Congratulations on starting your journey as an association leader! Welcome to a very dynamic and fast paced environment, rich with adventure and problem solving. As you get started, your first tasks are to understand your role and equally, your association(s). Getting to know your association quickly requires a strategic approach to understanding its structure, operations, culture, and key stakeholders. In this blog, we are going to be discussing specifically how to get to understanding the ‘essence’ of your association as fast as possible.


Before you sit down with your coffee to review any comprehensive materials given to you at training, discover what structures and systems are in place first. You want to build context from a bird’s eye view so that when you later go to review any documents or policies etc., the details have a place to land.

Here is a list of some of the essential elements that contribute to the framework of an association:

  • Mission and Vision Statements
  • Standard Operational Policy (SOP)
  • Board Binder such as Board History, Policies, Roles and Responsibilities.
  • List of Current Board Members and Executive Leadership
  • Association Website Address
  • Legal Documents such as Association By-Laws
  • Membership Structure
  • Financial Management
  • Digital Presence and Social Media Policies
  • Code of Conduct and Ethics Policies

Try to write down a short summary answer for each of the above. Also, discover where and who to go to if you have any questions.

Maybe your association doesn’t have a formal SOP or Board Binder yet and that is okay, just something that is good to be aware of. Doing this work at the onset will greatly help smooth your transition into getting to know your association quicker and more deeply.

Meet with Key Stakeholders

As you are building your framework, start meeting with the key stakeholders of your association. Get direction from those you may report to as to how best to connect with the varying tiers listed below:

  • Board Members: Schedule one-on-one meetings to understand their perspectives, priorities, and expectations.
  • Executive Leadership: Meet with the CEO, Executive Director, and other senior leaders to get an overview of the association’s operations and challenges.
  • Staff Members: Engage with staff across different departments to understand their roles, responsibilities, and the workflows.

Attend Meetings and Events

Start attending virtual and in-person events and meetings as soon as you can. Even if you are day two on the job, interacting early with your association members and/or Board will contribute to building your understanding of your association’s framework.

  • Board Meetings: Observe or participate in Board meetings to see decision-making processes and current issues.
  • Committee Meetings: Attend various committee meetings to understand specific areas of focus and active projects.
  • Member Events: Participate in conferences, workshops, and social events to interact with members and understand their needs and concerns.

As an association leader, your success is based on your flexibility and adaptability in being able to navigate several moving parts in a fast-paced environment. The sooner you have a rich understanding of your association, the more you will be able to support them. By following the above, you can gain a quicker comprehensive understanding of your association, its operations, and its culture, enabling you to contribute effectively and make informed decisions, sooner.