Things are only impossible until they’re not.
– Jean-Luc Picard
Volume 73 | Issue 2
March 2005

From the Executive Director: Something old, something new

Marsha Herman-Betzen

It seems that from the moment our daughter was born I have viewed her life in the context of significant passages; that is, the act of passing from one momentous state or place to the next. Early on, the passages were divided into months not years as I eagerly waited for her to accomplish developmental landmarks like smiling, laughing, sitting, crawling, walking, and talking. These accomplishments were marked, and if the truth be known embellished just a bit, into her baby book for all to read as a testament to her extraordinary capabilities. Even the moment she became potty-trained is documented just in case someone can one day successfully predict a statistical correlation between the age a child becomes diaperless and his or her future success.

As Rachel began to grow up, the passages became more universal. Sometimes as I gazed at her sleeping in the crib, I found myself anticipating the excitement she would experience getting ready for her first day of school. At age 5, watching her play with her best friend, Eddie Redmond, who she never just called Eddie, made me smile when I imagined her someday telling me all about her first real boyfriend. Seeing her self-motivation and unfaltering perseverance when she studied her spelling words often fast-forwarded me to picturing a time of her in a cap and gown, proudly crossing the stage to receive her diploma as her name was being read.

But there is no passage I have ever fantasized about that could match the number of times or the extreme detail with which I have daydreamed about Rachel walking down the aisle at her wedding. I could imagine my daughter's wedding in such finite detail that as I am telling the story I am starting to believe I am a bit whacked. Her formal gown would be off-white with a veil and train so long that it would span half the length of the center aisle of St. Patrick's Cathedral as it trailed behind her. She would carry a cascading bouquet of white orchids, gardenias, and baby's breath in her right hand as her left hand gracefully clutched her tuxedo-clad father's arm. Flautists would be playing “Pachelbel's Canon” as 15 of their closest friends would serve as bridesmaids and groomsmen and watch my daughter make her way down the aisle. The daydream always ended with my mother and I dabbing at our eyes as we were overcome by tears watching Rachel and her new husband dance their first dance to the same song we both danced to at our weddings.

Now at age 28, Rachel is getting married and together we are planning a wonderful wedding. Everything she has chosen and I have so gladly supported does not in any way resemble my past concept of my daughter's important rite of passage. The dress will be white and simple with no veil or train. She will carry a colorful nosegay of wild flowers as she is escorted down the aisle by both her father and I, and, as she promised her dad years ago, he will not be wearing a tuxedo. Music has not been finalized but most assuredly guitars will replace flutes. Finally, there will be no best friends who will serve as bridesmaids or groomsmen, just a wedding party consisting of nieces, nephews, and cousins under the age of 12. The only constant I am betting on is that my mother and I will still pat away tears as we watch my only child and my mother's first grandchild be married.

Somewhere between the daydreams of the past and the authenticity of an actual life, reality set in. This is not my wedding; this is my daughter and her fianc8E's wedding. This is not the beginning of my future; this is the ceremonial commitment to their hopes and dreams as a couple. This is not about my yesterday or today; this is about their tomorrow.

As ACUI begins the process to generate a new five-year strategic plan, the same could be said about the Association and who should be creating this important roadmap. This is not about what the Association has done in the past. This is not about the hopes and dreams of the Association's chief staff officer. This new plan cannot be the culmination of the executive director's or the staff's vision for the Association's future. The new strategic plan above all must be created by the collaborative work of the inclusive whole of the organization to answer the question, “What must we be doing in the future to be successful?”

ACUI, like most organizations, currently has an assortment of programs, services, and activities that make up our operational and budgetary plans. We don't need a new strategic plan to tell us how to continue to do what we are already doing. A strategic plan is not about business as usual—it is about change. Change can be doing something brand new or doing something in a more innovative way. Change can be eliminating something being done today or changing a current program of activity. Consultant Bud Crouch suggests,“The strategic plan is a written

reminder, as the Leadership Team oversees the development of the annual operation plans, of what must be changed annually to steer successfully in to the future—to leave a better organization as leaders than the one that was inherited” (Bud Crouch, personal communication, October 13, 2004). According to Douglas Eadie (1994) in his book “Boards That Work”:

