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Governance Gone Wild: 5 Common Mistakes Boards Make

governance-homepage-image-slider-2 In my experience, governance issues are always top of mind for association executives. Countless articles and books have been written about how they can manage their boards most effectively. Because we knew this was such a critical area, we developed Fonteva For Associations with robust committee management features, such as defining and assigning committee positions and management structures, communicating with entire committees, tracking, publishing and distributing committee documents and minutes; and creating individual committee calendars and discussion forums. Certainly, while it’s an important component, we recognize that good governance goes beyond effective committee management. Ongoing attention to how people, processes, and politics are managed is critical. Recently I came across an article by Ellis M. Carter, an attorney at Carter Law Group in Phoenix. Carter outlines the top 10 nonprofit governance mistakes from a legal perspective. Here I’ve briefly summarized five of her key points.
  1. Failing to understand fiduciary duties. It is no longer sufficient to rubber stamp committee or staff recommendations or to simply “abstain” from dicey decisions. Today, board service comes with real responsibilities and real consequences for those that fail to live up to them.
  1. Micro-managing staff. The board’s key duties are to provide oversight and strategic direction, not to meddle in the organization’s day to day affairs. Similarly, staff should not invite micromanagement by asking the board to take on day-to-day tasks that the staff should be handling. The size and budget of smaller organizations necessitates some blurring of these lines, but board members and staff should know their roles and attempt to adhere to them as much as possible.
  1. Lack of awareness of laws governing tax-exempts. It is essential that directors of tax-exempt entities be aware of the various federal, state, and local laws that apply to the organization. Many directors are unaware whether they are governing a private foundation, a public charity, a supporting organization, or another form of tax-exempt entity, all of which are subject to different limits on their activities.
  1. Operating with outdated, inconsistent governing documents. Over time, many organizations change their mission and purpose without updating their governing documents. Similarly, many organizations develop governance practices that do not comply with their original governing documents.
  1. Airing disagreements outside the boardroom. Every board’s motto should be “what happens in the boardroom stays in the boardroom.” Inherent in the duty of loyalty that all board members must adhere to, is an implied duty of confidentiality.
None of these issues may be a concern for your organization. However, it’s probably good to keep a mental check on these areas to be sure that your governance hasn’t gone wild.
Related Content Make it Habit: 3 Things That Set Highly Effective Boards Apart from the Rest 3 Factors for Association Management to Consider When Determining Board Size Why Must Board Members Use Association Management Software?
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Make it Habit: 3 Things That Set Highly Effective Boards Apart from the Rest

What High-Performing Boards large front cover I’ve seen countless articles lamenting the lack of engagement from board members at various organizations. Most have tried to shed light on how to not only keep boards from being bored, but on how they can be effective in carrying out their important strategic roles in organizations. In a recent article for Association Now’s annual Volunteer Leadership issue, Beth Gazley, an associate professor at Indiana University and co-author of What Makes High-Performing Boards (ASAE Foundation, 2013), highlighted key data points from the book that  benchmark governance practices of the highest performing boards. Among the more than 1,500 associations that participated in the study, only 170 ranked in the top 10 percent based on the performance measures outlined, which included how well boards assess and report on their activities, the areas of responsibility in which CEOs rate their boards the highest/lowest, and ability to attract members with the right competencies. According to Gazley, three things set the top 10 percent apart:
  1. A strong strategic orientation. High- performing boards were twice as likely to invest substantial board meeting time to strategic considerations.
  2. A culture of self-assessment and accountability. These boards were twice as likely to set board-level performance goals for themselves, almost twice as likely to invest in board development activities such as mentoring and training, and twice as likely to engage in formal or informal board self-assessment.
  3. Healthy attention to board member recruitment and development. They were also more likely to recruit new board members broadly, by, for example, soliciting nominations from outside the board rather than depending on CEO nominations. They were more likely to screen prospective board members and to hold competitive elections rather than voting for a single slate.
While there may be some room for improvement, most boards strive to be successful in these areas. However, they may not know where to begin in the process of making themselves more effective. Gazley suggests that this conversation begin at the committee level so that someone or some group has ownership of the process.  “Your board’s governance or board development committee is the best place to begin,” she writes. “The role of this committee is to ensure, through training and support, that all board members are equipped to perform fiduciary duties.” She also draws a connection between effective boards and healthy association cultures: “And keep in mind that just having the conversation starts a form of strategic thinking and active learning that also supports a healthier association culture.” Her emphasis on the role that committees can play in starting strategic conversations reaffirms my confidence in our decision to build strong committee management functionality into Fonteva For Associations. Fonteva For Associations makes creating, tracking and managing committee access a simple process. We wanted to make it easy for associations to:
  • Communicate with entire committees.
  • Track, publish and distribute committee documents and minutes.
  • Create individual committee calendars and discussion forums.
With this functionality in place, our customers can focus on facilitating the strategic conversations that will make their boards highly effective. Related Content 3 Factors for Association Management to Consider When Determining Board Size

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The Power of Personal Presentations

