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Association Forum Professional Practices: Achieving Diversity In Associations

Source: Association Forum of Chicagoland
Published: March 2002
In 1996, the Association Forum of Chicagoland’s Board of Directors approved what was believed to be the first best practice statements ever adopted by a professional society of association executives.  The Board of Directors decided to issue professional best practices statements on various issues of importance to association professionals including this one on achieving diversity within the association model.

As Association members and potential members become increasingly diverse, Associations must reflect this diversity in order to represent their stakeholders and the public they serve. For organizational vitality and impact, workforce diversity is also a strategic imperative. Diversity may be defined in many ways, including but not limited to individual characteristics such as age, ethnicity, race, gender, physical ability, religion, socio-economic status, professional choices and other facets of social diversity. Corporate and donor diversity can also be factors. As membership, customer and staff demographics evolve, demands on and expectations of Associations are changing.

Policy Position
In October of 2000, the Association Forum of Chicagoland adopted the following statement to reflect its organizational commitment to diversity.

"The Association Forum of Chicagoland embraces diversity as a strategy to advance the effectiveness of associations and nonprofit organizations. The Forum's members represent all aspects of society, including but not limited to race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, age, physical ability, sexual orientation, religion and family status. The Forum is a totally inclusive organization, which values the differences in its membership and recognizes that this diversity adds value to the organization, its mission and the quality of its programs and services."

The Forum believes the future of associations depends on their ability to adapt to, embrace and manage membership and societal demographic changes. Both the volunteer leadership and staff executives must demonstrate proactive efforts to seek out and involve those who reflect the diversity of the organization's membership and the public they serve.

Professional Practices For the Association Executive:

  • Association executives should foster diversity in staff recruitment, development, opportunities for advancement and decision-making.

  • Facilitate the development of an organizational diversity vision, and the establishment of measurable objectives to achieve and communicate the vision as core to the organization's viability and success.

  • Actively promote the value of diversity in the association's workforce.

  • Ensure inclusionary hiring and promotion practices consistent with the organization's diversity vision.

  • Maximize opportunities for each employee to contribute to organizational goals by actively ensuring a fully diverse body of staff participants in appointments to task forces, special projects, decision- making activities and leadership roles.

  • Eliminate barriers to full participation in all staff roles by staff members who are physically disabled.

  • Foster and model positive behaviors that demonstrate individual and group accountability to diversity among the membership and staff.

  • Reward staff behavior that demonstrates and fosters tolerance and support of a diverse membership and staff at all levels of the organization.

  • Assist the Board to ensure that diversity initiatives are sustained through the organization's strategic plan, and continuously evaluate and communicate results.

  • Attract and mentor association staff from under-represented populations.

Professional Practices for the Governing Body:

  • Develop, publish and actively promote an organizational diversity policy.

  • Establish, communicate and support commitment to diversity through the organization's governing documents and through leadership behavior.

  • Take and support reasonable risks, including incurring criticism from dissenting individuals or groups, to foster positive behaviors that promote organizational diversity.

  • Commit funding for ongoing initiatives to strengthen organizational diversity at all levels.

  • Require accountability at all levels for fostering and achieving organizational diversity.

  • Ensure that nominating and appointing bodies proactively recruit and include a diverse mix of individuals that reflect the diverse mix of the membership.

  • Ensure that access to elected office, committee and task force memberships, chair and spokespersons positions is open to all members in accordance with their talents and interests.

  • Mentor new leaders and members from under-represented populations.

  • Eliminate barriers to membership.

This Professional Practice Statement, developed by the Association Forum of Chicagoland, is provided as a management tool for associations and individual association executives, developed by experts in the industry, and recommended as an effective means to achieve excellence in managing associations and other not-for-profit organizations. The Association Forum of Chicagoland expressly disclaims any warranties or guarantees, express or implied, and shall not be liable for damages of any kind, in connection with the material, information, or procedures set forth in these Statements or for reliance on the contents of the Statements. In issuing these Statements, the Association Forum of Chicagoland is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional services. If such services are required, the services of a competent professional should be sought.

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