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If your Board isn't adding value, what is it doing?

If you think governance is “boring”, then you’re doing it all wrong. If you think governance is a tick-box exercise, then you’re doing it all wrong. If you think governance is a chore, a burden, or an effort, then YOU ARE DOING IT ALL WRONG!

I am so disappointed when I speak to colleagues and they talk about governance in such negative terms. I am so sad when people complain about the lack of engagement amongst their board. And I am so deeply frustrated when I see associations perpetuate the stereotypes of governance as dull, disinteresting, and something that directors and executives alike seem to dread.

I am exasperated when I watch membership bodies squander the opportunities afforded to them through proactive, engaged and constructive governance. A board of directors should only be an asset to its association, adding specialist insights, contributing professional expertise, and supporting the long-term sustainability of the organisation.

The interests of an association are not best served by directors discussing minutiae. Protecting and advancing the interests of an association requires vision, ambition, courage and, crucially, relevance.

If your board isn’t discussing emerging technologies, what is it doing? If your board isn’t addressing social responsibilities, what is it doing? If your board isn’t considering economic trends; if your board isn’t focussed on 2022, 2025, 2030; if your board doesn’t add value, WHAT IS IT DOING?

Our boards of directors are untapped resources which should be used relentlessly to advance the interests and value of the association. If your association isn’t compliant or is borderline insolvent then yes, you’ve got much bigger problems to worry about than investing in innovation, but if you’re focussed on growth, enhancing financial strength and ensuring business resilience, then your board should be centre-stage in terms of strategic planning and generative thought. 

People often ask me how membership governance differs from other forms of governance, and in truth it is the opportunity to utilise members’ skills and expertise for the long-term benefit of the association that is the key differential. Everyone must be compliant – profit, non-profit, charity, third sector. Everyone must be solvent. Everyone must fulfil their regulatory and fiduciary roles. But not every board has the opportunity to influence the way in which membership boards can. 

But that influence must be positive and constructive, and the very best way to realise that responsibility is:

  1. To be strategic;
  2. To be big picture; and 
  3. To be transformational. 

About the author

Andrew Chamberlain

Andrew is a former association chief executive, and for 15 years he held c-suite leadership positions in professional associations and membership bodies across the UK. He travels internationally to provide specialist support on non-profit leadership, governance, and strategy. He is the founder of the Cambridge Governance Symposium; author of the NETpositive Governance™ model; and co-host of the weekly podcast Association Transformation, and (with Cindy Sparrow) the weekly podcast Good Enough for Jazz (both available on Apple podcasts). He is a vociferous advocate of mental health awareness and wellbeing, irrespective of professional contexts or social norms; and a committed proponent of social responsibility and sustainable development. 

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