Presentation I give a lot of presentations, and I would like to think that I’ve gotten better at it over time. Still there’s always room for improvement. In a recent post to Association Media & Publishing’s blog, corporate improv skills coach Scott Topper addressed 10 common concerns presenters often encounter. As I reviewed them, I was particularly interested in his emphasis on making presentations personal.  Here are some highlights:
  • Ask questions as you go along so that the audience feels engaged.
  • Resist the temptation to read your slides aloud to your audience.
  • Communicate with sincerity to connect with your audience.  
  • Remember your head, eyes, and facial expressions usually convey your true feelings.
  • Share your enthusiasm about your subject.
  • Be sure to take time to personally meet several audience members before and after your speech.
  • Develop an emotional connection with your audience by sharing your personal experiences.
These are good reminders of all us who make presentations on a regular basis. Further, I agree with Topper’s overall advice about how best to keep people engaged: “It is important to talk about a subject you enjoy and that you know really well so that you can improvise and keep it light. By being yourself and telling a personal story or using appropriate humor, the audience will relate to you easier. Confidence comes with practice and your ability to give your speech with your own personal touch.”
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Marketing and Management Tips from March Madness

UConn-celebrate-2014-National-title TAKEAWAY THURSDAY Take it away! This is the eleventh in a series of posts that will be featured on Fonteva’s blog highlighting important strategies associations can take away from other industries. In today’s sixth-degrees-of-separation world, your members are assessing your association not just in comparison to similar organizations but in relation to the totality of their experiences as consumers. As such, we want to help you stay abreast of key trends and best practices, those takeaways that may benefit your association. “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” —Michael Jordan Jordan’s perspective on what it takes to win championships seems a propos as March Madness came to a close Monday with the championship game between the Connecticut Huskies and Kentucky Wildcats. What separated these two teams from the 68 others that qualified for the tournament? According to reporters Ralph Ellis and Matt Smith, “Neither team was expected to make it this far. Kentucky was a No. 8 seed in its region, while Connecticut was No. 7.” One could argue that they just got lucky, but I tend to agree with Jonathan Moran’s observation that “the teams that go deep in the tournament year after year play as a cohesive unit.” Moran, senior product marketing manager for SAS Customer Intelligence Platform Solutions, recently broke down Jordan’s three components for success— talent, teamwork and intelligence—from  a marketer’s perspective, but I think they apply to almost every area of your association. Here’s a brief summary. Talent: What happens to star players who aren’t surrounded by a capable squad? They become demoralized; they can't win by themselves and they can't get the support they need. Star marketers without the right team or tools get just as frustrated. Starved for resources, their marketing projects and programs fall short—or fail to get off the ground.
Teamwork: To win ballgames, you have to work together. Lots of talent doesn’t guarantee you'll win the highly contested games. The teams that win can sustain a high level of performance for 40 or more minutes 3-4 days in a row—without faltering. But working hard doesn't always mean working smart. Does your marketing team get trapped by disjointed efforts or wild shots? How do you improve on how you are working as a team today? It's a combination of managing time, resources, and technology efficiently. Intelligence: Where does intelligence show up in collegiate athletics this time of year? You'll see the top teams using all the information around them to make smart decisions. [The best teams] combine talent with exceptional coaching and diligent study of the tapes to win championships and perform at a high level year after year. …Teamwork and intelligence lift everyone up a level; that's how you build a national contender in college hoops and a global contender in business. If you take just a moment to consider these three elements, you’ll likely see some clear analogies within your association’s culture. It’s not a bad time of year to think about how well your team plays together and whether they are headed for a championship.
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On the Frontline: 4 Management Tips from the Military

2008_0318_cheney_troops TAKEAWAY TUESDAY Take it away! This is the tenth in a series of posts that will be featured on Fonteva’s blog highlighting important strategies associations can take away from other industries. In today’s sixth-degrees-of-separation world, your members are assessing your association not just in comparison to similar organizations but in relation to the totality of their experiences as consumers. As such, we want to help you stay abreast of key trends and best practices, those takeaways that may benefit your association. On the Frontline: 4 Management Tips from the Military “I learned everything I needed to know in the military.” This might well be the mantra of successful entrepreneur and proud Texan David M. Smith. “The Army provided me with more fun and interesting experiences and principles than college,” he says. The founder and owner of two petrochemical companies, Smith argues that most students in MBA programs nationwide will never have “that military experience.” So he condensed what he has learned into 10 essential principles that he believes are applicable to both military and business endeavors. I would like to highlight four of those principles here that I think speak to some of the management challenges associations encounter:
  • Take the offensive to win. Defense alone never wins. There have been numerous efforts in history to construct some form of “impregnable” defense that will withstand all invaders; ultimately, none were successful. Whether in war, sports, or the business world, victory depends upon taking some kind of offensive initiative.
  • A good general always has enough troops. Whether you’re a general, lieutenant, private or middle manager – make sure you're marshalling your resources wisely. For the layperson, that might translate to never making a purchase you can’t afford.
  • Have a primary and a secondary objective. In a military unit or in a business team, you should have one clearly defined primary objective, understood by all persons in the unit. If a secondary objective is absolutely essential, it is better to have one preplanned, and not created during the heat of combat.
  • “Clean the lint off the helix.” This quote refers to the screen on clothes dryers that catches lint and frequently needs to be cleared. Cutting corners, like overlooking the helix, can ruin an officer’s uniform – an important part of the military and business community. Little details are often very important; when overlooked they may have large consequences.
Whether you agree or disagree with Smith’s stance that military service trumps education, he offers some valid tactics for us all to consider as we work to lead innovative and forward-thinking organizations. Ready or not, in today’s competitive environment, associations are often on the frontlines representing their members and/or maintaining their territory. What’s your battle plan?
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