Tim Ebner is former senior editor of Associations Now in Washington, DC.
Trust has value, and boards must earn it to align a diverse membership in polarizing times.
If trust were a currency, would you know what your association is worth?
Although an executive board maintains oversight of the organization’s assets, reserves, and revenue in accordance with its fiduciary duty, board members rarely think in terms of the value of earned trust, says Ned Monroe, CAE, president and CEO of the Vinyl Institute. And that’s a big problem: He argues that trust could be an association’s most important asset.
“You really can’t do much of anything without trust,” he says. “It’s a fundamental part of any association that looks to advance a cause or issue, and it’s a form of currency that relationships thrive on.”
ASAE’s ForesightWorks action brief indicates that public trust in institutions is declining, and to be trusted means that associations must work to align a diverse membership in polarizing times.
“I think that society at large is having real issues with trust,” Monroe says. “There can be cohorts with differences, whether it’s politics, current events, or generational issues.” As an association executive who works alongside an elected board, Monroe says trust from membership and staff should never be assumed. Instead, it must be continuously earned. And small board actions can go a long way toward building it.
“One of the first steps board members can take to build trust is not only to follow the operating guidelines and bylaws set before them, but to exceed them,” Monroe says.
Transparency is key. As prescribed by the Vinyl Institute’s bylaws, Monroe and his board circulate board meeting minutes among members, but they also solicit members’ feedback. The input from beyond the boardroom offers insights and direction to strategic thinking. It can also be collected quickly between meetings through interactive polling, digital forms, or online surveys.
“You have to ask members for their feedback first if you want to build trust,” Monroe says. “Our board is open to and confident enough to listen, acting upon members’ desires in the best interest of the organization.”
Organizational trust can also be cultivated through board members’ relationships with members and staff.
“Consciously give your board members a time and place to visit with members,” Monroe says. “Maybe at the annual meeting, you allow for a social event or interaction that breaks [board members] from their tightly packed schedules, so they can listen in to hallway chatter.”
Another option is a board luncheon or networking event where members or staff get to know the board on a first-name basis.
“Look for face-to-face opportunities throughout the year to get the board actively engaged and interacting outside of their bubbles,” Monroe says. “It shows that you’re not only invested but will continue to serve as a solid steward for the organization.”
[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled “Currency of Trust.”]