Managing MLS & Association Board and Committee Turnover

Matt Cohen“It happens every year. I spend most of a year educating the Board of Directors or committee on a topic so they can make a decision and then January comes around and there’s a whole new crop and a new board member will put the brakes on something really important.” I heard that last week, last month and, for a number of years now, quite regularly from a number of different clients. Turnover in MLS & Association Boards of Directors is a good thing – injecting new energy, viewpoints, and expertise into a group. But new, unknowledgeable, or inexperienced leadership can also lead to wasted energy on the part of volunteers, and important decisions and projects being delayed. It can also lead to past decisions being reversed because of a lack of a depth of understanding about why the original decision was made. There has to be a solution.

The way that some organizations currently try to solve this issue is by having new board and committee members shadow the old group during the last meeting of the year. That helps lessen the issue to some extent, but not all initiatives are usually discussed in that last meeting. Even if rigorously summing up all of the research and reasoning that went into all of the past years’ decisions were a goal, it is not likely to occur. So, there has to be a better solution. Following is what I recommend:

During, or immediately after, a meeting where an important decision is made, one member of the group or a staff member should, as thoroughly as possible, document the thinking behind the decision. If there were minority objections made at the time, how were they answered or addressed? What were the positive factors that outweighed the negative ones? All this should be documented. This board-confidential document could then be distributed for approval or amendment at the following meeting, by those who were in attendance at the previous one. If research toward an initiative or decision is in progress at the end of the year or whenever there is turnover, then similar documentation should be created, managed, and distributed to new board or committee members after they have been installed and all oaths and/or confidentiality issues have been addressed.

Recruiting talented board and committee members is a challenge in our industry. It’s not always easy to find volunteers that are ready to put the effort into the organization, to take off their “company” hats and act on behalf of the organization and its members/subscribers, and who have skills and experience which continually improve the capabilities of a board or committee. That’s why we should look to improve organizational processes to make the best use of volunteer time – and to keep the decision-making process as efficient and effective as possible.

Have you created other processes to help reduce the negative impact of annual board or committee turnover? Please share!


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One comment on “Managing MLS & Association Board and Committee Turnover
  1. Suzanne says:

    Good info. Another thing that seems to have helped locally is having the presidents and vp’s serve 2 years instead of one to increase continuity. Holding the position for two years helps them feel like they got the hang of it in year 1 and can actually accomplish something in year 2!