Here’s something that’s true in every association, regardless of industry or size:

An engaged, dynamic board creates an engaged, dynamic association.

A disengaged, stagnant board creates a disengaged, stagnant association.

Even if you have an engaged board now, there’s no guarantee that future boards will have the qualities your association needs to ensure your organization continues to be a relevant and value-added resource for your members.

That’s why one of the most important principles of effective association management is developing the next generation of board leadership.

Here are a few essential ingredients that your association needs to create a succession plan for your board of directors.

1. Create board job descriptions, and do an orientation for new board members.

Board job descriptions and orientations aren’t revolutionary ideas, but associations often fail to use either one of these simple tools.

Board members need to know what is expected in their new role. Additionally, an orientation conducted by staff and, when possible, officers of the board helps give some context to what the board actually does and what initiatives the board is currently working on.

Job descriptions and orientations also ensure the great things your association is doing don’t grind to a halt when new directors join your board.

2. Use your committees to develop future board leadership.

A typical board of directors can feature a lot of Type A personalities. It kind of goes with the territory. However, succeeding on a board of directors requires using soft skills, like persuasion and consensus building.

Committees are a great place for future board members to practice using persuasion and building consensus, as well as learning how to put their “association hat” on, rather than representing their individual or company interests.

Creating a high-performing association requires having board members who have some experience in the fine art of being a board member, and committees are a great place to gain that experience.

3. Create opportunities for mentorship.

Your association should encourage current board members to identify potential leaders among members and develop a mentoring relationship.

Those relationships will help future leaders understand the commitment that comes with serving on a board, and creating those relationships will help those future leaders succeed once they join a committee or the board of directors.

A formal mentoring program for your board of directors can be great, but informal mentoring relationships between current and future leaders can be just as—if not more—powerful.

4. Create a way for past leaders to continue contributing knowledge.

When past presidents step down from the board of directors, they sometimes want some distance from the association and more time to focus on their families and their careers. That said, past presidents often want to continue contributing to the association, and their wisdom and insight can be an invaluable resource for your current board of directors.

One way to leverage that institutional knowledge is to create a special council of past presidents that meets on occasion to look at strategic issues facing the association, and develop recommendations—or even just provide their perspective to current board leadership.

5. Don’t forget staff succession planning.

Of course, the board of directors isn’t the only place where an association needs to consider succession planning. An executive director and staff performing other essential administrative operations play crucial roles in the success of an association.

An unexpected—or even expected—departure can severely derail an association’s progress.

Working with an association management company like Sentergroup can help mitigate the impact of staff change. We pride ourselves on staff retention, but sometimes life happens, and there is a transition.

When that occurs, our client associations can count on the systems we use and the personnel we have in place to ensure a smooth transition while we work with a client to identify the right fit for an open position.

Directors eventually transition off your board—and sometimes staff choose to take a different opportunity. That’s just something that happens.

But it doesn’t mean your association should stop accomplishing amazing things.

And if you work with Sentergroup, we’ll make sure that your association is positioned for a bright future with a succession plan that meets your needs.