Repeatedly, over time, we hear recommendations for associations to conduct themselves more like for-profit business. We think this is a mistake. Attempts to persuade associations to adopt the practices of business with the promise of greater growth – without adaptation to keep a promise of greater value – are misguided. Associations that behave just like businesses risk finding their internal cultures infected with competitive norms that drive a for-profit dynamic, but are incompatible with the collaborative dynamic of a not-for-profit mission-driven organization.
Recently we have been observing the effects of these cultural conversions in:
- the return of imperial presidencies dictating direction without Board involvement,
- rogue executive committees manipulating the association into policies favorable to their own interests at the expense of the general membership, and
- Boards fragmented or polarized by competing interests who are either unaware of, or choosing to ignore, their fiduciary responsibilities to the enterprise.
It’s not to say there are not things associations can learn from successful for-profit business. But when an association defines success by looking inward at its own self-interest, rather than by looking outward at the interests it serves, it invites its leadership to do the same.
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