When I resigned as Executive Director/CEO of my tiny State trade association earlier this year I feared that the Board of Directors would see this as a chance to cut payroll and run the organization themselves, as volunteers; something not uncommon. That scared me, however, because I believe management of a small association is a specialty much the same as running an auto parts store verses running an automotive service center will require different insight, motivations and talents. This situation is much more critical for small associations than it is for large because, just like in any small business, the CEO must be skilled in so many more elements from marketing to finance and beyond. I could not be certain that the Board believed as I did. We had established our association as a respected voice for our members with momentum building for growth in education and collaboration. I did not want us to lose that opportunity to thrive. Had we been a larger association, the Board would likely have hired a new, experienced and expert CEO. But for us smaller associations, the money to do that is not usually there.
When I resigned I asked the Board to consider hiring me in a new role: Executive Advisor, where I would continue to provide them that unique insight, motivation and talent of an ASAE Certified Association Executive without having to pay full price for it. My proposal suggested we form a 3-person executive office of management where the volunteer President is the official CEO, an experienced association administrator is employed as the COO and I become a consultant-contractor-partner with the two of them as their Executive Advisor. Through email and phone calls, every action and decision would have the benefit of my opinion.
I wondered why they would want to do that. There were no existing models like that in the vast realm of automotive state aftermarket associations. I could not find in ASAE any examples of what I was proposing. Why do it?
While some of my closest Board Members and the staff COO-to-be were immediate supporters of the idea, I knew that others would struggle to accept it. Certainly, the Board was filled with very smart and experienced small business entrepreneurs and I knew that they knew how to run a company. The question for them then was: “So what is it – exactly - we volunteers must do to manage our association?” That was it. Bingo. When they had to ask that question to themselves, they knew that I knew they were not prepared to go it on their own.
So the CABA Board of Directors and I are now just one month into this new 3-way management team model and already it looks like a winner. The staff COO/Executive Manager is glad to have me as close as her phone or email to quickly assist with issues of member administration, the database, personnel management, meeting planning, financial statements, governance agendas, network security, and benefit questions like health insurance. The volunteer President/CEO is already glad to have me as a sounding board, critic, writer and advisor on questions like dues schedules, education programs, strategic focus, budgets, volunteer development and membership development.
One benefit of my Executive Advisor role may never be obvious to the Board, however: Representation. This role is what keeps our association fresh, vibrant and relevant. My active involvement with our industry’s national trade associations and my interaction and access to all the many other state association executives is not only a source of ideas but a source of resources that will leverage our organization into the future. As a “representative” for our association I am doing for them what we associations are always telling our constituents is the real value in becoming members: It’s the network: We can learn from each other.
My role as Executive Advisor or a more limited role as contractor for a specific task can be shared among many associations. To discuss any opportunity you see within your association, contact me by phone at 301.502.4985 or by email to email@example.com. For more of my association management insights visit http://c6support.blogspot.com.