A Conversation with the AFA President

With Noah Borton, AFA President

Noah Borton

Things are looking a little different in Perspectives this issue. Since we are at a point of transition, we thought this would be a good time to shake up the AFA President’s message as well. I would like this to be a space for conversation that provides insight into the thinking of our association and industry leaders. I think this can be best accomplished by inviting more voices to join us here to share their insights and experiences.

The first six months of my term as President have been an incredible learning experience. I feel like something new presents itself every day. In the spirit of that learning process I want to seek some insight from some people who know what it’s like to serve as a board chair for a membership organization in the fraternity and sorority space. I was fortunate enough to be able to sit down with Lindsay Sell, the Chair of the Association of Fraternal Leadership & Values (AFLV) Board of Directors (and the Co-Editor of Perspectives, she is everywhere!), and Ashley Martin, the former President of the Fraternity Communications Association (FCA).

AFLV provides programming and resources that serve the needs of undergraduate fraternity and sorority members and professionals and volunteers engaged in this work. I have always been impressed by the entrepreneurial energy in AFLV, and their willingness to push the boundaries of our industry norms. FCA just celebrated their 100th anniversary of serving professionals who work in marketing, communications and publications for fraternities, sororities, professional associations, and honor societies. I can see a lot of similarities between our associations; they have always impressed me with the deep commitment and affinity that FCA members share for the Association, and the wonderful sense of community they foster to raise their level of professional practice.

It was a great opportunity for me to learn from these two leaders in our industry. I hope this conversation provides insight into the work and priorities of an association board chair.

Noah: Thanks for sitting down with me today, Lindsay and Ashley. We have been friends and colleagues for years, but I have never talked to you from the board chair/president perspective. So, I am excited to put our board chair hats on today. I am new at this, I have lots to learn. Let’s dive in.

First question, what made you want to take on the chair role?

Lindsay: I’ll start with what made me want to join the AFLV Board, which is that I believe in the mission of AFLV and am excited by the opportunity to engage in strategic thinking in support of that mission. Serving as the Chair is an extension of that desire and a reflection of my time spent on the AFLV Board. But the AFLV Board is highly collaborative, so in some ways serving as the Chair is about function and support of others (staff and volunteers) to manifest the priorities of the Association. It’s an easy decision to serve in this role when the work is done in partnership with others.

Ashley: FCA has played such an important role in my professional development. When the opportunity to serve on the Board—and then to serve as president—presented itself, I knew I wanted to give back.

Noah: It is hard to know what to expect stepping into a role like this. What is something about the role that surprised you?

Ashley: How much I was going to learn from it and how fun it was going to be. FCA is entirely volunteer led. We have no paid staff, so the Board and our committee volunteers do it all. As president, you’re involved in every aspect. From event planning to organization-wide financial management and strategic planning, I was learning things I wasn’t getting from my 9 to 5. Yes, it was a lot of work, but it was also a lot of fun to do it alongside our other volunteers.

Lindsay: My answer could probably be reiterated by many people that are connected to associations, and that is both the long and short-term impacts of the pandemic. Some of the direct impacts to conferences and events are more obvious, but the longer-term impacts to the work of staff, the needs of students, and the adjustments that need to be made to all Association undertakings continues to surprise me and I know these impacts will continue to show themselves for years to come.

Noah: I have been surprised by how fast it goes by. Looking in from the outside a two year term sounds like an eternity. Now, I feel like I am barely getting my sea legs and my term is 25% over. I am trying to stay focused so we can accomplish as much as possible. What do I need to focus on right now? What should I prioritize?

Ashley: Focus on the things that make AFA unique because that’s what people find most valuable. We’re in such a niche industry. What are the things a member can only get or learn through AFA compared to  some other organization? When you focus on those things, people get excited because it’s like you are speaking directly to them. You’re filling a need they can’t get elsewhere.

Lindsay: As AFA has worked to identify the next round of aspirations connected to strategic planning, there is an opportunity to focus on inspiring others around that direction. I am sure it’s easy for the AFA Board to get distracted by so many competing needs that bring discussions into the weeds, and some of those conversations need to happen as they are connected to Association values. But prioritizing the things that help us achieve our strategic goals and unwaveringly inspiring others through persistence towards those goals (or naming when they need to change) is invaluable.

Noah: I feel like I need to print those answers and put them above my desk as a daily reminder. I have come to realize we can quickly end up down a rabbit hole, or stuck on a distraction. Things come at you fast. Remembering to stay focused on where AFA can be most successful, and driving our strategic initiatives forward is so important. Something I keep repeating for AFA is we need to do less better. I like the way you phrased that as focusing on our niche.

Ok, next question, give me some hope for the future! What is the best part of the job?

Lindsay: As I previously mentioned, the AFLV board is highly collaborative and the opportunities to learn and grow from and with other Board members and AFLV staff is pretty amazing. The ways that the Board is engaged in strategy and the ways the staff are engaged in implementing that strategy and defined priorities to achieve the organization’s mission is fun and invigorating. The best part is doing all of this with outstanding individuals who help me think differently and are a joy to be around.

Ashley: The relationships I built have been the best thing. Again, we are such a niche industry. If you’re here, it’s because you are passionate about the fraternity/sorority experience. Passionate people make the best resources, allies and friends.

Noah: That resonates for me. It has been interesting to shift from the staff side in my day job to the board side, now working to support our staff and volunteers. I feel a lot of responsibility to our team. I want AFA to be a great place to work and volunteer, and I want people set up for success. Working with staff and volunteers to make sure they have what they need is probably where I spend the majority of my time, and it is really enjoyable to try to position them to thrive for the benefit of our members.

So, that gives me some hope for what I can look forward to for the rest of my term. I want to hear what gives you some hope too.

What is something that excites you about the future?

Lindsay: AFLV is constantly evaluating and reevaluating priorities and operations to best meet the needs of its stakeholders. I love being part of an organization that is nimble in this way, and I am excited to see the ways that AFLV is part of ongoing change and advancement as a result.

Ashley: As a marketer, I get excited about the new tools and technology that help us better tell the story of fraternity/sorority membership. For better or worse—and I like to think there is more better—we can connect and communicate in ways we’ve never been able to before. We have great stories to tell. And there are so many new ways and avenues in which to share them.

Noah: Something about this that excites me is seeing how so many individuals and organizations share in a commitment to support and develop the fraternity and sorority experience. I think AFA has a really important place in this work, but the work is not ours alone. Lindsay and Ashley, thank you for joining me and providing me, and our members, the opportunity to learn from your experience. I appreciate your friendship, your partnership, and your leadership as we all find our niche in sharing this work.

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