Bringing Strategy to Your Association’s Relationship

By: John Barnes is President of Barnes Association Consultants.

You must work with groups outside of your association to further the goals of your association. Almost every association recognizes this and almost every association conducts an array of meetings and activities with external groups… but many do not connect these activities to the strategic plan of their association.

If you don’t have a plan, you won’t know where you’re going. And if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re guaranteed to get there.

Your Strategic Relationship Plan should be relevant to the profession or trade that your association represents and should specifically advance the vision, mission, and strategic plan of your association.

The creation of your Strategic Relationship Plan includes:

  • A review of your current outreach connections,
  • Identification of potential new connections,
  • A review of your participation in coalitions and the potential creation of new coalitions, and
  • Identifying member leader and staff roles in implementing your Strategic Relationship Plan

The process should include everyone in your organization that interacts with an external group, including Board leaders, Board members, staff at all levels, and member volunteers who represent your organization to external groups.

Put quite simply: If a relationship does not advance your strategic plan, the relationship needs to be a low priority for your organization. In some cases, the relationship should be ended.

This is tough… saying no to opportunities to interact with other groups. But if you don’t do it you will have a bloated outreach approach with members and staff running around to meetings across the country that have no connection to your strategic plan, thus no connection to the issues of most importance to your membership. Don’t waste your precious time with groups and coalitions that are not intrinsically connected to your strategic plan.

Once you have determined your strategic relationships, you need to prioritize these relationships.  Again, this is a tough process and you may need to have discussions with certain groups and coalitions that might desire a different kind of relationship than one you are willing to provide.  You can prioritize your strategic relationships into three different levels:

  • Level 1: Your association is proactive about these relations. You provide leadership and work collaboratively. These relationships should be few to maximize your association’s ability to focus on these relations. Requires leadership by your association, including significant resources and significant staffing.
  • Level 2: Your association would play a role as a participant and be interested in monitoring the activities around this relationship. This relationship would require staffing but likely minimal monetary resources.
  • Level 3: This is a relationship where your association takes a more passive role. This relationship would require minimal staffing and no monetary resources.

With an effective Strategic Relationship Plan, you can be more confident that you are not wasting the precious resources of your organization and that your organization’s outreach is advancing the strategic plan and relevant to your members.