I recently attended a board professional development session with board members from an association that we manage and I found it a very worthwhile session for both myself and for the board members.

It very clearly outlined the roles of, and the relationship between, the board members versus the chief staff officer (Executive Director or CEO) and how that relationship must be structured in order to ensure that the association is operating at maximum efficiency.

A portion of the session addressed the role that the board plays in assessing and monitoring the external and internal environment. This information is used to see whether adjustments need to be made in order to stay in line with the mission and vision for the association.

Strategic planning is a very important role of the board. Arguably strategic thinking to set the mission and a vision for the association is the reason board members are brought on to serve.

The strategic planning session to determine what the organization is going to look like in the future and what resources need to be allocated to make the mission and vision a reality starts with an environmental scan. Doing a scan of the external and internal environments is crucial as no organization operates in a bubble.

Elements of the external environment are typically characterized as opportunities and/or threats and are things like:

  • Political climate in the communities your members serve
  • The economic factors that affect your association members/li>
  • Social factors that affect your members (changing demographics)/li>
  • Technology and how it affects how your members’ delivery of service/li>
  • Government policy (laws) that has a direct impact on members and the communities you serve/li>
  • Changes taking place with stakeholders to your profession (suppliers)/li>
  • Other groups that service the same group and what is happening in their environments /li>

The list of external factors is fairly extensive but there are also internal factors that need to be reviewed to achieve your mission and vision. Internal environment factors typically involve assessing the strengths and weaknesses of your organization. Factors to review include:

  • Financial health of your association
  • Human resources and human capital you have access to
  • Operating structure and how efficient your organization is at getting things done
  • What measurements tell you that your organization is being successful and how are they monitored

One of the messages I took away from the training session was the value of doing this sort of SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) Analysis about the external and internal environments on a regular basis rather than only every three-to-five years when a strategic planning session takes place. In our ever changing world, it was suggested that the board look at internal and external factors and how they affect the association regularly. It is important that discussion is had and that these factors are always top of mind when discussing the short and long term future of the association.

An example for one of our association management client is the effect of technology as an external factor. Technology changes regularly and the advancements in technology change the scope in which its members work. Board discussion regularly focuses on adapting and understanding the technological changes and how, as a group, their members fit into the changing landscape.

Board members are responsible for many things in leading associations but one of the key factors and skills they need to bring to the table is the ability to understand the internal and external environments.

Your board members understanding of these factors will ultimately lead to the success of your association.