The role of Chief Staff Executive requires being able to successfully work with everyone involved with the association. Working with volunteer-leaders, however, is a critical skill set that distinguishes the job of the association executive (AE) from other managerial positions. To lead, AEs must create a culture of trust, respect and collaboration with volunteer leaders. This resource outlines the various roles and responsibilities of each player and guides the reader through best practices in managing those roles and important partnerships.
Leading the Association: Creating a Culture of Trust, Respect and Collaboration
Successfully working with volunteers is a critical skill set that distinguishes the job of the association executive (AE) from other managerial positions. To lead their organizations, AEs must create a culture of trust, respect and collaboration with volunteer leaders, who may be full-time agents, brokers or managers in real estate businesses.
In order to do so, AEs must understand both the nature of real estate associations and the nuances of dealing with volunteer leaders. By working collaboratively in an atmosphere of mutual respect, AEs and leaders can build long-term strategies and shorter-term tactics to move their associations in a positive direction toward shared goals.
A Broad Overview of REALTOR® Associations
REALTOR® associations are trade organizations, representing the economic interests of members involved in providing similar goods and services. Like other trade organizations, REALTOR® associations provide education, advocacy, networking and other services for their members.
Most associations are non-profit organizations that reinvest any profit back into the services offered to members in order to continue providing value. It is important to understand that the IRS defines a non-profit as a business that has been provided tax-exempt status because it furthers a social cause and provides a public benefit.
As a non-profit, associations act within the core aspects of their business. Therefore, managing a REALTOR® association is not the same as running a for-profit business. Some associations operate a for-profit multiple listing service (MLS) whose profits may be reinvested into the association.
There are different models for REALTOR® associations, typically determined by the associations’ membership size, resources, volunteer involvement and priorities. The models are administrative, management, and leadership, which represent the three different models of association operations.
An administrative association is member-focused. It typically has a fairly small staff, ranging from one part-time association executive to three full-time professional staff.
In this model, the AE or chief staff executive is familiar with legal, regulatory, and business issues impacting the association and has a basic competency in office management skills, including word processing and spreadsheets, bookkeeping, and basic technology skills. The AE knows where to find information that is important to members in conducting their daily business activities.
Volunteer leaders are very involved in the administration of the association, and the authority for nearly all decision-making is vested in the officers and the board of directors. The association focuses on networking activities and opportunities for members to learn from one another.
A management association is a source of information for its members on best business practices and trends. Staff size typically ranges from three to 12, with defined positions responsible for specific programs. The staff possesses expertise in managing and communicating legal, regulatory, and business issues impacting the association and effectively manages association business. Most of the staff members are non-exempt.
The AE is responsible for all administration and management of the association, with added focus on community and real estate industry issues. The AE creates staff job descriptions, hires and manages staff, sets staff salaries within the budget, and determines staff structure.
Volunteer leadership determines the association's strategic vision and sets parameters for staff empowerment. Decision-making authority is vested in the board of directors with most operational decisions delegated to staff. Overall, management is a hands-on model with healthy volunteer involvement and some restrictions on the AE's authority.
A leadership association implements innovative and creative programs, products, and services that provide enhanced value for members beyond their day-to-day businesses.
Typically the staff includes a senior management team of department heads who report to the AE and are responsible for administration and management activities. The AE and the senior management team position the organization based on current and future real estate industry trends. Staff members possess expertise and provide leadership in political, legal, regulatory, and business issues impacting the association.
In this model, volunteer leadership determines the strategic vision, but the staff develops goals and plans to implement the vision. Decision-making authority for all operational procedures is vested in the association executive. Further, policies are in place to authorize the AE to take action quickly when an emergency arises, without having to seek approval from volunteer leaders.
Participants in Association Governance
The Board of Directors (BOD) is comprised of member-volunteers who have legal and fiduciary responsibility for the association. The Board of Directors employs the AE and can delegate authority and responsibility for various tasks to other groups, such as an executive committee or other standing committees, such as membership, education or advocacy. The board is typically led by a chair/president and other officers.
Other volunteer leaders serve on committees, work groups, task forces, etc., to research and discuss issues and bring recommendations forward to the Board of Directors for their consideration.
Governing documents, such as bylaws or policies & procedures, detail the legal authority for actions of the Board of Directors and officers and convey the expectations of the board. These documents promote continuity within the organization as officers and staff transition in and out of the association.