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I've been thinking a lot about this question lately. It's a question, I know, that never even occurs to leaders in many associations. "Should committees report to the board?" they might say. "Of course they should. Who else are the going to report to?"
How about the chief staff executive?
I've suggested just such an idea before, and the looks I get back from chief staff executives and board chairs alike can only be described as incredulous.
But hear me out.
There are some committees whose jobs clearly relate to the governance of the association. The Finance Committee. The Nominating Committee. The Executive Committee. These are all bodies appropriately appointed by the Board to help it do its job better.
But there are other committees whose jobs relate to the management of the association. The Education Committee. The Membership Committee. The Marketing Committee. These are all bodies designed to infuse the management practices of the association with the expertise and wisdom of association members themselves.
If your association is an association of widget manufacturers, then you might want widget manufacturers on your Marketing Committee to help you decide how best to market your association to other widget manufacturers. If your association is an association of physicians, then you might want physicians on your Education Committee to help you decide what kind of education to deliver to your members. In most associations, this type of industry- or profession-specific expertise does not exist at the staff level, and the synergistic fusing of member knowledge with staff functional expertise can spell great success.
But in all of these cases, the functions of these "program" committees are not related to how the association is governed (i.e., the purview of the board). They are related to how the association is managed (i.e., the purview of the chief staff executive). And if that is the case, shouldn't these committees "report" to the chief staff executive, the way other members of the staff do? In fact, doesn't having those committees report to the board put the board in the position of having to manage the association, usurping the position and authority it has specifically delegated to its chief staff executive?
These are the thoughts I think about whenever I sit in a board meeting and find myself trapped in a discussion about the details of some committee report. Committee X wants funds to produce a new marketing brochure. Committee Y wants approval on the venues it has chosen for next year's educational sessions.
I can't help it. As a board member, my first question when faced with these requests is always: Why are you asking me? I don't manage this association. The chief staff executive does.
And I'd prefer to keep it that way.