Minute with the Board

by Noah Borton, AFA President

June is the time we ask individuals to consider investing in their AFA membership, potentially for another year, potentially for the first time. And we recognize that that investment is a recognition of the impact AFA can have on our collective work. I wanted to explore the question – How can AFA make an impact?

This is an important question I am regularly asked to consider in my role on the AFA Board. In some ways this question can direct how AFA is able to deliver on its promise to add value for our members. In other ways, this question can be one that takes us off track if we focus on endeavors we are not uniquely positioned to impact. This dichotomy becomes even more significant when we experience critical incidents and high-profile conflicts. Sometimes, the pressure and desire to act now can cause us to act in ways that ultimately take us away from providing value to our members. 

This year we have experienced some significant incidents and challenges that have drawn national attention. Incidents are going to occur, and they require a response. When thinking about how AFA can have an impact, our association is not often well equipped for direct intervention, or immediate response, in high-intensity situations. Often, I find, AFA is better suited to long-term strategies for making an impact. As we look at the type of incidents that are commonly drawing national attention, causing campus shutdowns, prompting public conflict, and resulting in concerns for student wellbeing, I see several areas where AFA is well positioned to support our members and create impact. 

  1. Building Increased Capacity for our Professionals – While we hope to prevent serious incidents, we have to accept that things are going to happen. There are going to be incidents and we must respond to them. Building staff capacity for managing challenges can go a long way toward mitigating impact. Some of this comes in the form of ensuring our campuses have appropriate levels of staffing and resources. It also means our inter/national organizations have effective chapter support and programming.  
  2. Building Internal Relationships and Communication Mechanisms – Effective relationships and better alignment among various departments and institutional leadership will go a long way toward facilitating a more effective incident response. Furthermore, this will contribute toward more effective prevention work. Similarly, alignment among the various departments of an inter/national organization coupled with effective volunteer relationships at the inter/national, regional and local levels can greatly improve organizational capacity. 
  3. Building External Relationships and Communication Mechanisms – There is the obvious statement here; it is important to know who to call, and how to communicate with them. Beyond this, it is important to establish an ethos where we prioritize collaboration and partnerships, especially when it is hard. It is much easier to be bombastic, heavy handed, and self-serving when we do not know each other. It is much easier to give some grace, and assume good intentions, when we have an extended relationship and open lines of communication.  
  4. Providing Skill Development – Even now, I regularly have new scenarios emerge that prompt me to think “I must have missed this day in grad school”. Truly every time you think you have now seen it all, some new mysterious challenge shows up. A central aspect of AFA’s work will always be the fundamental nuts and bolts of providing skill development and job training. In short, people need to learn things that help them become better equipped and more sophisticated in their jobs. Skill development is critical in the prevention, management, and follow up of high profile incidents. 

Now, the above points are woefully under explained. Each of these items could be an entire article. Full explanation will require extensive bullet points that outline information to gather, data to assess, resource guides, programming best practices, communication tools, network maps, forums for relationship development and much more. My intention in this piece is not to give the full “how-to” guide, but rather to provide broad strokes for how AFA is able to make an impact in this important area that is relevant to all our members. The more relevant details will be extrapolated in future efforts related to our implementation of the Forward to 50 Strategic Plan

I am excited for our ‘Presidential Update and Townhall’ coming up July 11th. We will be able to provide updates on the hard work of our staff and volunteers who have been advancing those bullet points under the four broad areas above through program development, data gathering, and resource production. We will provide you with updates on how AFA members will be able to take advantage of new opportunities, in addition to what additional services and resources you can expect in the future. 

True impact will come not through grand short-term gestures. Rather, we will make our progress through continual efforts to build our capacity and enhance the quality of our work on a daily basis over an extended period of time.

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