There is no better explanation as to what drives associations like AG Bell than the quote from anthropologist Margaret Meade, who once said, A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, its the only thing that ever has. Throughout its history, AG Bell has been fueled by groups of people committed to ensuring that individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing are given the option and the opportunity for spoken language. From legislative advocacy to raising awareness, AG Bells strength comes from its volunteer leaders.
Change Takes its Toll
Recently, extraordinary developments in the field of hearing health and the economic realities of leading an organization with diverse programmatic needs has driven dramatic change at AG Bell. Over the past two years, our organization has been in a state of transition, including the welcoming of a new staff management team and a realization that our volunteer leadership structure was in need of renovation. A new governance model was needed to align with best practices in association management, and to support a growing need to be more efficient in our decision-making process, said AG Bell Board of Directors President Karen Youdelman, Ed.D.
Models, Best Practices and Lawyers
The board of directors agreed the time was right to consider a new governance model to ensure the future success of AG Bell as a leading organization advocating listening and spoken language. The board appointed a task force and secured external advice from an expert in nonprofit governance and facilitation. For more than 12 months, the governance task force sifted through the best practice literature of nonprofit management and examined governance models of related professional associations and cause-oriented organizations.
Through out this process, the governance task force considered the following principles for a new governance structure:
- nimble in its decision-making process;
- able to respond in real time to internal and external audiences in a world of instant communication;
- refocus the organizations resources toward the associations larger mission: Advocating Independence through Listening and Talking;
- improve the associations networking model through tools such as the Web site and Internet-based communications; and
- increase volunteer input and leadership in the association at all levels, not just the board level.
In the process of examining potential governance models, a full legal review of AG Bells governing documents occurred. For an organization that is almost 120 years old, such a review can be tedious and time consuming. The review resulted in a redraft of AG Bells articles of incorporation, filed with the government of Washington, D.C., and a complete overhaul of the associations bylaws.
A New Structure is Approved
In April 2008, AG Bells board of directors approved a new set of bylaws that outline the governance structure of the organization. The bylaws call for a board of directors that will consist of 11 to 15 members. Within the board, there will be three standing committees: Finance, Governance and Human Resources, and Audit. Representation on the board will include directors who will be elected by the membership at large and directors who will be approved by the board following a nomination process. As a result, the board will remain representative of AG Bells membership and its traditional constituencies of parents, professionals and adults who are deaf or hard of hearing. In addition, the board will also have the flexibility to attract volunteers who are highly engaged, empowered and knowledgeable from outside the AG Bell community. Officers of the board, consisting of the president, president-elect and secretary treasurer, will be elected from and by the board of directors.
Expanding Volunteer Involvement
A critical factor for the new structure was to develop opportunities to increase volunteer input and leadership in the association at all levels. As a result, the board of directors will have the added ability to create and appoint volunteer work groups, such as committees, task forces and advisory groups. This allows the board to create volunteer-led work groups when needed and in a timely manner without the time-consuming process of changing the bylaws. The new governance model allows AG Bell a more efficient structure with more inclusive decision making while keeping in sync with the professional community for consultation, volunteer participation and a greater voice in AG Bell initiatives, said Kathleen Treni, international professional section chair. Christine Anthony, deaf and hard of hearing section chair, added, What is most appealing is that by streamlining the board and involving more of the membership in committees and taskforces, we are better able to encourage volunteer participation at a variety of levels. That leads to a greater number of volunteers involved in the decision-making process. In addition, these new work groups will expand volunteer leadership opportunities beyond the board and facilitate a strong working partnership with AG Bells professional staff.
Establishing Better Networks
One of the guiding principles on board actions is the improvement of the associations networking opportunities. The new governance model encourages the establishment of a new networking model based on shared interests among volunteers. As a result, AG Bell is working with its volunteer leaders to transition from its current networking model of constituency-based sections to the formation of shared interest groups. These groups will maximize use of Web-based communication tools to engage individuals in member-driven activities that are directly related to their interest, concerns or careers in the deaf and hard of hearing community. The ability to network with others who share concerns over the same or similar issues allows parents greater opportunities to help their children get appropriate services, said Marcy Kelly, AG Bell board secretary and parent section chair. This will provide parents with more in-depth support and make a greater impact on the services their children receive throughout their lives. The shared interest groups or SIGs, will provide a venue for sharing and developing best practices, and create an environment where AG Bell can gain knowledge from its constituencies for future programs and services.
How Can You Get Involved?
In the months ahead, more information will be available through AG Bells weekly electronic newsletter AG Bell Update and its bimonthly magazine Volta Voices, concerning SIGs and how you can get involved. Volunteer leaders of AG Bells sections will be working toward a smooth transition to SIGs with an eye toward increased interaction among members. For those members interested in serving on the board of directors, stay tuned for more information about the nominating process. The nominating committee of the board will promote board vacancies as well as the process for becoming a nominee.
Governance Task Force Members:
- Karen Youdelman
- Christine Anthony
- Marcy Kelly
- Dan Salvucci
- Paul Sommer
- Kathleen Treni