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Taking a Vacation on the Association's Dime, Eh?

In two morning sessions on the second day of ASAE's International Conference, at least one clear theme emerged: However much research an association does to find new markets around the world, there's likely going to be a skeptical/panicky/xenophobic board member who's ready to throw cold water on the effort.

Tony Keane, president and CEO of IFMA--International Facility Management Association, recalled an experience at a previous association where the board had signed on for an internationalization plan that would take three to five years to show ROI. Even so, one board member suffered a case of sticker shock at a meeting: "Why are you spending so money on travel expenses?" The board member was expressing the common and not-so-subtle suspicion was that staff wasn't really establishing important roots overseas, but gallivanting at the association's expense.

"You're going to get pushback," Keane says. "You have to be prepared for that."

But what to do? Here are three suggestions that emerged during the morning sessions.

1. Make it the board's initiative, not the CEOs. As with any new initiative that threatens to divide board members, support is better gained through board-member-to-board-member conversations. Champions of a new global plan on the board should consider it their role to persuade fellow board members who are on the fence or opposed to it. "We let [the board members] bring in the naysayers, instead of me going from one person to another," Keane says.

2. Make a clear, direct statement of your global focus, and have the board acknowledge it. At IFMA, Keane helped craft an international strategy with members of the board, former board members, staff, and an international development committee. Once it was created, it was distilled into a strategy statement---just a handful of lines that established the association's commitment to expand it's efforts internationally. The board approved the strategy statement---acknowledging its belief in the association's international mission, not just a particular initiative.

3. Build a board that shows how global you are. Rosa Aronson, CAE, executive director of TESOL International, pointed out that four members of the association's 12-person board are from outside the United States, in keeping with the 27 percent of members who are from outside the United States. "You want to be sure that your board is representative of your membership," she says. "It has some cost and cultural implications, but if you are a truly global association, it has to show up in your governance structure." Aronson added that you should make sure to check your bylaws during the process. Many associations were founded in an era when globalization was unacknowledged (or even actively resisted), so there may be residual language that effectively limits board participation to U.S. members.

How about you? What works when it comes to getting board buy-in for your globalization efforts?

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