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Association governance essentials

MANY studies have shown that effective governance results in a vibrant and successful association. But what are the characteristics of effective governance?

According to BoardSource, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that specializes in board leadership, the formula for effective governance boils down to six essential ingredients:

Mission: A clear, concise, and compelling mission unifies and motivates the board and staff to achieve meaningful results.

Leadership: High-performing associations are led by a board chair and chief executive committed to a constructive partnership built on a shared understanding of mission and vision; reciprocal communication; and mutual respect, trust, and support for each other and the partnership.

Board and staff composition: The right people in the right positions, working on the right mission, make success within reach.

Streamlined structure: When aligned with the strategic priorities of the organization, an efficient structure allows board and staff to apply their skills in concert to fulfill the mission.

Strategic planning: This charts a future course and then drives the actions that move the organization forward. It informs the board’s structures, aligning committees and task forces with strategic objectives, and shaping their work, timetables, and checkpoints. It also guides the leadership prospecting process.

Board meetings:  As the boardroom is the formal place where the board acts on its authority, a focused, well-planned, and effectively executed meeting is the crux of decision-making.

BoardSource cites that the above formula is neither complex nor profound, but few associations apply it consistently or thoroughly. Those that do find that, while effective governance takes time, flexibility, intention, and attention, it does make a lot of difference to the association and to the community it serves.

In my July 19, 2019, column, “Two Leadership Roles in Associations,” I wrote that the board-management delineated type of governance, or so-called volunteer-driven, paid staff-run (VDSR) model has two leadership roles: the chair of the board and the CEO or head of management (Executive secretary or secretary-general in the context of the Philippines). This model is what effective governance refers to.

In the country, the board governed-and-managed governance model or the “all volunteer-run” (AVR) model is more prevalent, based on the findings of the Philippine Council of Associations and Association Executives.

While I support and advocate that the VDSR model has an advantage over the AVR model in terms of continuity, strategic positioning, and operational efficiency, the fact remains that effective governance should revolve around the key ingredients I mentioned.


The contributor, Octavio “Bobby” Peralta, is concurrently the secretary-general of the Association of Development Financing Institutions in Asia and the Pacific, founder and CEO of the Philippine Council of Associations and Association Executives and president of the Asia-Pacific Federation of Association Organizations. The purpose of Pcaae—the “association of associations”—is to advance the association management profession and to make associations well-governed and sustainable. The Pcaae enjoys the support of Adfiap, the Tourism Promotions Board and the Philippine International Convention Center. E-mail: [email protected].

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