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Advice from Association Past Presidents

Bob Harris, CAE

We invited a half dozen association past presidents to lunch, asking them to share governance tips with the new board members.

The first advice, “please don’t call me past president. It sounds like I am deceased,” he said. Their insights were eagerly accepted by directors.

  • Post Presidency Rest – Take a break after completing the association presidency, “but don’t abandon the association.” You will need a rest after the role of chief elected officer, but your skills and value remain essential in the association.
  • Vision and Voice – You have a voice and a vision. Use the authority granted by the bylaws to do good for the organization and the public.
  • Model of Excellence – Approach your volunteer service with an intent to make the organization a model of excellence. Remember that others are judging your actions and words as a leader.
  • Have Fun – Don’t be too serious with your responsibilities. Celebrate every milestone and achievement. Demonstrate respect for each other.
  • Fund Raising – Whether it is in-kind, personal contributions, or working with staff to generate new revenue, fund raising is a role of directors.
  • Know the Community – Understand the external environment. Programs can be stronger by collaborating with allied interests.
  • Role Models – Be a board member who earns and maintains respect. You want to be known for your integrity.
  • Stay Engaged – Board meetings are infrequent; remain engaged between meetings through member outreach, reading and preparing reports, and asking questions.
  • Show Up – Each director is vital to the board team. A quorum may depend on you. “Ninety percent of life is just showing up,” according to Woody Allen.
  • Done That, Seen That – Don’t be surprised if your “good idea” is greeted with, “We tried that once before.” Chances are nearly every idea has been heard or tried before. That doesn’t mean your idea is bad; be innovative when offering solutions.
  • Strategic Focus – The association has a roadmap called a strategic plan. Focus on the plan’s mission, goals and priorities. Resources are limited. Be strategic and less tactical.
  • Teamwork – The board is a team. Your efforts are more effective when there is a culture of trust.
  • Courage – Don’t be afraid to stand up for your ideas and for the association. You may feel alone at times, but if you are committed to an idea, stand up for it.

The advice from former presidents was invaluable to the incoming board of directors.