Connections - Spring 2017 - 19

and other directors should defer to
their wishes.
On the one hand, the effectiveness
of the board presiding officer
(an umbrella term I use to cover
all possible titles), is a critical
element in the effort to nurture
strong boards and thriving
organizations, but not for any of
the reasons listed above. As the
term implies, the BPO's principle
roles must be to guide the board's
work in partnership with the
chief staff executive, build overall
board capacity and ensure high
performance among all directors.
On the other hand, no matter how
significant these responsibilities
are, board presiding officers have
no greater claim to determine
the substance or direction of
the board's work than any other
director, and certainly not a simple
majority of the board. Each director
is a steward in his/her own right,
and while respect for the challenge
of serving as the board presiding
officer is appropriate, deference is
neither necessary nor in the best
interests of the organization and
its stakeholders.

Boards Need to Drive the
Work of Strategy
For many decades, association
chief staff executives have worked
with their boards to pursue
strategic planning exercises,
despite their uncertain value and
the tendency in some organizations
to set aside the documents they
produce in favor of doing "real
work." The association world's
commitment to strategic planning
endures, however, at least in part
due to the powerful orthodox
belief that argues associations
need to have strategic plans.
Why? Because that's what
associations are supposed to do.
And as the most senior decisionmakers in their organizations, it
makes intuitive sense for boards
to drive the strategic planning
effort, either through the board's
presiding officer or a strategic
planning committee appointed by

and operating with the delegated
authority of the board.
In today's fast-moving
environment, however, the primary
purpose of strategy for associations
is building mutually beneficial
relationships with stakeholders to
learn how to co-create value that
can help them address short-term
problems, intermediate-term needs
and long-term outcomes. For the
most part, board members are
neither the primary beneficiaries
of strategy, nor well-equipped to
contribute in meaningful ways to
value creation for current "digital
first" stakeholders. Instead of boards
driving strategy, associations should
invite the actual stakeholders
with whom they wish to build
relationships to take the lead on
strategy development and business
model design, while boards focus
their attention on building a
consistent practice of foresight.
These conversations must inform
each other, and they can make more
sustained and substantive progress
by moving forward on separate yet
interdependent pathways.

Short-Term Concerns are More
Important than Long-Term Thinking
The orthodox beliefs of corporate
governance exert substantial
influence in the way association
boards function as well. Chief
among these assumptions is
the corporate sector's focus on
short-term concerns, including daily
stock prices, quarterly earnings
reports and maximizing shareholder
value. While associations are not
publicly traded enterprises, their
boards are no less anxious about
short-term matters, particularly
the performance of membership
recruitment and retention efforts.
Many, if not most, association boards
use the monthly rise and fall of
membership numbers as a proxy
metric for overall organizational
health, yet another orthodox belief
worthy of closer scrutiny.
It is difficult to blame association
boards for their short-termism,
and not just because of the

considerable sway of corporate
governance practices. Prioritizing
what is happening today over what
feels like a distant and unknown
future is an understandable
human reaction, and a reasonable
choice for individuals to make
for themselves. When it comes
to the work of stewardship,
however, association boards have a
fundamental responsibility to their
stakeholders that must supersede
personal interests. Devoting
board attention to exploring
the long-term implications of
societal transformation for their
associations, stakeholders and the
fields they serve is a function of
governing that is at least as, if not
more, important as any short-term
item on the board agenda.
In the words of Ruth Benedict, a
pioneering 20th century cultural
anthropologist, "We grow in time
to trust the future for our answers."
Unfortunately, associations, like
most nonprofit organizations, tend
to look to the past for their answers,
and the continued commitment
to orthodox beliefs is evidence of
that inclination. Relentless societal
transformation demands that
association boards, board presiding
officers and chief staff executives
collaborate to free themselves
and their organizations of these
counterproductive constraints and
the devastating inertia they can
combine to create. By designing the
future of governing around the duty
of foresight, association boards can
anticipate what comes next, unleash
their stakeholders' full potential
and build their organizations to
thrive in the years ahead.
Jeff De Cagna,
is executive
advisor for
Foresight First
LLC, located
in Reston,
Virginia. He can
be reached at
and on Twitter at
connections >


Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Connections - Spring 2017

GSAE News & Events
New Members
Living Legends: Tim O’Donnell, CIC, Bill Anderson, CAE, LEED AP, and Robin B. Gray Jr., JD
Georgia Partnership for Educational Excellence: A Culture of Continuous Improvement
Questioning the Orthodox Beliefs of Association Governing
The Future of Education and Employment
Building Organizational Resilience
My Internship with the Southern Economic Development Council
GSAE February and April Luncheons
Meetings Thought Leadership
Index of Advertisers
Connections - Spring 2017 - intro
Connections - Spring 2017 - bellyband1
Connections - Spring 2017 - bellyband2
Connections - Spring 2017 - cover1
Connections - Spring 2017 - cover2
Connections - Spring 2017 - 3
Connections - Spring 2017 - 4
Connections - Spring 2017 - 5
Connections - Spring 2017 - GSAE News & Events
Connections - Spring 2017 - 7
Connections - Spring 2017 - 8
Connections - Spring 2017 - New Members
Connections - Spring 2017 - Living Legends: Tim O’Donnell, CIC, Bill Anderson, CAE, LEED AP, and Robin B. Gray Jr., JD
Connections - Spring 2017 - 11
Connections - Spring 2017 - 12
Connections - Spring 2017 - 13
Connections - Spring 2017 - Georgia Partnership for Educational Excellence: A Culture of Continuous Improvement
Connections - Spring 2017 - 15
Connections - Spring 2017 - 16
Connections - Spring 2017 - 17
Connections - Spring 2017 - Questioning the Orthodox Beliefs of Association Governing
Connections - Spring 2017 - 19
Connections - Spring 2017 - The Future of Education and Employment
Connections - Spring 2017 - 21
Connections - Spring 2017 - Building Organizational Resilience
Connections - Spring 2017 - 23
Connections - Spring 2017 - My Internship with the Southern Economic Development Council
Connections - Spring 2017 - GSAE February and April Luncheons
Connections - Spring 2017 - 26
Connections - Spring 2017 - Meetings Thought Leadership
Connections - Spring 2017 - 28
Connections - Spring 2017 - 29
Connections - Spring 2017 - Index of Advertisers
Connections - Spring 2017 - cover3
Connections - Spring 2017 - cover4
Connections - Spring 2017 - outsert1
Connections - Spring 2017 - outsert2
Connections - Spring 2017 - 38
Connections - Spring 2017 - 39