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What you need from staff and what staff needs from you: clear expectations help build a solid partnership.

Think of your relationship with association staff as a partnership. As with any good joint venture, success depends on each party bringing something of value to the table. Here is a list of important things you can do as the volunteer leader, as well as things you can expect from staff, to make the partnership work.

1. Show up. First and foremost, staff will respond directly and positively to your demonstrated commitment to your board role. The staff knows you are a volunteer and a busy person with other demands on your time, including your real job. By being present for meetings, conference calls, and other activities, you prove that the work of the association--and the work the staff does every day--is important.

2. Stay focused on the future. One of your primary roles is to plan strategically for the months and years ahead. Typically association staff--and sometimes committees, project teams, or task forces--are charged with making the organization's plans operational and running the day-to-day functions. By maintaining your focus on the future, you ensure resources for sustained growth even as you enable the staff to conduct the association's daily business.


3. Do your homework. Come to board meetings and other activities prepared. Read the agenda materials before arriving and be familiar with the association's activities, publications, and programs. It is important for staff members to see that you understand why they do the work they do.

4. Don't supervise. Whether the organization has a staff of one or 100, the board employs only a single individual: the chief staff executive. If you need staff work to be done or are dissatisfied with staff performance, address issues through proper channels. You should not undermine the authority of the staff executive or put staff members in the awkward position of not knowing whose direction to follow.

5. Expect staff work to be complete. Because you will be asked to make decisions and plans based on the staff's preparatory work, you have the right to expect that work to be complete. Complete staff work usually includes background, analysis, a summary of options, and recommendations. It should be accurate, thorough, clear, and succinct. If it is not, then request additional information; don't fill in the gaps yourself. Asking staff probing questions, instead of simply pointing out what's missing, usually works best. Remember that staff want to help you succeed in your board role by performing their jobs effectively.

6. Acknowledge staff expertise. Just as you bring specialized knowledge to the board, your association's staff members are experts in their functional areas. Acknowledge that certain times and situations call for experience that they are more likely to possess than you. Staff members often know the history, outcomes of prior decisions, current market trends, and aspects of the association management field, which gives them a different perspective than board leaders.

7. Bring your industry knowledge. You are on the board as a representative of an industry, profession, or body of knowledge. Staff depends on you to bring the latest industry perspective to the table.

8. Act on behalf of the whole organization. Whether your spot on the board was secured through local chapter leadership experiences, academic achievements, or service to the profession, you inevitably have interests that are near and dear to your heart. Similarly, staff members may be partial to their professional roles. By recognizing that board and staff share the goal of serving all members, you should all be able to work together on behalf of the entire association, not special interests.

9. Support board decisions in a unified way. Even if a debate is hard to resolve, once a decision is made, you are expected to support it. Such support paves the way for staff to put decisions into action.

10. Have fun. Don't underestimate the importance of enjoying your work on the board. Whether the association is established, growing, transforming, or facing serious challenges, your eye toward positive outcomes and a bright future will have a substantial impact on the organization. Show the staff that you enjoy your role on the board and share the excitement of addressing new challenges together.

Remember, the best partnerships arise when both parties bring value to the table and when both recognize that the expertise each partner contributes is unique. The result is true synergy and the ability to accomplish much more together than alone.


Leonard Mafrica, CAE, is executive director for business development, Oncology Nursing Society, Pittsburgh. He has served as chair of ASAE's Communication Section Council and on the board of directors of the Pittsburgh Society of Association Executives. E-mail:
COPYRIGHT 2004 American Society of Association Executives
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Title Annotation:Board Primer
Author:Mafrica, Leonard
Publication:Association Management
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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