Enhancing Member Engagement through AASL Board Structural Changes

Do you ever wonder if it hurts when tadpoles grow legs?

I don’t know if tadpoles have growing pains; humans certainly do. But if tadpoles didn’t grow legs and hop out of the pond, they’d be stuck eating algae forever! As tadpoles must grow and change, so, too, must associations.

In recent years associations in general have reduced the size of their boards to increase member engagement and streamline decision-making. The American Library Association (ALA) has been examining its organizational effectiveness and proposing structural changes to improve the association’s responsiveness to its members.

AASL’s member leaders have also been considering structural changes. Presently, the board consists of three presidents (current, incoming, and past), the treasurer, the representative to ALA Council, nine regional directors, a member-at-large, the Affiliate Assembly chair, three section representatives, and the executive director (as a non-voting member). As it now stands, twenty people sit on the AASL Board of Directors. All attend face-to-face meetings at ALA Annual and Midwinter and two quarterly virtual meetings. Between board meetings, the executive committee (three presidents, treasurer, division councilor, a board representative, and the executive director) meets monthly to move the strategic plan forward and conduct business that cannot wait for the semi-annual meetings. For several years, AASL leadership has considered downsizing the board and changing the representation model to incorporate leadership competencies rather than geographic regions and specialties. These ongoing conversations led to the leadership activation goal in the current strategic plan. One of the objectives of this goal, to refine existing participation models, acknowledges that change can deepen and expand volunteer involvement in general (AASL 2019). After much discussion, the board voted to move forward with these changes at its meeting at ALA Annual in June 2019.

The goals of the proposed changes are to evolve our association, streamline governance, and improve the board’s leadership capacity. The size of a board is directly related to its ability to make effective decisions, work together, and communicate effectively as one body. Smaller boards can meet more often, and discussions can be more focused because it is easier for everyone to participate fully in smaller groups. Indeed, it is expected that this smaller board will attend all monthly (virtual) meetings and will thus replace the current executive committee. There is some evidence that groups of seven make the most effective decisions, and that the addition of one member decreases a group’s effectiveness by 10 percent (Price 2017). Some suggest that the smallest effective size for a nonprofit board is eight or nine members to provide the expertise needed to manage the complex business of most nonprofits (Wyland 2014).

In approving this action, the board asked the executive committee to define what the new board would look like. The decision will be placed before members for a vote in December 2019. We are excited about the opportunities this change in direction. As plans develop, we will continue to communicate and answer questions as we head toward a vote by the membership.

Timeline for Board Restructuring Process

June 2019 AASL’s Board voted to reduce its size from 19 elected members to 9 (three presidents, secretary-treasurer, division councilor, affiliate assembly representative, and three directors-at-large).
Jul–Aug 2019 The executive committee examined board structures in other member organizations and evaluated salient features for their relevance to AASL.
Sept 2019 The executive committee defined new or changed board positions as follows.

  • Three directors-at-large. Office holders will serve two-year terms and will possess competencies related to one or more areas of the strategic plan.
  • Affiliate Assembly Representative. The representative will serve a two-year term. The successful candidate will have demonstrated meaningful involvement in their state school library association, will not currently hold an elected position in the Affiliate Assembly, and will work to ensure that the Affiliate Assembly’s work aligns with the strategic plan.
  • Secretary-Treasurer. The current treasurer will become a secretary-treasurer, with the added responsibility of maintaining board minutes, in addition to fiscal responsibilities. This person will serve a two-year term.
Oct 2019 Bylaws committee reviews and edits existing bylaws and writes new bylaws to describe proposed organizational structure.
Nov 2019 Bylaws committee submits revisions to executive committee for approval at fall executive committee meeting.

Leadership development committee selects candidates for slate of officers that are not significantly affected by changes (i.e., president-elect).

Dec 2019 Members vote on bylaws changes to board structure.
Dec 2019 Leadership development committee moves forward with slate of candidates to reflect member vote on bylaws.
Jan 2020 Executive committee approves slate of candidates for spring election.

Works Cited

AASL. 2019. “Strategic Plan.”http://www.ala.org/aasl/govern/strategic-plan (accessed October 7, 2019).

Price, Nick. 2017. “Board Size and Nonprofit Governance.” Board Effect. https://www.boardeffect.com/blog/board-size-nonprofit-governance/ (accessed October 6, 2019).

Wyland, Michael. 2014. “What Is the Right Size for Your Nonprofit’s Board?” https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140324165321-15301089-what-is-the-right-size-for-your-nonprofit-s-board/ (accessed October 6, 2019).

Author: Mary Keeling



Categories: Association News, Community, News, Presidential Musings

Tags: , , ,

2 replies

  1. I think this is a great move forward for our association. I hope though that these positions will be looked at with a critical eye and that our association also moves forward with efforts in seeking and involving all voices in our work. Until every school librarian can see and be provided with the VALUE of joining this association and being part of the work, we cannot ask ALL folx to be part of the work.It might be that we also have to look at costs associated with membership in order make membership a viable option for more folx.

  2. I second Nancy Jo’s comments. I also wonder: Why are there three serving presidents? I can see the value in having the incoming “learning the ropes” under the current, but I’m not sure I see how having the past adds significantly to the situation.

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