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January 23, 2019

Representative Leadership: How DE&I Enriches the Membership Experience

Diversity, equity and inclusion, commonly referred to as DE&I, is a hot topic across the association industry today. Our 2018 Economic Impact on Associations Study (EIA) recently took a deeper look at how organizations are incorporating DE&I as part of their core values. We found that 72 percent of respondents consider diversity and inclusion a priority, many citing the need to encourage a greater breadth of talents, skills and experiences within their organization’s leadership.

72 percent of [EIA] respondents consider diversity and inclusion a priority.

Unfortunately, as my colleague Jon Hockman explained in his recent blog post, most association executives have not found effective strategies to make a measurable impact in this area.

Having a volunteer leadership that reflects the experiences, perspectives and demographics of its membership is key to ensuring associations are aligned to meet the varying needs and expectations of their diverse stakeholders. For example, engaging millennials and converting young professionals to full-paying members are common priorities across the association industry, yet few associations represent these audiences in their organizational leadership. This often leaves more tenured professionals making assumptions on how to shape association strategy to meet the needs of a generation with whom they may not directly identify.

Having a diverse volunteer leadership base ensures your association is considering the collective needs of your stakeholders, setting you up for a loyal and satisfied member base. The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) recognized the importance of this work and saw an opportunity to enhance its governance structure to make an impact.

Making an Impact

To fulfill its own strategic commitment to DE&I, IDSA partnered with McKinley to analyze and redesign its governance model. McKinley helped IDSA establish a clear definition for DE&I to update its core values, incorporate it on the website and in future communications and, ultimately, further engrain DE&I into the organizational culture. But IDSA’s leadership and board knew they needed to go further than that to inspire lasting change.

A critical aspect of a board’s charge is to develop and oversee an organizational strategy that serves their mission and membership. To do this, boards must be in touch with their members’ various needs and perspectives – a difficult task if an organization lacks its own wide array of viewpoints, backgrounds and experiences.

Therefore, the Society not only wanted to create and enable a diverse and inclusive membership, they wanted their board to reflect that same diversity. Together, we defined several strategies for IDSA to fully embrace diversity, equity and inclusion at every level of the organization. In particular, we identified the following opportunities:

  1. Transitioned the nominating committee to a leadership development committee.
  2. Developed a core competency model for volunteer leader positions.
  3. Created a board profile matrix to track the composition of IDSA’s board and aid in the recruitment of appropriate candidates.
Transitioning to a Leadership Development Committee

One of the most important strategies IDSA took on was transitioning its nominating committee to a leadership development committee.

Rather than selecting individuals to nominate for board service, like a traditional committee, the leadership development committee develops and oversees the process of identifying, coaching and stewarding qualified pools of applicants to serve on the board of directors. They are the engine behind the leadership pipeline – monitoring the board profile matrix; maintaining a database of potential candidates for board service; actively identifying board candidates outside their limited network; and stewarding candidates to ensure they have the necessary skills and knowledge to serve as an effective volunteer leader.

Core Competency Model

To identify the proper candidates for board service, one must first identify and prioritize the necessary skills, experiences and areas of expertise needed to fulfill their role. A board competency model helps an association collectively define what it takes to be a successful volunteer leader and provides dual benefits for the association and the user, acting as a framework for leadership development content as well as a guide for prospective candidates to assess skills and identify gaps. The model is broken into four quadrants with varying levels of priority, ranging from “universal” elements – those that are required for all board candidates, to “low priority” elements.

Board Profile Matrix

Aligned with IDSA’s board competency model is the board profile matrix. The matrix outlines key demographics, functional skills and interest areas to provide a comprehensive picture of IDSA’s current board makeup. This tool allows the leadership development committee to fill demographic and skill area gaps that might occur when board members finish their terms by replacing them with qualified candidates.  This supports a strategic and data-driven approach to the board election process and pushes us away from the common but ineffective popularity contest.

Moving Forward

By building a diverse and representative volunteer leadership, an organization is well-positioned to meet the unique needs and expectations of its diverse stakeholders. IDSA’s strategic and deliberate approach to prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion is just one example of how DE&I is possible when paired with conscious, ongoing effort.

Contact McKinley to implement your own plan to support your organization’s diverse and representative leadership and download our 2018 EIA study to learn more about DE&I in associations.



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