Understanding the Diversity of Skills Needed for an Effective Board

Understanding the Diversity of Skills Needed for an Effective Board

Creating a successful and high-functioning association Board is one of the most challenging aspects of association governance, but it is also one of the most important. A great Board will create a clear vision for the association, strategise for a successful future, mentor the executive of the association, advocate in external circles, identify opportunities and clear the path of obstacles.

All Boards need to be compiled of various experts and professionals with a breadth of experience and a diverse range of approaches. This diversity will benefit your association by introducing new ideas and ways of doing things.

Why Prioritise Diversity?

Boards that lack diversity in skills, experiences, backgrounds and knowledge areas risk becoming stale in the way they govern and plan for the future. The Board should reflect a range of stakeholders and should be at least as diverse as your association membership. Failing to compile a range of people with different perspectives can result in groupthink.

Without a mix of abilities and aptitudes, you will be left looking for important skill sets when it comes to approaching specific problems.

Additionally, it’s unwise to recruit Board members solely from the industry that your association is a part of. While industry experience and knowledge of your association’s area is an advantage for some Board members, it is not necessary for everyone on the Board to have an in depth understanding of the detail of the industry. The role of the Board is not operational or technical; rather, it is focused on long term vision and strategy. Therefore, people from a range of backgrounds who have the important ability to think outside the box are more valuable than a team of industry experts.

What Kinds of Diverse Skills Are Needed?

Many associations may understand the need to have a diversity of people on the Board, but are unsure what skill sets to target. When looking for Board members, it’s a good idea to ensure that your Board collectively meets all of the following criteria.

  • Accounting and finance. Your Board Treasurer will require accounting and financial knowledge and skills, as they will be responsible for preparing budgets and other financial documents for the association. Ideally, one or two other Board members will also come from an accounting background and be able to consider strategy in monetary terms.
  • Law. Legal knowledge is a key skill set that needs to be a key component of at least one Board member’s contributions to association governance. A strong understanding of the legislative environment, any relevant laws and policies, and the legal requirements of the association’s operations is crucial.
  • Marketing. All associations will require an element of marketing to gain and retain members, successfully run events, and provide a beneficial service to their membership. Having a Board member with a marketing background who understands the workings of a campaign and marketing strategy is highly beneficial.
  • Human resources. People management is a key skill that needs to be taken seriously by organisations big and small. A Board member with this background can assist the association executive to get the best out of employees and volunteers.
  • Public relations. It is ideal if you have a Board member who is willing to take on the role of spokesperson for the association, and even the industry more widely where appropriate. This person should have public relation skills and be prepared to deal with the media if needed.
  • Information technology. In an increasingly digital world, a Board member with IT skills is indispensable. Especially for associations who are looking to upgrade technology and provide a more digitised service, someone with experience in major IT projects is an important asset.
  • Strong professional network. Majority of your Board members should be able to bring a strong network of resources and relationships to their role on the Board. These do not have to be relationships with industry personnel or even legislative bodies, but a broader network that can be leveraged for the association’s benefit when needed.
  • Mentoring abilities. An often-under-appreciated element of the Board is their ability to mentor and train the executive to enhance the skill set of the association as a whole. Board members who are willing to mentor and share their skills are highly beneficial.
  • Integrity and high ethical standards. All Board members must possess high ethical standards when it comes to the governance of the association and their business dealings more generally.

Finally, alongside the need to bring together a group of people with a diverse range of skills, an association should consider building a strong Board culture where everyone feels empowered to have their say and contribute. Having a broad range of people will assist to prevent any one person from monopolising conversations. A welcoming, respectful and honest working environment encourages open communication and collaboration.


About the Author: Nick Koerbin (Executive Director, AES)

With over 30 years of management expertise, Executive Director and Founder of AES, Nick Koerbin is one of the most experienced NFP leaders in Australia. He has held positions as the CEO of Materials Australia, the National Parts Code, as well as senior positions in the Institute of Insurance, Australian Quality Council, the Financial Planning Association, the Australian Human Resources Institute, and the Furniture Industry Association of Australia. Nick created AES with a vision of creating a set of management practices that could be consistently followed to ensure success. Over his 30 years in the industry, he noticed that inconsistent management practices often impeded delivery of services to members, which in turn created issues with membership renewal. By establishing AES and creating the NFP Association Best Practice Self-Assessment, Nick has been able to assist leaders in becoming more confident and informed decision makers so that they can create more effective strategies and implementation plans.

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