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Associations Now

The Power of the Volunteer-Staff Partnership

ASSOCIATIONS NOW, January/February 2014 The A List

By: Arlene A. Pietranton, FASAE, CAE

Summary: They say the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That's definitely true of the partnership between association staff and volunteer leaders. ASAE's 2013-2014 Board Chairman describes her view of the "yin and yang" of association volunteers and staff.

Powerful pairs are all around us, in virtually every facet of our lives: in business (Barnes & Noble), music (Simon and Garfunkel), clothing (shoes and socks)—even in nature (land and sea) and food (salt and pepper). We are surrounded by endless examples of pairings.

There is a complementary "yin and yang" component to these partnerships. There is also often an additive element, wherein the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. It's hard for even your head to feel warm on a windy day with only a hat and no coat—and, as a current TV commercial asks, who would enjoy "sour" chicken?

And so it is with the partnership of volunteer and staff leaders in our association community. The partnership will look different from one association to another depending on the size, life stage, and culture of the organization, but for all of us it's a safe bet that an effective volunteer-staff partnership is essential to our organization's success.

How do we achieve it? I believe that there are two essential components: alignment of roles and candid conversations.

The alignment of roles starts with written position descriptions for all parties. What is the purpose and the key responsibilities of each position? We are all familiar with the classic division of responsibility, with the board responsible for the "what" and staff responsible for the "how." The reality is that for our partnership to be effective, we each need to participate in one another's realm of responsibility, while respecting who ultimately makes which type of decision.

Volunteers bring valuable experience and perspectives that help to inform decisions about our organizations' programs, products, and services. Likewise, staff are subject-matter experts in their own right who often bring the added insight of deep organizational memory to help grapple with important strategic decisions.

Candid conversations start with a solid orientation, with a review of roles and responsibilities and board operating procedures that reinforce the "what" and the "how" that board and staff must establish together. Periodic board self-assessments should include a review of the volunteer-staff partnership.

I truly believe that the work that associations do helps to make this a better, smarter, and safer world. The volunteer-staff partnership is one of associations' strongest assets. I hope we will all reflect on and celebrate this awesome partnership as we read this special issue of Associations Now.

Celebrating brings to mind another powerful pair: wine and cheese. Here's a toast to each of you for the amazing work you do to help make a better, smarter, and safer world—cheers!

Arlene A. Pietranton, Ph.D., FASAE, CAE, is chairman of the ASAE Board of Directors and CEO of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Email: apietranton@asha.org

[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled "Awesome Partners."]

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