The Foreign Service Journal, November 2011

N O V E M B E R 2 0 1 1 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 5 The 2011-2013 AFSA Gov- erning Board held a day-long strategic planning retreat at AFSA HQ on Sept. 17. The purpose was to strengthen AFSA’s institutional framework and procedures to better carry out its mission of promoting ex- cellence in diplomacy and be an effec- tive voice for the Foreign Service. The board enlisted a professional strategic planning professional, Carol Rylander of Rylander Associates, who has extensive experience in helping non- profit boards with all elements of effec- tive planning and capacity building. AFSA staff members also participated and will play a key role in developing specific action plans to achieve the goals. The immediate goal of the day’s work was to develop a practical vision for five priority strategic areas: strengthening governance; enhancing image, outreach and communications; strengthening pro- fessionalism and effectiveness (for AFSA and for the Foreign Service); ex- panding core advocacy; and growing membership and development. Our task was, first, to identify what we want to see in place in three to five years for each priority, potential barri- ers to achieving the envisioned out- comes and, finally, practical strategies to address potential obstacles and realize each vision. Second, we aimed to col- lectively review board roles and respon- sibilities, and launch board team build- ing in a purposeful way for stronger board performance. My report on the proceed- ings begins with the role and responsibilities of board mem- bers, and the strategic priority of strengthening governance. Clear articulation of the role and responsibilities of board members, individually and collectively, will give AFSA members a better idea of what is involved in serving on the board and make it more effective. It should also improve board-staff collab- oration. In addition to the mission statement articulated by the previous AFSA board and that board’s McKinsey Self-Assess- ment Responses, participants discussed the Ten Basic Roles and Responsibili- ties of Nonprofit Boards and the Three Hats of Board Members. These mate- rials — developed by BoardSource, a source of cutting-edge thinking and re- sources related to nonprofit boards — are all posted on the AFSA Web site in the Governing Board section. Among the basic responsibilities of boards, perhaps the most important for AFSA are defining mission and pur- pose, ensuring effective planning, mon- itoring and strengthening programs and services, ensuring adequate financial re- sources and enhancing the association’s public standing. Our goal is to improve performance in all these areas and to make AFSAmembership something to be proud of, just as we are proud of who we are and what we do as the United States Foreign Service. Planning teams composed of board members and key staff addressed each priority strategic area. The Strengthen- ing Governance team’s shared vision or description of what it hoped to see in place in three to five years was: “ a well- structured and defined governance sys- tem including board and committees; a diverse, representative and influential governing board; a communicative and collaborative board and staff; and in- creased member physical and virtual engagement in AFSA activities. The potential barriers to realizing this vision include: lack of written guidance, lack of staff professional support to the board, insufficient board professional de- velopment, outdated bylaws and election procedures, unclear roles and responsi- bilities (board and staff), and resource and technology constraints. Some of the practical strategies to overcome these barriers are: upgrade AFSA’s database for better knowledge management; assure sufficient trained staff to support the board; revise bylaws and get approval of members; conduct a midyear review of priorities; develop a board training program; define board and staff roles and responsibilities, and get board approval; acquire video con- ferencing capacity and electronic survey and voting processes; and get board commitment to recruit candidates for election to the next board. To be continued in next month’s col- umn. P RESIDENT ’ S V IEWS AFSA Board Launches Strategic Planning Effort B Y S USAN R. J OHNSON