREADY Card Deck is an innovative tool designed to save your association board time during its meetings while maximizing effectiveness.

Designed to improve board interactions on all level, this helpful resource sharpens focus, increases engagement, and makes identifying challenges easier. The CSAE BoardREADY Card Deck is a unique product that provides information and insight association boards, CEOs and staff can enjoy with very little preparation.

Order the BoardREADY Card Deck

The following explainer videos are intended to help you better understand the role and processes involved with a board.

The videos are presented as a Playlist. Click the icon in the upper left of the video window to choose the specific video you wish to watch.

Three Questions for Guy Legault

Guy Leaultby Jeff de Cagna

We asked 2015-2016 CSAE Board of Directors vice chair Guy Legault, CAE, chief operating officer, The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, to share some thoughts on the organization’s business model transition.

1. Why did you choose to serve as chair of CSAE’s Business Model Task Force?

When we created the task force in the fall of 2013, we could see the short-term and long-term concerns about CSAE’s business model. While the board and staff were able to steer CSAE through the short-term challenges, the long-term issues could not be so easily fixed. We needed a different approach, and I saw the business model conversation as a great opportunity to prepare CSAE and the association community for the future.

2. What have you learned through this process?

Collaboration is not hard to start but is hard to sustain. Throughout our work, we have made collaboration with various CSAE stakeholders a top priority. It requires trust and openness, which could be hard for some organizations to embrace. Even though it took some time to get there, our commitment to collaborate has made this business model transition process much stronger.

3. What do you want CSAE’s stakeholders to know about the business model transition?

While everyone is saying, “get involved,” I’m sure many CSAE stakeholders are thinking, “I’m too busy to get involved.” We understand that concern, and we also know that everyone is feeling busier today. The real question we need to ask ourselves if we are busy doing the right things. CSAE’s business model transition is about helping our stakeholders feel more capable of doing work with real impact, and we can’t do that without your involvement.

Three Questions for Barry Lyons

Barry Lyonsby Jeff de Cagna

To better understand the perspective of association board members on what’s happening in their organizations today, we put some questions to Barry Lyons SCA, past president of the Saskatchewan College of Pharmacists in Regina.

1. Why did you choose to join your association’s board?

A colleague who was stepping away from the Saskatchewan College of Pharmacists (SCP) Council asked me to consider serving. It has been important for me to be involved in different aspects of our profession throughout my career, and I felt that it was the right time in my personal life (time) and professional career (experience) to accept the nomination. It wasn’t about “giving back” to the profession per se; I felt it was an opportunity to work towards the vision of SCP and serve the people of our province. With that in mind, after reviewing the strategic plan and knowing the quality of people involved, it was an easy decision to run in the election.

2. What are the big questions your board is grappling with right now?

Many of our issues are similar to those in other health care professions, and I believe society at large. Pharmacists are moving closer and closer to the patient, moving from traditional roles in community pharmacies and hospitals, to such varied areas as practicing in primary care clinics or administering immunizations. The biggest question for Council is how to enable the best care from pharmacists (and soon pharmacy technicians) for the people of Saskatchewan through our role as a regulator, within the global, national and provincial realities of business, law and societal demands.

3. What are the most significant challenges you face in performing your role as a board member?

The challenges related to being on Council are not unique. Perceptive discussion is the biggest challenge: having time to read not just preparatory materials but to also be current on the issues facing all aspects of the profession; hearing concerns from colleagues; bringing important perspective to the Council table; and working towards a consensus in alignment with our goals and vision. As only one member of Council, there is also a need to get the most from fellow councillors. Overall, my biggest challenge (and biggest frustration) was feeling that on every issue we had good discussion and were able to provide the best and most clear direction for our staff.

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