Creating an Innovative Culture

As a new “guest” board member, I spent last weekend in Columbia, South Carolina, meeting with the board and senior staff of the National Association for Campus Activities (NACA) for their annual retreat and orientation. Some ask me why I would spend my time in this manner, and when they do, I have a ready response: Alan Davis, the Executive Director, a valued colleague, asked me on behalf of his board, AND I love learning. While the board may have invited me for what they think they can learn from me, I accepted the invitation eager to learn from them. After the first meeting, I cannot attest to whether or not they received what they hoped for with my membership on the board, but I can certainly say that I received what I had hoped to gain.

Beginning with an overview of trends in the external environment and in higher education by a national expert, Dr. Dennis Pruitt, University of South Carolina, and moving on to a most stimulating discussion of the role of professional associations and their volunteer boards and staff facilitated by long-time association leader, Billye Potts, Association for Health Care Food Service and former chair of the NACA board, the retreat was an excellent way to orient new board members.

During the discussions, I learned what a new board member needs to know within context such as the meaning of acronyms and the history of policies and board actions. I quickly became familiar with board members and staff at a deeper and more meaningful level when I could listen to them talk about their vision, ideas, and hopes for the future of the association and the profession. When I contrast this orientation with those that painfully walk through a manual, there is no comparison in regard to genuine interest and what I will be able to retain.

As the retreat concluded, all were convinced that NACA was on the road to creating among its members and staff an innovative culture where they would all learn to be comfortable with disrupting the way things have been done.  They have already begun to use a different lens to look at who they are and what they want to provide to members by changing the structure of the board and daring to add two guest board members. My colleague, Jenny Bloom, graduate faculty member at USC and former chair of the NACADA board is serving a second year as a guest board member. She did such a great job, the board thought they would add another, and I’m fortunate to be their choice.

I have always said that campus activities staff are the most creative people on campus. My declaration was reinforced this weekend, and I can also add that the board members and staff with whom I met are also some of the most perceptive and forward-thinking colleagues I’ve encountered. It was a great weekend!


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