By Sammi Soutar

       Picking up good vibrations and maintaining great expectations are crucial to working well with an association board.
    People are, by nature, social beings. We like to belong, gather in groups. An association's board members are no different. However, it is important to cultivate good relations already inherent to a group of like-minded individuals serving as association board members.
   A board whose members get along with and trust each other enables the association management company to perform the job without having to worry about hidden agendas, mistrust or poor communication. As a result, the board will become more efficient and operate more smoothly.

Screening prospects
   Cultivating those good vibrations begins before you sign a contract with a new client. Do your research. Look for boards that seem to be a good fit with the rest of your organization.
Use the AMC questionnaire ("ASAE's Request for Association Information") to screen prospective new association clients. I try to ask some open-ended questions in an initial face-to-face or over-the-phone interview with key volunteers to encourage detailed responses on a variety of topics. This gives the prospective client the opportunity to discuss issues and priorities that you may (or may not) find to be compatible with your company and your current clients' overall goals and values.
      In addition, taking the time to meet with board members both individually and as a group gives you the opportunity to observe how they interact. Do they get along with one another? Is there an easy camaraderie? Or do you detect undercurrents of tension or unease? Board members should be likable and enthusiastic about their association's mission.
     You can also sense if they get along with one another. If they do, that increases the likelihood that they'll get along with you. Landing an account from a board that works toward consensus building helps to reduce the risk of "stealth bombing" by one or two individuals unhappy with the selection of your company and taking out their disappointment on you.

Contract as relationship builder
   If you attended the AMC Forum in Nashville this summer, you already know the contract is another essential tool to build good board relations. During a workshop, "AMC Contracts: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," Ralph Block, President, the Access Group Inc., Chicago, noted that the contract can be used to communicate the AMC-client partnership.
      The "Scope of Work" section is crucial. When comprehensive and clearly expressed, it prevents confusion and misunderstandings about the AMC's level of service and responsibility. Consequently, a copy of the contract should be included in board orientation kits.
Smooth transitions
        Another useful tool in building good board relations is the AMC Transition Check List, which outlines typical items that need to be handled during a client's transition to AMC management. You can request a copy of the check list by calling 000-000-0000.
   As part of the transition, consider hosting an AMC-board orientation. The orientation gives everyone a chance to "find their sea legs," review the strategic plan and reach consensus on work priorities. An orientation can also provide the tools to enhance their skills as good leaders.
    Combining the first board meeting with an open house  gives everyone a chance to inspect their new office headquarters and meet with staff. Refreshments don't necessarily have to be elaborate to turn that first, critical board meeting into an ice-breaking social event.

Board training
     After you have landed the account, maintaining good relations begins with an orientation program for new board members. A good orientation gets newcomers on the same page with the rest of the group. It also serves to build confidence among less experienced board members, as well. An informed "freshman" is less shy about speaking up at meetings.
        Elements of a good orientation are:
     *       A comprehensive orientation kit
*       A face-to-face or telephone conference with new board members to review their packet materials; and
     *       Some type of social gathering prior to their first board meeting to introduce them to other newcomers and acquaint them with senior board members.

Orientation kits
      Be sure to hand out orientation kits to which board members can refer throughout their terms. Kits will also provide information to new board members that brings them up to speed more quickly. Some items to include in the orientation kits are:
     *       A complete set of board minutes from the past year;
     *       Three years of financial statements;
    *       A copy of their D&O insurance policies;
*       Copies of association contracts, including the AMC contract;
    *       Articles of Incorporation, Code of Regulations and Bylaws;
      *       Any written Board policy manuals, job descriptions and meeting procedures;
      *       A calendar of important association dates and special events;
   *       A brief history of the organization and a summary of recent board achievements, current association projects (both completed and works in progress);
    *       A description of standing and ad hoc committees and a complete set of recent committee reports; and
     *       A board member questionnaire. Keeping a thumbnail biographical sketch on each board member can help you acknowledge birthdays, anniversaries and other important dates.
Throughout the board term, keep looking for educational opportunities to share with board members. For example, provide them with relevant trade literature and educational pieces that place a board's work in a broader leadership context.
   Encourage board members to attend leadership conferences, such as those conducted by ASAE.
      In some instances, a professional facilitator might be brought in to enhance the groups work. Perhaps an outside professional could moderate your next strategic planning session or conduct a board leadership workshop.

Evaluations as marketing research
      Personal communication is also critical to maintaining good board relations. A recommendation that came out of a recent AMC forum was to phone board chairmen once a week to keep them in the loop. This also gives them an opportunity to relay any concerns or suggestions they have on a regular basis.
      Board members will also appreciate receiving updates on association news and reminders of upcoming events. This can be a simple one-page update on association stationery.
      Help them to remember your important dates. Send out a reminder notice prior to the anniversary or renewal date of your contract. Schedule evaluations and surveys on the association calendar.
Aiding the board to implement a systematic, regular evaluation of the AMC helps you by pinpointing potential problems before they reach critical mass and the client decides to look elsewhere for services. See the evaluation process as a form of market research. It provides customer feedback similar to that provided by focus groups, only at a fraction of the cost.

Retiring board members
     Finally, all good things must come to an end, but good board relations extend past a board member's service. As board members rotate off, let them know their tour of service was appreciated and will be remembered.
   We honor outgoing board members with a plaque expressing appreciation for their tour of duty. If the client association's own policies permit, we also encourage retiring board members to stay in touch by serving as advisers or task force volunteers.
       One of our clients has a past chairman's club which meets annually and provides auxiliary support for the association's various social events. Their involvement adds an element of continuity and tradition that current board members encourage and enjoy.
        So take advantage of a board's natural "good vibrations" and cohesiveness. Cement them with ongoing cultivation, education and communication.
        By Sammi Soutar, founder, Able Management Solutions, Inc., Columbus, Ohio.