Tim Ebner is communications director and press secretary at the American Forest & Paper Association in Washington, DC. He is a member of ASAE’s Communication Professionals Advisory Council and a former Associations Now senior editor.
Following an association merger, the National Stone, Sand, and Gravel Association developed a new and revitalized strategic plan that served both members and the industry, as well as a board evolution initiative and task force to grow new leadership opportunities.
Association mergers do not come without growing pains, and they can last awhile. The 2001 merger of the National Stone Association and the National Aggregates Association, which created the National Stone, Sand, and Gravel Association, led to many years of complaints from members that the board structure was broken.
“The bottom line was that member-to-member leadership from a board structure was missing,” says Michael Johnson, who joined NSSGA as CEO and president in 2014. “And our governance structure was not well aligned to goals and objectives in our strategic plan.”
To get the association back on track, Johnson worked closely with his incoming board chair to develop a new and revitalized strategic plan that served both members and the industry. At the same time, they introduced a board-evolution initiative and task force that helped to grow leadership opportunities for new members.
Their first goal was to identify highly qualified leaders from across the United States to provide better geographic representation in advocacy work, a key priority under the strategic plan. Bylaws now require that a member from every state sit on the NSSGA board, and Johnson says those board members act as grassroots liaisons who help to grow membership and fundraising for the association’s political action committee, ROCKPAC.
What we found was that a lot of the legacies of the bylaws to facilitate the merger had worked for that purpose but led to an association that wasn't really ready to move forward.—Michael Johnson, National Stone, Sand, and Gravel Association
Another issue was a set of legacy bylaws that had not been evaluated since the merger. A new nominating committee of past board chairs was established to update the bylaws, reconfigure the board structure, create new committees, and identify officer candidates, a move that Johnson says has opened up new leadership opportunities for younger members. Meanwhile, the association eliminated a bylaws provision that required that board members must be either CEOs or major decision-making authorities in member companies.
In about three years, these board-evolution initiatives have been unanimously approved by the nominating committee, executive committee, and board.
“What we found was that a lot of the legacies of the bylaws to facilitate the merger had worked for that purpose but led to an association that wasn’t really ready to move forward,” Johnson says.
Today, NSSGA is better suited to carry out its advocacy-driven strategic plan, but the process of change isn’t over. In March, the board adopted a phase two strategic plan that will help to grow committee structures and provide new events, including an annual legislative and policy forum hosted in Washington, DC.
“It’s been a process, and you don’t get there overnight,” Johnson says. “But now we are populating board seats with people who are key players in our grassroots advocacy efforts.”
[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled "Solid New Structure."]