The Three Stewardship Imperatives of Fit-for-Purpose Association Boards: Part III

By Jeff De Cagna, AIMP FRSA FASAE • June 27, 2024

AUTHOR’S ATTESTATION: This article was written entirely by Jeff De Cagna AIMP FRSA FASAE, a human author, without using generative AI.

As of this article’s publication date (6/27/24), there are 2013 days remaining in The Turbulent Twenties, and 188 days until this decade’s midpoint on January 1, 2025.

With these two overlapping time frames becoming inexorably shorterand the impact of myriad social, technological, economic, environmental, and political [STEEP] factors and forces growing in intensityassociation boards must move immediately to become fit for purpose. To inspire our community’s most senior decision-makers to act with intention and meet this increasingly urgent challenge, this three-part series of columns is exploring the foundational imperatives association boards must adopt right away to build new capacity and confidence as they confront the powerful dynamics already shaping their associations’ futures for both better and worse.

The Wayfinding of Stewardship

In Part I of this series, I provided my definition of stewardship for fit-for-purpose association boards: the shared commitment to leave the systems for which they are responsible better than how they found them for the benefit of stakeholders and successors. In addition, I explained the three core elements of stewardship—agency, vulnerability, and wayfinding. As a reminder, this is what I wrote in Part I about wayfinding in stewardship:

Navigating this turbulent decade’s next 2000+ daysnot to mention The Threatening Thirties aheadwill require association boards to find their way without a reliable map. Boards cannot control the futures facing their organizations, nor can they “future-proof” their way out of them. Instead, boards must pursue ongoing discovery and embrace serendipity by remaining vigilant for emerging possibilities to shape different and better futures.

This column will explore anticipation as resilience, which is the third stewardship imperative, and its connection to the core element of wayfinding.

Imperative #3: Anticipation as Resilience

The third stewardship imperative for fit-for-purpose boards is to develop a consistent and robust capacity for anticipation to build more resilient organizations for the long term.

For the remainder of The Turbulent Twenties and beyond, associations should expect to operate in what futurist Jamais Cascio characterizes as a BANI world. Cascio first proposed BANI (brittle, anxious, non-linear, and incomprehensible) in 2018 as an alternative to the better-known and widely-adopted VUCA framework (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) for making sense of shifting global dynamics. As Cascio wrote in a 2020 essay, “[u]sing ‘VUCA’ to describe reality provides diminishing insight; declaring a situation or a system to be volatile or ambiguous tells us nothing new.”

Cascio’s BANI framework is an invaluable resource for fit-for-purpose association boards to use as they seek to fulfill the anticipation as resilience stewardship imperative. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic’s worst days and every day since, association decision-makers have dealt directly with the inherent brittleness of the myriad societal systems to which their organizations contribute, and for which have some measure of responsibility. Moreover, every recent association board director/officer possesses a hard-earned visceral understanding of the anxiety they and their stakeholders continue to experience in a relentless context of crisis. These dynamics represent direct threats to both the present and future stability of associations and the fields they serve.

The dynamics of non-linearity and incomprehensibility require fit-for-purpose boards to accept wayfinding over certainty. In a non-linear world, association decision-makers must think and act beyond the complacency-inducing orthodoxies of relevance to discover more adaptive and purposeful actions with the potential to create greater resilience for their organizations and stakeholders/successors over the long term. Incomprehensible technologies such as artificial intelligence demand deep reflection, intentional learning, and ethical decision-making to anticipate and push back against the ever-present consequences of dehumanization, exploitation, and other forms of harm. Fit-for-purpose association boards exercise care to ensure that optimism for the future does not overwhelm the clear-eyed recognition that a BANI world makes every best-case outcome far more difficult to realize.

Making the Connection to Fit-for-Purpose Core Convictions and Habits of Mind

In three articles published in 2023, I offered six core convictions and six habits of mind for fit-for-purpose association boards. The stewardship imperative of anticipation as resilience connects directly with the final two core convictions and habits of mind:

  • Orient governing toward the future/facilitating future-adaptive governing—Fit-for-purpose association boards reject the self-imposed limitations of orthodox beliefs, outdated governing documents, and poorly-designed structures by working on the three essential outcomes of governing—coherence, capability, and continuity—to redirect the focus and energy of their governing systems toward addressing the BANI challenges facing their organizations, connected communities/systems, and stakeholders/successors. A future-adaptive approach to governing strengthens wayfinding by grounding governing systems in inclusive contribution, meaningful collaboration, and genuine board/staff partnership. In addition, while traditional activities of governing such as oversight and policymaking will remain necessary and important, fit-for-purpose boards can fulfill the anticipation as resilience imperative through the habit of mind of designing governing systems using next practices that enable the shift in decision-making fidelity from the past toward the future.
  • Stand up for successors/sustaining inclusive foresight—Building more resilient organizations requires fit-for-purpose boards to discard misguided and hypocritical characterizations of young people based generational orthodoxy, including any effort to shift the burden for “saving the world” to their successors. Instead, fit-for-purpose boards understand and embrace their responsibility to stand up for their successors’ futures as an ethical and moral imperative. Inclusive foresight as a habit of mind for fit-for-purpose boards begins with making the duty of foresight an explicit choice, and developing a consistent practice of foresight in support. This kind of robust anticipatory capability enables the ongoing exploration of favorable, unfavorable, and unthinkable futures in a BANI world, and the commitment to wayfinding insists on the participation of highly diverse contributors with equitable access to expressing divergent views regarding the full range of plausible futures the association might confront in the years and decades ahead.

Next Column

In July, please visit Association Adviser for my next column on “AI Stewardship for The Fit-for-Purpose Association Board: Part I.” Until then, please stay well and thank you for reading.

MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT: It is a true honor to collaborate with the Association Forum of Chicagoland to present The Fit-for-Purpose Association Board Director Learning Series—the association community’s first-ever dedicated learning and development experience specifically for current and aspiring board directors—which begins in September 2024. To learn more about the Series, please visit the Association Forum site. (FYI, there is a registration fee to participate in the Series and I am being compensated for my involvement as the Series designer and instructor.)

About The Author

Jeff De Cagna AIMP FRSA FASAE, executive advisor for Foresight First LLC in Reston, Virginia, is an association contrarian, foresight practitioner, governing designer, stakeholder and successor advocate, and stewardship catalyst. In August 2019, Jeff became the 32nd recipient of ASAE’s Academy of Leaders Award, the association’s highest individual honor given to consultants or industry partners in recognition of their support of ASAE and the association community.

Jeff can be reached at [email protected], on LinkedIn at jeffonlinkedin.com, or on Twitter/X @dutyofforesight.

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this column belong solely to the author.