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The Canadian association: comparisons from CSAE CEO Michael Anderson

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What is the demographic and function of the Society of Association Executives in your country?
The Canadian Society of Association Executives (CSAE) was formed in 1951. CSAE’s current membership stands at 2,450 individual members; 1,700 are executive members – senior and mid-level staff working for a wide array of trade and professional associations, issue-specific organisations and charitable groups; 650 are business members who supply the executive members with a wide array of valuable products and services; and 100 are honoured life, retired and general members.

What is the association’s mission?
CSAE provides the environment, knowledge and resources its members need to develop excellence in not-for-profit (NFP) leadership through education, networking, advocacy, information and research. The focus is to create member value and benefits that, in turn, contribute to creating a stronger society for Canadians.

What is CSAE’s vision?
By providing relevant services and products that continuously improve, are affordable and in the forefront of NFP knowledge, CSAE is recognised as the leading organisation and role model by members, stakeholders and Canadians in developing excellence in not-for-profit sector leadership.

How do you foresee the association sector in your country developing over the next few years?
Associations in Canada will continue their rapid development over the next few years as the level of staff professionalism increases in relation to more knowledgeable volunteers.

How do associations benefit from the relationship between the two countries?
Through the exchange of information on issues in both countries and the impact on members. CSAE and the Australasian Society of Association Executives (AuSAE)are committed to delivering sector-specific education to their members – and the Certified Association Executive (CAE) Program is available in Australia and members have the ability to contact their peers in either country.

Describe the governance model in Canadian associations?
There is a clear distinction and understanding by volunteers and staff as to how a well-run association must function. The past 20 years have witnessed a shift in how good boards govern and what is expected from their staff. This has resulted in a more rigorous process by which board volunteers are identified, and their abilities are assessed well in advance. The ‘warm body’ syndrome is a thing of the past and good associations must orient board members to properly do their jobs.

Boards also expect that the chief staff officer is able to handle and successfully manage many areas, but that they can also lead the association and not usurp the authority of the board. A high performance board requires a high performance chief staff officer and staff throughout the organisation.

Why is there a need for associations to operate in a more business-like fashion?
Associations must operate in a more business-like fashion if they intend to remain relevant to current and future members. This means making decisions more quickly (without being reckless) and moving to deliver programs and services in a much tighter timeframe. Too many associations get bound up in processes and policies and forget that it is all about the member value and benefits.

Associations must conduct more relevant market research and regularly scan the environment to determine what is currently happening to their members and what is about to happen that could impact their members. They can then react with more meaningful information, education, programs or services.

Key issues for Canadian associations:

  • Changing demographics in the volunteer and staff workforce
  • Increasing demand to produce solid and ongoing results for members (to give them valuable products and services that they cannot find anywhere else)
  • The need to operate in a more business-like fashion while respecting the unique attributes of an association.
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