To review the strengths and structure of an organization, I start with five building blocks applicable to every association. A weakness or omission in one will affect the whole.


Organizations have varied structures. Some are stand-alone 501(c)-exempt organizations while others include a foundation, PAC, and/or for-profit corporation. Some have a “parent” organization and/or local chapters. Each element has a purpose in advancing the mission, generating income, and serving members.

The structure is depicted in an organizational chart showing relationships, lines of communications and authority.

For instance, the committees are intended to supplement the work of the leadership and staff. They get authority from the bylaws and assignments from the board. Build a structure that best advances the organization.


A board should act strategically, leaving the tactics to committees and staff.

A multi-year strategic plan will guide board, committees, and staff. The plan communicates value to members and stakeholders. It should always be on the board table with the common question, “How does this discussion fit in our strategic plan?”


Sustainability impacts two areas: 1) revenue streams and assets, and 2) the leadership pipeline. Relying on only one or two streams of income can be detrimental should one source fail. Be aware of the ratio of dues to non-dues income. Evaluate the budget and financial position, adjusting as needed.

Sustainability also applies to the succession of leaders and professional staff. Build a pipeline of future leaders. Committees, chapters, and emerging professionals are training grounds for future leaders.


Organizations can lose relevance, especially with external factors such as competition, politics, for instance. Communicate the ROI of benefits and services.

Develop, protect and provide signature programs that address member challenges. Make customer service a priority. Adopt a process to abandon programs that drain resources. Poll members to determine their needs. (Does the organization have an appearance as if it operates in the 1990s?)


Performance is about people. Leaders and staff must be competent and accountable. Contrary is the phrase, “I’m just a volunteer, don’t expect much from me.” Progress will not be made without performance.

Metrics should be identified to track performance of nearly every program and effort. From attendance to membership, lobbying wins and PR, everything can be measured. Identify what should be measured, creating dashboards to monitor.

Be sure to rely on legal and accounting counsel when considering structure.

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