Urban sprawl is described as unplanned growth. Little thought is given to how the elements combine to add value. A gas station next to a hospital and apartment complex does not add value. Instead, a planned community increases quality of life and value by strategically integrating components.

Sprawl can affect associations. Components are often added by successive boards and strategic planning retreats. How the elements integrate or add value are not considered.

No Surprises!

Orientation informs directors of their roles and responsibilities for the association. The complexity of the organization is sometimes omitted.

A foundation, a political action committee (PAC), and a for-profit service corporation may have been added by prior boards. These elements have a subsidiary relationship to the association.

Associations are unique. For example, an organization with a “PR Council” that holds significant funds they dole out to committees, or a network of local chapters, some organized with a federal ID number while others act like clubs.

Add to the mix a dozen committees and special interest groups. Top that off with an advisory body called a House of Delegates or Council of 100.

Most of the organizational elements fall under the purview of the board. Directors should to be certain they know their relationships to the subsidiaries. Purposes, risks and finances must be considered in making decisions that include all the elements.

The governing documents associated with each element can be daunting; a lot to read. Governing documents should not conflict. Directors are asked to understand budgets, bylaws, policies, and strategy.

“Being a new board member is not intuitive and is a process that must be nurtured. Directors need to be informed of the complete picture. The time spent mentoring and orienting new board members is a gift with lasting results,” says Marti L. Wangen, CAE, co-executive director at the Montana Optometric Association.

Association Integration Plan

Add strategy and structure to tame association sprawl. Nobody wants to hear halfway through the year, “I didn’t know we have responsibility for the foundation, too.”

The aim is to create a lean, mean machine. There must good reasons to maintain each of the elements. They should complement the parent association. Members will recognize when disorganization slows efficiency.

Create an org chart to identify all the elements and their relationships. The chart clarifies lines of authority, hierarchy and communication channels. No board wants to find out a committee, chapter or subsidiary improperly spoke for or contracted on behalf of the board without authority.

Be especially mindful of finances. For instance, a conference planning committee that sets up its own checking account. The board should be aware of all finances.

Staffing Integration

Some of the subsidiary components may want to establish their own staff, board and finances. Too often they operate in a silo, preferring their own bylaws, logo, mission, and office space.

In most cases the components should cooperate and collaborate. For example, a foundation created to support education in the association should work together to raise funds and undertake research in the foundation, in turn supporting education and scholarship.


Directors may be surprised to learn they have joined a board that has multiple parts and components requiring oversight. Provide a complete image of the organization and how it works.

Don’t let them learn as issues arise, “We forgot to tell you we have a for-profit corporation that has been dormant for years.”

“Alignment in an association to ensure all parts are advancing the mission will lead to efficiency and a clear message of value,” said Ryan L. Dunn, executive director, Virginia Dental Association.