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ATS Governance: Best Practices for the Future

ATS Executive Director Karen Collishaw and I recently attended an outstanding workshop presented by the American Society for Association Executives (ASAE).  ASAE is the organization that educates and accredits leaders of not-for-profit organizations, including Karen. 

The workshop was titled, “2019 Symposium for Chief Staff Executives and Chief Elected Officers.” As the name suggests, the unique feature of the workshop was the requirement that both leaders needed to participate.  I thoroughly enjoyed representing ATS as the chief elected officer, and Karen and I got to interact with leaders from many other societies.

The structure of the workshop was to offer some didactic information, but there were many interactive activities.  Overall, Karen and I came away with a great sense of enthusiasm that ATS is moving in the right direction.  I thought it would be useful to share what we learned in three parts of the workshop.

The first part of the workshop focused on leadership of contemporary associations.   In addition to guiding the organization, a key point is that leaders have an obligation to explain their decisions, and the rationale underlying them.  Another major trend is the need for “anticipatory intelligence,” collecting and analyzing data efficiently and correctly.  I believe ATS has made great strides as we improve the efficiency of our communications with members and our technology infrastructure.  All at the workshop agreed that this goal is a challenge because of competition for members’ time, decreasing funds for meeting attendance, and the barrage of email we face daily.  We will be working to evolve our technological infrastructure to improve the member experience with the exchange of information with ATS.

The next part of the workshop dealt with the Board of Directors’ role in organizational oversight.  ASAE emphasizes that the Board’s responsibilities are to set an organizational direction, ensure necessary resources, and provide oversight.  I think ATS has made great strides in this area in the last several years, as we have shifted the Board meetings from being report-oriented to being action-oriented.  We spend more time thinking and planning strategically, and many of the items for approval are now on a consent agenda (another best practice).  A hot topic in this area is Board composition, and whether it should be predominantly representative (in ATS, assembly chairs and Council of Chapter Representatives) or competency based (in ATS, chairs of the International Conference Committee, the Education Committee, etc.).  We will be discussing this at future meetings, in the form of a Board self-evaluation.  In my opinion, ATS has achieved a great mix of dedicated, engaged Board members with complementary expertise.

The third area of concentration was knowledge-based decision making.  The focus should be on strategy, and here the ATS Strategic Framework is in line with best practices.  Each strategy and tactic needs to be tied to the framework, and the ATS staff has done a great job of developing dashboards to measure our progress in each domain.  Karen and I were both enthusiastic about ASAE’s emphasis on “mega-issues” for Board discussion.  As the name suggests, these are topics that are of existential importance to ATS, for example governance structure and our international relationships.  Both of these topics are being considered by task forces, as we discussed in last month’s newsletter.  I am looking forward to Board discussion of the task forces’ recommendations.  During the upcoming Leadership Summit in Orlando, the assembly chairs and the committee chairs will have a great opportunity to exchange information and to participate in “mega-issue” discussions.

Overall, Karen and I agree that the ASAE workshop was of great value to ATS.  It helped us understand our many strengths, as well as some areas for improvement.  I came away with a great deal of enthusiasm that ATS is heading in the right direction, and we have incorporated many of the best practices for not-for-profit organizations.