Developing Leaders for the Future

One of the most important issues facing associations is developing leaders for the future, particularly from under-represented identity groups.

By Mitchell Dvorak, MS, CAE

Silhouettes of Business People Discussing Outdoors
Silhouettes of Business People Discussing Outdoors

Mitchell Dvorak, MS, CAE

My entire professional career has been dedicated to association management, having worked with healthcare and other associations at the state, national and international levels. I have a passion for association management as a profession, and in ensuring there continues to be a diverse, well-qualified workforce of future leaders for the association community.

In my view, one of the most important issues facing associations is developing leaders for the future, particularly from under-represented identity groups in the association community. The association community will continue to see over the next few years a great deal of turnover in senior level staff as the Baby Boomer generation retires. Additionally, the demographics of our members and other staff are changing, technology advances have dramatically changed how we communicate and perform our work, and there is overall growth in the size and number of nonprofit organizations.

The convergence of these demographic, social and technological shifts create opportunities for Association Forum to assist in developing a pool of diverse professionals that can fill management positions to avoid a leadership vacuum in the association community.

As part of our efforts to usher in a new generation of association leaders, the Association Forum board approved last year the Emerging Leaders Program, which had an inaugural class of 15 young professionals who are dedicated to advancing their careers in association management. This program complements our existing resources and initiatives aimed at early careerists and future leaders, including the Association Management Essentials Program, the Forty Under 40 Awards and the Women’s Executive Forum.

Association Forum believes that diversity and inclusion (D+I) is a valuable asset and source of strength. When an association values differences and creates a welcoming environment—one that is comfortable, inclusive, and empowering—they open the door for innovation, increased participation and an elevated sense of community and belonging for all.

Four years ago, the Association Forum Board adopted a policy statement on diversity and inclusion. In the years since then, we’ve launched new programs that are directly and strategically linked to D+I.

In 2015, the Association Forum board approved the Welcoming Environment concept. A Welcoming Environment is defined as the creation of a sense of belonging and connectedness that engages individuals in an authentic manner in which uniqueness is valued, respected and supported through opportunities and interaction. To further that message, the board established a Welcoming Environment Committee that is integral to weaving D+I into the fabric of Association Forum. A toolkit, available on the Association Forum website, has also been developed to assist other organizations in creating their own Welcoming Environment. Last year, we introduced the Welcoming Environment Organizational Award as part of our annual Honors Awards.

An exciting new initiative that will be developed over the next year is a national conference on Welcoming Environment that will take place in 2020. This event, building on the success and excitement around the Welcoming Environment Summits, will demonstrate Association Forum’s leadership and expertise in D+I to a nationwide audience.

I’m proud to be a part of the association community and grateful to be working in a profession that welcomes and encourages diversity. I look forward serving Association Forum as chair of the board of directors over the next year and working with the staff, volunteers and partners to continue the growth and innovation of the organization.

About the Author

Mitchell Dvorak, MS, CAE, Association Forum Board of Directors Chair, 2019-2020; Executive Director, International Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons

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