Faced with slowly declining membership and strained budget resources—and a corresponding staff cut—Indiana State Bar Association Executive Director Joe Skeel introduced a revamped orientation program this year for the bar’s volunteer section and committee leaders. Gone was the breezy hour-long session that provided brief overviews from staff and top bar leadership. In its place: an all-day session emphasizing a more strategic view of bar leadership and the refreshed role of bar staff.
“We’ve moved away from, ‘the staff liaison is there to help you execute what you want,’ to ‘the staff liaison is your co-pilot. We’re there to help you navigate,’” says Skeel, now into his second year as executive director. “The goal is to teach them and to help them become more effective and better leaders.”
The shift, he says, is important not only for helping free up volunteer leaders: It helps Skeel in keeping a tight budget on track. “Volunteers often don’t know budget ramifications,” he says. “Staff members can bring the big picture.”
The shift is also subtle, Skeel adds, but it is one of many such tacks that some executive directors are taking in the evolving approach to managing associations with stagnant-to-sinking membership and budgets. Often, they say, the same-old-same old—from hiring, to management, to the so-called “sacred cows” of longtime association members—is getting a more thorough vetting as the emphasis shifts toward providing meaningful member value at a price that members, and potential new members, will embrace.