ASAE and The Center for Association Leadership (ASAE and The Center) President and CEO John Graham took time this week to share his perspective on the urgent issues facing the United States, President-elect Obama and the U.S. Congress as we move into 2009. The ASAE white paper Safeguarding the Vitality of America’s Associations outlines four keys issues of critical importance; the Economic Recovery Package, Health Care Reform, Tax Reform, and Scrutiny of Nonprofit Governance.
As Graham makes clear in his letter, these are not the only issues of importance to the association community, although it’s easy to understand why each of them rises to the top. John Graham writes, “Change is more than a campaign slogan these days. President Obama and the newly seated 111th Congress face a collection of challenges unlike any in American history.”
The critical take-away for associations leaders is that our collective efforts must be renewed and redoubled to be certain we are heard both by a new Presidential Administration and a Congress likely to be preoccupied with prioritizing policy issues and making tough economic choices. “Entering this extremely complex economic dilemma will be hundreds of new administration appointees and nearly 60 new members of Congress…”, Graham writes. We all know there’s an opportunity to make “a real and lasting impact” on many of these key issues. Are America’s Associations up to the challenge? Those who know me—already know how I’m betting. What about you?
Maybe it’s the lingering hangover from trying to wrap our minds around the now trillions of U.S. taxpayer dollars being spent to bailout the nation’s financial institutions. Or perhaps it’s the outrageous fifty billion dollar Ponzi scheme foisted on the public by Bernie Madoff and overlooked by the always suspicious but shockingly inept Security & Exchange Commission that has confused reporters. How else to explain the free-falling decline in the cost of having the citizens of Illinois elect someone to replace Barack Obama in the US Senate instead of having the freshly indicted Governor Rod Blagojevich appoint his favorite crony. One of the oft-cited reasons for avoiding a public vote was the high cost of doing so. Initial estimates reported the cost to be $50 million. In just a matter of days the number dropped to $35 million and by recent count the media is now saying the cost is closer to $16 million dollars or maybe less. Whatever the number is, it’s a tidy sum apparently out of reach of the citizens from the “Land of Lincoln”.
There’s a lesson here for association leaders. Numbers matter. Getting numbers right (or as near right as possible) matters more. In times of financial crisis and a difficult economy this issue takes on a level of magnitude not always understood or appreciated by those around us. Department head, division manager, executive or CEO — a trait of a true leader is that they know the numbers of their business operations cold. They know what it means and what happens if the numbers change for better or worse. A $34 million, $34,000 or even a $3,400 swing doesn’t cut it. Leaders get the numbers right. This is not the time to surprise your finance committee, your Board or even the U.S. taxpayers.