Minute With the Board May 2023

by Noah Borton, AFA President

Barack Obama once shared his process for decision making. Every decision he had to make was complex and difficult. If a question had an easy or clear answer it never would have made it to his desk. Clearly, serving on the AFA Board is a far cry from the Oval Office. However, to some degree, I can relate to his perspective in my role with the AFA Board. While it would be ideal to coast through board meetings with an agenda full of rubber stamps and simple “yes or no’s”, in reality many decision points are coming to the board table precisely due to their difficulty. 

As a board, much of what we do is decide stuff. This can entail budget approval, contract review, determining strategic initiatives, creating or dissolving partnerships, hiring an Executive Director, and solving problems. 

One example of an emerging  decision point relates to the fact that AFA is contracted to host our 2023 Annual Meeting in Tampa, Florida. The evolving legislative and political environment in Florida certainly adds to the complexity around how AFA  should proceed. This situation will impact the largest revenue stream, and most significant opportunity to deliver member value, for our Association. To say the Board is paying attention to this would be quite the understatement. Thus, we have the next decision point before us. 

With this as our current backdrop, I thought it might be informative to discuss how our Board approaches decision making, and the role we take on for the Association. So, I will attempt to provide some insight as to the key points we consider as we are making decisions as a Board for AFA. 

  • Seek Understanding – It is my tendency to pause in these situations. I can appreciate some may criticize me for this, as taking a moment to step back and evaluate the situation and organize thoughts comes at the expense of expediency. This is a criticism I am willing to absorb if it results in making the best possible decision. When incidents occur, or complex issues emerge, it can be easy for a degree of “fog of war” to emerge. Taking a moment to find complete information and to think through long term ramifications is important. 
  • Uphold Fiduciary Responsibility – Board members have a responsibility to ensure the organization is financially sound, and that member dues and donor contributions are utilized in a responsible and ethical manner that provides value back to our members. We must balance competing interests. Do we keep costs low to provide access, or increase costs to enhance services? Do we invest in short term expenses at the expense of long term interests? In sum, ensuring that the organization is financially sustainable, and maximizing its resources, is one of the primary concerns of our board.  
  • Uphold Legal Obligations – Non-Profit boards have certain legal duties they must fulfill, and they have a responsibility to ensure that the organization is operating in alignment with applicable laws. In addition, as we sign contracts and agreements (sometimes years in advance), we are challenged with how to uphold those agreements when the conditions and environments around those agreements change. While there are certainly scenarios whereby it is worthwhile  to sever a contract, as a board, we need to be resolute in our belief that doing so will be worth the consequences.  
  • Support Our Staff – As a board we are charged with hiring an Executive Director. We provide them with direction and resources. Then, the Executive Director builds a team to achieve organizational objectives, and the Board gets the unique opportunity to support the staff in concert with the Executive Director. Additionally, in making decisions for the organization we consider the staff capacity to execute our priorities. There are situations where staff resources are a zero sum equation; adding additional short term workload will mean another initiative is not advanced. As a board we must consider how our decisions will impact our staff ability to execute excellent work, and we must uphold our responsibilities to ensure AFA is a safe and supportive work environment. 
  • Provide Member Value – I referenced member value when discussing fiduciary responsibilities, but I believe it merits its own consideration. Ultimately, AFA exists to serve the needs of its members. Members pay dues, and they expect a return on that investment. As a board we must consider how we are delivering value. While the Annual Meeting is not the only means whereby members derive value from AFA, it is the most prominent vehicle we have for delivering programming and services. As such, any decision about how we move forward with our Annual Meeting will need to consider how this impacts our ability to serve our members. 
  • Uphold AFA Mission and Values – AFA is a mission driven organization with clearly defined pillars. We exist within a community that is heavily invested in personal and organizational values. We have to make decisions with the intent of remembering who we are. I am also keenly aware of the need to maintain a strong commitment to our mission as a means for driving organizational success. 
  • Think Long Term – Something that touches on all the aforementioned considerations is the need to think long term. AFA has been around for 40+ years prior to my term as President, and it will be around long after nobody remembers who I am. We cannot just think about the here and now. We must think about the downstream implications for future precedents, revenue and expenses, and organizational relationships. We cannot just look at one issue, or one relationship. We have to think about what this means for AFA, and how our decisions will impact relationships and credibility long after we are gone. 

When we apply our board decision points to the Annual Meeting discussion it does not result in a clean and tidy outcome. There is complexity, nuance, interconnectedness, and conflict. In many instances, including our current situation,  there is no great option; there are a litany of options, each with their own unique benefits and challenges. Despite the complexity, as a Board we embrace the challenge, and we enjoy the opportunity to find the path toward long term sustainable success for AFA. 

Hopefully, this has given you some insight into the decision making processes of our Board of Directors. We have a number of important decisions regarding the Annual Meeting before us. I cannot guarantee that every member will agree with our decisions, nor can I guarantee every decision will come on a timeline that everyone desires. However, I can guarantee that every decision will be intentional, thoughtful, and it will represent our best efforts to do right by our members.

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