Posted in Governance

BACon Blog - The Association Governance DivideThere is an association governance divide… and it’s getting wider.

Numerous associations are recognizing that their current governance is antiquated and not appropriate for the challenges of the 21st century. They are taking on the tough challenge of reviewing their governance and making changes to best serve the association, the members of the association and the industry, profession or interest that they serve.

At the same time, other associations, while recognizing that they have the same antiquated governance, are choosing to put their head in the sand and not make the necessary changes to ensure a vibrant and thriving association.

Good associations are getting better… and bad associations are getting worse. And the governance divide is getting wider.

Two recent examples will help to illustrate this point.

A major health care industry association participated in a discussion on their governance. There was clear recognition on the part of nearly all board members and senior staff team members that their governance was broken and needed to be fixed.

There were unclear roles and responsibilities between the Board, the CEO and staff. Their governance was cumbersome and laborious. Their governance was expensive, costing well over a million dollars a year. And they were at legal risk of not fulfilling appropriate fiduciary roles because of the confusion as to who had the authority on fiduciary matters.

But the leaders of the association, while acknowledging that they were putting the association at risk if they did not address the governance challenges before them, chose to ignore the problems and ended discussions about making improvements to their governance. Since they made that fateful decision the association has been experiencing even more turbulence among their member leaders, their staff leadership and the governance groups at the association. And the future does not look bright.

Conversely, an association in the finance industry recognized that if they did not review and modernize their governance that they were at risk of becoming obsolete due to competition from other associations and private sector companies and an indifference on the part of younger members about joining the association.

The finance association leadership conducted research on current best association governance practices and reflected on the history and culture of their organization and how these best practices could fit at their association. The leadership made some challenging decisions to improve their governance, including clarifying the authority of the Board of Directors and identifying how the Board of Directors would conduct its work and on what its work would focus. The leaders also reformed their leadership recruitment process and overhauled their committee structure and process.

And the results are in. The association is being governed in a more effective and efficient manner and the association’s member leaders, staff and membership are already recognizing the positive impact that the review of their governance is having on their association.

Good associations are getting better. Bad associations are getting worse. And the governance divide is getting wider. Make sure that your association is on the right side of the governance divide.

John Barnes is President of Barnes Association Consultants. Barnes Association Consultants helps association Boards and CEOs address the wide range of challenges and opportunities facing today’s association leaders. Barnes Association Consultants helps association leaders make their associations better.

John can be reached at or 703.321.6866. For more information about Barnes Association Consultants, go to