What You Can Learn From Putting Yourself in Your Members' Shoes

Segarra image 12.16.29 December 16, 2019 By: Jose Segarra, CAE

When one small-staff executive director spent few days in the life of his members, he not only became a trained doula, but he also acquired many lessons that will benefit his association, including the board and members.

I am one a few and proudly trained doulas who happens to be a man. Would I have considered that to be one of my achievements 10 or 20 years ago? Not a chance. But as the executive director of DONA International, the professional membership organization of 5,000 doulas worldwide, it’s very fitting.

As association executives, especially small-staff ones, we’re often so focused on day-to-day operations and management and providing guidance to our boards, that we can lose sight of our members’ perspective and what they’re facing day in and day out. Knowing the value of clearly understanding what my members do, I intended to go through the doula training from the time I began interviewing for the job, knowing it was my opportunity to demonstrate interest and learn their perspective. My goal was not to become a doula, but rather to learn as much as I could about the profession and apply that to my approach at the organization.

Last August, I arrived in Los Angeles for my training. I was apprehensive because I knew the group taking the class was going to be mostly women. In fact, once I got to the training center, I discovered that I was the only man in the class. I was immediately concerned about how my presence would be received.

Turns out, my worries were unfounded: The training was just as much fun as it was informative and engaging.

So, what did I learn from my three-day training that can be applied to my role as an executive director? Here are a few highlights:

Give back. Doulas have a strong sense of giving back to the community and supporting each other. They hold regular, regional meetings and create informal groups to support each other and be a backup in the event a client goes into labor when the doula is unavailable. It is part of their practice to ensure others are treated well. As an executive director, I must remember to engage my board in a way that is supportive and that builds a sense of community.

Benefit, risk, analysis (BRA). During labor and birth, BRA is the acronym doulas use to help people in labor assess their options. For example, if the woman is going to be induced, the doulas suggest that the woman thinks about the benefits of induced labor, any risks that may occur, and asks the doctor or midwife if there are alternatives to consider. BRA is a simple tool, and it is going to be brought up at the board table moving forward. Using this familiar acronym when discussing proposals can help everyone at the table ensure the organization is making the right decisions.

Stay within the scope. Doulas have a scope of practice, and it states clearly what they can and cannot do. For example, the doula does not do anything clinical and is not directive in her approach. Instead, the work of a doula is to emotionally support and empower the woman in labor. This can serve as guidance for the scope of work outlined in a strategic plan and setting priorities. It could also be related to nudging volunteers to keep focused on the association’s priorities.

Create the environment you want. Along with the emotional support, doulas create a welcoming and calm environment that is safe for the family. That sense can be transferred to the boardroom where we, as executives, can reassure the board members that this is a safe space for consent and dissent without judgment.

Empower others. Empowering the mother and partner to advocate for themselves is an integral part of what a doula does. The doula does this by asking questions and helping parents-to-be find their own answers. Once that is done, the pair can voice their concerns or opinions. As association leaders, we sometimes need to invite and empower board members who are quieter and more reserved to speak up.

There are many things to learn from our members and ways to incorporate those lessons into your association’s practices. If you spend a day in the life of your members, you probably won’t find yourself a trained doula, but who knows what will happen?

Jose Segarra, CAE

Jose Segarra, MNA, CAE, is executive director of DONA International and a member of ASAE’s Small Staff Associations Advisory Committee.