Leader to Leader: Motivation and Staff Relations

Membership Associations Now January/February 2015

Volunteer leaders discuss what motivates them to do what they do and their keys to the optimal board-staff relationship.

What motivates you as a volunteer leader?

"Humans are the only species that can evolve during their lifetimes." A leader I respect made this statement more than a dozen years ago, and it has resonated with me. Serving as a volunteer leader allows me to assist in the evolution of many bright, amazing leaders. Helping people grow and learn has excited me for as long as I can remember. I've been fortunate to be able to both work and volunteer in nonprofits for decades, and throughout my journey mentors have helped me in my own evolution. My time spent volunteering is rewarding, and it is the sincerest form of gratitude I can demonstrate to those who have helped me grow.

—Barb Kachelski, CAE, board chair, Wisconsin Society of Association Executives, Madison, Wisconsin

Working with like-minded people toward a common goal motivates me to work as a volunteer leader. I am inspired by seeing how incremental progress makes for big change and by the opportunity to participate in a larger sphere of influence in our world. This makes the investment in time away from my work a rich investment for me personally and professionally.

—Colleen M. Schmitt, MD, MHS, president, American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, Downers Grove, Illinois

The mission of the Educational Theatre Association—"Shaping lives through theatre education"—is what motivated me to personally get involved in its programming and organization. As a former theatre student and teacher, I learned firsthand how the skills and traits I gained in the classroom and on stage helped me to advance both academically and in the workplace. Instinctively, I was able to utilize those 21st-century skills: creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, and communication and collaboration. Witnessing firsthand how the theatrical experience transforms an individual is what motivates me to work with EdTA.

—Jay Seller, president, Educational Theatre Association, Cincinnati

I was nine years old when I went to summer camp for the first time. It changed my life. I did not know then that my summer-camp experience would set me on a life and career trajectory that would give me deep satisfaction and rewards. As a volunteer leader of the American Camp Association, I have the chance to impact the lives of children and hope that they are able to have an experience that will enrich their lives and give them valuable skills that will prepare them for a bright and successful future. Serving ACA feeds my passion to empower youth and lets me give back a little of what camp gave to me.

—Tisha Bolger, president, American Camp Association, Martinsville, Indiana

How can volunteer leaders work with association staff to achieve great results?

The Board of Directors of the American School Counselor Association embraces the policy governance structure. Using policy governance has allowed us to clearly define the roles between the board and the CEO and staff. That clarity allows the board to set the vision, which, in turn, allows the staff to take the vision and turn it into measurable objectives that serve our membership. Each entity is able to do what it does best without interfering with the other's responsibilities. Collaboration, trust, and regular monitoring create a working relationship that enhances our talents and provides the most benefits for our membership.

—Dr. Sharon F. Sevier, board chair, American School Counselor Association, Alexandria, Virginia

Two words come to mind: communication and trust. As with any good business relationship, communication is paramount. From there, trust and confidence are earned (on both sides). Updates are crucial to inform the board of progress. Board members must respect and trust the staff to do their job. My personal goal is to trust the staff and the process we have in place, and to avoid the temptation to micromanage. It really is amazing how great results are achieved when you don't get in the way of excellent people doing their job.

—Shep Hyken, CSP, CPAE, president, National Speakers Association, Tempe, Arizona

I believe that a clear delineation between roles and responsibilities of the board and the staff is imperative. Although the board works with staff to develop a long-term strategic plan, we empower the CEO and staff to operationalize that plan. That's not to say that at times we don't try to get in the weeds, but when we do, there is usually at least one board member who reminds us that we are discussing an operational issue and we need to let it go. In order to do this effectively, the board has to have strong confidence in the CEO and staff.

—Julie Gill, Ph.D., board chair, American Society of Radiologic Technologists, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Three keys to success here: 1) Volunteer members should understand that association staff have specialized skills, knowledge, and vision within their specialty of association management just like the volunteer does within the industry. 2) Both parties should focus on the organization's strategic plan and member survey data, not private agendas. 3) The best results will occur when mutual trust exists between the volunteer member and the association staff.

—Thomas S. Roukis, DPM, Ph.D., FACFAS, president, American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, Chicago