Association management seminars should result in ideas and affirmations for making improvements and confirming successful practices.

Seminar attendance allows executives to remove themselves from the daily grind at the office to be open to ideas and smart practices. Many executives take robust notes about the resources, samples and rationales for improving their organizations.

Every attendee hears and applies the information differently. At the National Apartment Association, I received feedback from two executives from different states.

Based upon exactly the same advice, each made improvements unique to their associations. One CEO said, “You told us to design a more effective meeting agenda, so we now include the mission statement at the top.”

The other exec said, “We added a footnote at the bottom of agendas, reminding the chair to inform directors to avoid antitrust violations and disclose potential conflicts of interest.”

Here’s a recap of the ideas and affirmations often shared.


Board Size — The average board size is 15 in the U.S. The IRS suggests the size should allow for meaningful conversations. The larger the board the less engaged directors, and the board is more unwieldy.

Volunteer Immunity — There is a nexus between governing documents and the doctrine of volunteer immunity. Let the minutes reflect the board received or has access to the bylaws, articles of incorporation and policies.

Leadership Guide — Directors need information to govern well. Provide a leadership manual, board portal or access to documents on a shared site such as Dropbox.

Policies — Policies are the responsibility of the board; procedures are the domain of staff. Avoid providing a board book called “Policies and Procedures” so directors don’t delve into staff tasks.

Strategic or Tactical — Strategy is a responsibility of the board. Tactics belong to committees and staff. Discourage directors from doing committee work at the board table.

On-Boarding — Hold orientation annually. It requires about 1 to 2 hours to update the board on roles, priorities and finances. Attendance should be required.

Protections — Protect the board by providing directors and officers insurance, a corporate veil, indemnification and an understanding of volunteer immunity.

Subsidiaries — Subsidiary organizations such as a foundation, for-profit corporation or political action committee can improve impact and footprint.


Agenda Design — Craft an agenda to advance the mission. Avoid the rationale, “We have always done it this way.” Include the mission statement on all board and committee agendas.

Reminders — Add a footnote reminding the meeting chair to advise about disclosing conflicts, avoiding antitrust violations and respecting confidentiality.

Frequency — Transition from monthly to bimonthly or quarterly meetings to save staff 200 hours a year in preparation, attendance and follow-through. Create an agenda to address business for at least 90 days; not just monthly reports. Rely on the executive committee or executive director to manage issues between board meetings.

New Business — Remove “new business” from the agenda. Ask directors to submit new business in advance of meetings, avoiding surprises as the meeting nears adjournment.

Consent Process — Use a consent agenda to distribute reports in advance. Avoid meetings where the time is dedicated to “reports and updates.”

Postpone — Schedule meetings only as needed; they should not be viewed as a platform to keep directors engaged. Postpone meetings that have minimal purpose.

Rules of Order — Be careful about referencing “Roberts Rules of Order, Latest Edition” in the bylaws, unless every director is versed in the latest edition. Consider a cheat sheet for rules of order or the booklet, “ABCs of Parliamentary Procedure.”

Minutes — Brief is better. Minutes are not a place to record reminders or who said what. They are a document to protect the board; not a newsletter for members.

Strategic Direction

Member Awareness — The strategic plan is not intended to sit on a shelf collecting dust. It should be formatted for sharing with members and stakeholders.

Plan Champion — Ask a board member to serve as the “plan champion” to monitor and report on progress.

Goals — Few people remember more than 4 or 5 goals after the planning retreat. Planning is not about making a to-do list but rather identifying the core competencies of the organization.

Placemat — Keep the strategic plan on the board table. Some groups create an 11 by 17-inch placemat for each board seat. As motions and ideas are presented, check them against the plan. Does adding a new program require an existing project to be dropped or resources redirected?

Committees — Committees advance elements of the strategic plan. Be certain they understand how their efforts supplement the board and staff to advance the goals.

Integration — Include the strategic goals on the board agenda to maintain a focus on the plan.

Metrics — Performance measures should be a part of the strategic plan. Encourage knowledge-based decisions and avoid “groupthink.” Use visual dashboards to depict the most important information.


Motion to Accept — Financial statements should be presented at every meeting. The appropriate motion is to “accept” rather than “approve” the report.

Form 990 — IRS Form 990 should be shared with the governing body before annual submission. Directors should be aware of its purpose and accuracy.

Public Records — Directors should know what records are open to public request. In most cases the association is a private corporation with very few public records. IRS public records include Form 990, Application 2014 and the Letter of Determination.

Ratios — Understand the ratio and rationale for the proportion of dues to non-dues income, as well as budget to savings reserve.

Broad View — Look at the big-picture of the financial report; avoiding focus on questions such as, “What’s this $50 expense?”

Intellectual Property — Protect the intellectual property as an asset of the association. Use, © and ® as appropriate.