Leader to Leader: Conflict of Interest, Benefits of Board Service

Association board members share their perspectives on preventing conflicts of interest and on the benefits of serving as a volunteer leader.

What is your association's policy regarding conflict of interest?

The Association for Institutional Research has a clear and explicit policy on conflict of interest for members of the board of directors within the Board Code of Conduct policy. At the broad level, the code of conduct states: "The board commits itself and its members to ethical, businesslike, and lawful conduct, including proper use of authority and appropriate decorum when acting as board members."A specific injunction to avoid conflict of interest with respect to fiduciary responsibility is reinforced by a request from the board chair that each board member sign a conflict-of-interest disclaimer every year.

—Jennifer Brown, Ph.D., director, University of Massachusetts-Boston. Email: [email protected]

The American Society for Public Administration's bylaws addresses conflicts of interest as follows:

"The society shall make no loan to any officer, council member, or any member of the society. To avoid conflicts of interest or even the appearance of impropriety, whenever any member of the council or any officer may have any interest or relationship in any transaction, including monetary or services, to be entered into by the society, that in advance of any such transaction, the council member or officer shall make known to the council the material facts of the transaction and the nature of the person's interest or relationship in same."

—Erik Bergrud, senior director, Park University, Parkville, Missouri. Email: [email protected]

The National Speakers Association's (NSA) conflict-of-interest policy is an important risk-management tool that protects the association from unwittingly entering into financial transactions with insiders. If a conflicting relationship is discovered, the situation must be brought to the president and/or CEO, who will bring it to the board. The board will review the situation to determine whether the contemplated transaction is just, fair, and reasonable to NSA. Annually, covered parties sign a statement to affirm they received, read, understand, and agree to comply with the policy. Violations of the policy by members are referred to the Ethics Committee; employee violations are referred to the CEO for disciplinary action.

—Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, president, National Speakers Association, Highlands Ranch, Colorado. Email: [email protected]

The Washington Technical Personnel Forum prides itself on its policies and procedures. WTPF reviews them every year with the board. The conflict-of-interest policy states: "A conflict of interest may exist when the interests or potential interests of any director or staff member, or that person's close relative, or any individual, group, or organization to which the person associated with WTPF has allegiance, may be seen as competing with the interests of WTPF, or may impair such person's independence or loyalty to WTPF." The most important part of the process is that WTPF requires the board members to sign a document stating they have read and will abide by the policy.

—Jill M. Ririe, president, The Wynhurst Group, LLC, Alexandria, Virginia. Email: [email protected]

The National Auctioneers Association has a board-approved conflict-of-interest policy in the Volunteer Leadership Manual. All conflicts of interest are not necessarily prohibited or harmful to NAA; however, we require full disclosure of all conflicts or potential conflicts of interest to the NAA Executive Committee. The Executive Committee determines whether a conflict exists, and if so, if any action is required to resolve it. The action must be reported to the board, which has the right to modify or reverse any decision. Each year, board members must sign a form that indicates any conflicts or potential conflicts. Every two years, the board meets with legal counsel to be trained in this area.

—Christie King, CAI, AARE, BAS, president, C. King Benefit Auctions, Gadsden, Alabama. Email: [email protected]

How is serving on a board helping you achieve your personal goals?

As one begins a career, there are always visions of grandeur and striving to be the best. The International Ticketing Association has given me the tools to learn the industry and to be a leader in my profession. Being elected to the board of directors as well as being voted chairman of the board shows me that I have earned the respect of my industry peers. Serving in this position also gives me the ability to help the association grow and to help others achieve their career goals.

—Robert Bennett, director, Tampa Bay Rays Baseball, St. Petersburg, Florida. Email: [email protected]

I'm not sure I had any specific goals of board membership initially, other than to help out. During my journey, though, I realized my ideas and opinions mattered, and with that, more responsibility and challenging positions followed. Being a volunteer leader afforded me the opportunity to develop executive leadership and management skills and increase my business acumen. I've met very smart, dedicated, and caring people; as a result of these connections and experiences, my life is richer than I could have ever imagined. Being a volunteer leader has broadened my perspective. I have grown in other ways, such as critical thinking and relationship- and unanimity-building skills, which I use every day at work and at home. I'd be lying if I said these were my goals, but I couldn't have dreamed of a better outcome.

—Eric Schaudt, CPIM, CSCP, manager, Northrop Grumman Corporation, Rolling Meadows, Illinois. Email: [email protected]

During the term I served on the board of my professional association, we went through the process of hiring a new CEO. In a very unique way, what we went through reflects the process all of us will experience in our management of an organization. Serving on this board allowed self-examination of how we conduct business, not only in the professional association but in my job as well. Learning and reviewing best practices and, just as important, examining current practices were instrumental in leading positive change in my own span of responsibility at work. Secondly, the networking with other professionals cannot be understated. Serving on a board helps nurture relationships and allows me to expand my own contact list. It also provides the opportunity to learn by sharing. These factors make a difference in my personal and professional development.

—Doug Kohl, president and CEO, Akron Area YMCA, Akron, Ohio. Email: [email protected]