Organizational Governance: Ownership of Membership Organizations

Posted by Matthew Thomas

I often work with a type of organization called a Membership Organization. Membership organizations are, simply put, made up of a group of individual people or organizations that, when taken together, constitute the whole of the organization. Two examples: 1) an association of churches wherein autonomous churches voluntarily join together to form an organization that can act on behalf of the whole is a membership organization of churches; 2) a local business organization made up of dues-paying members who participate in the activities of the business organization, is a membership organization of business people.

In either case, the owners of the organization can be clear: the owners are the members of the organization. Any other governing structure – boards, committees, and the like – operate on behalf of these members, to whom they must answer at a meeting of the members. The members, as owners, set the purpose and goals of the organization, and grant the organization certain powers to work on their behalf.

Membership organizations often run into two major difficulties: the members begin to act as consumers, rather than owners, and as such end up micromanaging the organization; or an individual member will try to impose their will, values or interests onto the board or staff apart from the other members acting in aggregate.

These two dysfunctions can embed deeply into the life of membership organizations, and will often require outside assistance to break the patterns that these dysfunctions establish. Design Group International offers assistance in organizational design and leadership to help organizations untie their knots of dysfunction and move toward health. Click the link below to contact us to let us know how we might help your organization!

Topics: Membership Organizations, Matthew Thomas, Organizational Governance, Design Group International, Ownership