An important variation on the strategic planning theme—usually known as strategic management—was developed as an antidote to the deficiencies of conventional long-range planning. Strategic management is recognizable by its:

  • Elevation of association vision to the driver's seat in the planning process, the guide and goal that determines an association's future course.
  • Attention to the external environment, realistically, in detail, and free of wishful thinking.
  • Equal attention to internal resources and strengths and weaknesses, as the foundation on which strategy must rest.
  • Selectivity, in that it focuses on specific change initiatives to address specific strategic issues, rather than merely projecting present activities into the future.
  • Action-bias, concentrating on actually implementing change now to deal with issues the association sees now.
  • Attention to change management—thinking through in detail strategies for overcoming resistance and facilitating the implementation of change initiatives.
  • Freedom from arbitrary time frames—recognizing that strategies to address selected strategic issues will have unique time requirements and that it makes no sense to plan for meaningless and arbitrary chunks of time that have nothing to do with implementation schedules.
  • Letting operational planning and budget do its job—not attempting to project forward beyond a year the detailed operational plans and budgets of an association, but letting the budget process handle the essential job of refining and incrementally changing operational plans annually.
  • Eschewing grandiosity—assuming that implementable changes must come in “chewable bites” that can actually be managed, rather than just talked about. (pp. 95–96

It is the ACUI Board of Trustees' expectation that beginning with the annual conference this month in Reno, Nev., followed by the gathering of the Leadership Team in Bloomington, Ind., in July, and concluding with the 15 regional conferences in October and November, the Board of Trustees will pass a strategic plan to serve as the Association's new roadmap through 2010. This will be accomplished by the elected Board of Trustees taking the lead on this process as identified in its charge. The trustees have employed the help of an outside consultant to facilitate a deliberative process in reaching consensus on the most appropriate future direction for the Association. They have begun to gather data by completing a survey on the board's leadership and behavioral practices. The information and outcomes collected in the survey will serve as the basis for the preconference leadership meeting. The board will then continue to garner input and expertise from the appointed volunteer Leadership Team, the paid Association management staff, as well as numerous outside sources. When the preliminary plan is completed it will be shared with the general membership with an opportunity for reaction before a final plan is voted on by the board for eventual implementation in January 2006. It is the overarching goal of the Board of Trustees to ensure that as many stakeholders as possible are involved in the planning process.

The Association will use consultant four planning horizons in developing the long-range plan. The four horizons will include (Bud Crouch, personal communication, October 13, 2004):

  • One- to two-year planning that usually includes the development of a one-year operational plan that may be formally written or at least captured as a line item budget for next year; one- to two-year business plans developed for major programs, services, and activities; and the annual updating of the three- to five-year strategic plan.
  • Three- to five-year strategic plan that includes a limited number of long-range oriented goals (Where is the Association going?); strategies under each goal (How will the Association accomplish each goal?); and milestones or checkpoints against each goal (How will the Association know each goal is being accomplished?).
  • Five- to 10-year assumptions about the key external trends, challenges, issues, etc. that will impact the long-term future environment of the Association's membership; mega issues facing the Association that are overriding issues of strategic importance that cut across multiple goal and outcome areas.
  • Ten- to 30-year well conceived planning horizon consisting of core ideology and envisioned future. The core ideology is unchanging; the envisioned future is what the organization aspires to become, achieve, or create.

    More times than not in ACUI's history, our strategic plans were nothing more than dust magnets placed on shelves for perpetuity. This was not the case with our last five-year plan, which is now coming to a close. A report card of the Association's accomplishments with regard to that strategic plan is available at www.acui.org. By examining the strategic direction report card, it will not be difficult to see the tremendous rate of completion of the Association's goals during the last five years as well as see the undeniable benefits of creating a clear, focused plan for ACUI's future.

    Just as Rachel's wedding is turning out to be nothing like what I alone had envisioned, it will be so much better and far more meaningful because it is about the two of them and their future. That same realization applies to the Association. Through careful and inclusive planning, involving as many knowledgeable and committed stakeholders as possible, ACUI can be assured of a long and prosperous future filled with great anticipation and hope.


Eadie , D.C. (1994). Boards that work. Washington , DC : American Society of Association Executives.