What is an Association Executive’s Depth?

Written by Octavio Peralta on August 28, 2018

In North America and Europe, I have long known that there is a professional term called, “association executive”. There was no such term used before here in the Philippines, until I and a few like-minded friends founded and formally launched the Philippine Council of Associations and Association Executives (PCAAE) on November 20, 2013 in conjunction with the first Association Executives Summit.

At that PCAAE launch, I asked the over 200 participants from different associations in the country who amongst them used the term, “association executive” when writing about their work and, not to my surprise, only one stood up! During the ensuing break session, a group of participants approached me and said, “Mr. Peralta, we now have a position title we can use in our work.” This was one great motivator for me to really push PCAAE to advance the association management profession here in our country.

After a year of its existence, PCAAE has learned that most associations and membership organizations in the country are both governed and managed at the same time by elected volunteers that constitute a board of trustees. This is quite different in other parts of the world that I know where associations are governed and managed like business organizations, i.e., there is a volunteer board that governs (set strategic directions, formulate policies, and provide oversight) and a separate paid management staff led by a chief executive who manages the day-to-day operations of the association.

A few associations here are now taking the latter pathway – a separate, role-delineated, volunteer board-paid management structure. As an association executive myself working under this structure for the last 26 years and counting, I have learned that to be effective as an association executive, there are five key essential attributes to consider pursuing which I refer to by its acronym, DEPTH:

Dedication – the quality of being committed to the association’s purpose. Associations thrive and sustain themselves because of their purpose, i.e., advancing a cause or advocacy. Dedication also connotes a self-sacrificing devotion and loyalty, requiring total familiarity of the organization, and the hard work it entails to do. The nature of their job demands that association executives focus on mission-critical services to members of the association.

– the capacity and willingness to develop, organize, and manage a “business enterprise” along with its inherent risks in order to make a “profit”. While associations are considered “not-for-profit organizations”, it is still incumbent upon them to raise funds and to generate revenues to be a sustainable organization. Entrepreneurial spirit is characterized by innovation and risk-taking, and is an essential part of an association’s ability to succeed in an ever-changing and increasingly competitive marketplace.

– the putting of more energy into something than what is usually required. More than just enthusiasm or excitement, passion is about fulfilling a vision with a whole heart, mind and soul. This is what keeps an association executive awake at night, thinking of what more can be done for the association and its members.

– the combination of mental, physical, and emotional toughness. Due to the diversity of people and the dynamics involved in association management, it is imperative for an association executive to adapt, adjust, compromise, and to take a firm stand when the situation calls for it.

Humaneness – characterized by tenderness, compassion, sympathy, and respect for people. Associations are communities of people and, as such, require the association executive to give due consideration to the needs and aspirations of its members.

A final thought: An association executive must also have the stock knowledge of the profession or trade which he or she represents, and the ability to make good judgments and quick decisions on matters facing them. These key traits and convictions are what depth means for an association executive.