“Why don’t we take a deep breath . . .”
As the parent of a four-year-old daughter, I utter these words multiple times a day. Taking a deep breath is a useful tactic when you need to slow down, reset, and refocus. As President-Elect of the CWBA in charge of our strategic planning workgroup, I’m hoping to lead our organization in taking a giant deep breath.
The CWBA is a powerhouse organization. We put on a huge number of events and programs each year, including our Annual Convention every May. We are active in the state legislature, we engage in the state’s judicial nominating process, and we are respected as thought leaders in the community. We’ve grown tremendously in the last several years, even as professional association membership numbers are on the decline nationwide and even during a global pandemic. To maintain this growth, to grow in a sustainable way, and ensure that we are best serving our members and our mission, we need to take a step back and be thoughtful about how our organization operates.
Last year, the CWBA’s Executive Committee worked with an organizational consultant to examine CWBA’s structure and operations from an organizational life cycle lens. This process underscored the need for our organization to sharpen its strategic focus and increase the Board of Directors’ focus on big picture governance. The top takeaway from this process is that – in order to promote strategic and sustainable growth – we need to reevaluate the structure of the Board.
The current CWBA Board has 50 members – a 7-person Executive Committee, which includes the President and President-Elect, 24 Committee Co-Chairs, and 19 representatives of other organizations, including our Chapters, our sister diversity bars, and Colorado’s two law schools. Harrison Coerver and Mary Byers argue in their book Race for Relevance that large boards are simply not effective. Indeed, it is difficult to engage in big picture thinking, association governance, and quick decision-making in a group of 50 people. Any time I mention the size of the CWBA Board to someone familiar with nonprofit organizations, their jaw hits the floor in disbelief.
The strategic planning workgroup is looking to reimagine how the CWBA is organized, how we are governed, and how we can best execute on our events, advocacy work, and initiatives. The heart and soul of the CWBA is its 11 committees, and fostering vibrant, working committees is an aspect of the CWBA we do not want to lose. At the same time, there may be room for improvement in our committee structure. Are any of the committees unnecessarily duplicating certain tasks? Can we rearrange committee objectives so each one can specialize and focus? Is it necessary for committee co-chairs to undertake the governance responsibilities of serving on the Board in addition to their committee work? How can we ensure that the committees are communicating and working together without feeling silo-ed? What is a good size for a Board of Directors that can be nimble and provide a diversity of viewpoints? How can we ensure that our leadership is clearly focused on best serving our mission – to promote women as leaders in the law?
Given the significance of the changes we are considering, we want to make sure we are being thoughtful and that we get buy-in and input from all relevant stakeholders. The Strategic Planning Workgroup is currently engaged in the “research phase” of this project. We are looking carefully at scholarly research on best practices for nonprofits and associations, last year’s Life Cycle Analysis report, notes from last year’s strategic planning session, results of Board Member surveys, and the Board structure of women’s bar associations across the country.
The workgroup reported on its findings at the recent November Board Meeting and obtained input from the Board. We also want to build in time to get input from other stakeholders, namely our general membership and our Past Presidents. The goal is for the CWBA Board to approve a high-level plan for a new Board and Committee Structure before the end of the 2022-2023 Board year in May. The next year or two would focus on executing this plan by making necessary revisions to the Bylaws and setting up the Nominating Committee to make decisions about the right leaders to take on the inaugural year of the new structure.
Change is hard and change takes time. And making the right changes for the right reasons is the right move to ensure that the CWBA continues to thrive. So, let’s all take a deep breath, dig in, and see what we can do.
Any input or ideas on the CWBA’s Board structure or committees? Drop a comment below or email President-Elect, Emma Garrison, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emma is an Assistant Attorney General in the Tax Unit of the Colorado Department of Law. Emma joined the CWBA in 2014, and has previously served as Co-Chair of the Convention, Membership, and Judicial Committees, and as the CWBA Secretary. She has also held many leadership positions in the Colorado legal community over the years, including Chair of the Colorado Bar Association Young Lawyers Division and Senior Vice-President of the Colorado Bar Association. Emma is the current host of On What Grounds?, CWBA’s virtual leadership café.