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Featured Article from The ATA Chronicle (September 2011)


ATA’s Nominating Committee: A Second Peek Behind the Curtains
By Tuomas Kostiainen

Actually, I do not think there are any curtains here, but I liked the title and believe there are still a lot of members who do not know why or how these 10 excellent names ended up on the slate of candidates for ATA office. The purpose of this article is to explain exactly that, and also to encourage you to be a part of the process next year.

What Does the Nominating Committee Nominate?
The main job of the committee is to nominate candidates for each elective position on ATA’s Board of Directors—in other words, create the slate of candidates for the annual election. The job description is defined in ATA’s Bylaws and further detailed in the charge that the committee receives from ATA’s president each year. This year’s charge said: “The Nominating Committee shall propose one or more candidates for each Officer position (President-Elect, Secretary, and Treasurer) and preferably two candidates for each Director position. The Nominating Committee shall attempt to put forward a slate that is representative of the membership at large in accordance with best practices relating to leadership development.” Sounds pretty straightforward.

Who Nominates the Nominating Committee?
The Nominating Committee consists of five members and is appointed by ATA’s Board of Directors upon the recommendation of the president. This year’s committee members are Beatriz Bonnet, Jean Leblon, Connie Prener, Courtney Searls-Ridge, and myself. Traditionally, a new committee was appointed for each annual election. However, during the past few years, the Board has emphasized the need for more year-to-year stability and continuity in the committee, and that the committee should work to develop and maintain a list of possible candidates for the future (the leadership pool). This has allowed the committee to have a more comprehensive picture of the skills and expertise among the membership, and to be on the lookout for suitable candidates throughout the year. This, in turn, has made the work of the committee easier and much more efficient, and allowed it to develop longer-term plans.

How Does the Committee Work?
We all have our own reasons for voting a certain way or wanting to see a certain person as a candidate. However, the committee members have to be able to look beyond their personal preferences and concentrate on the common good, as well as the big picture, when selecting candidates. The goal is to have a slate of candidates as diverse as possible, and candidates that every voting ATA member can feel excited about, or at least with whom they feel comfortable.

Candidates can be nominated either by ATA’s Nominating Committee or through a petition by members (endorsed by at least 35 voting members). In addition, members can propose names through the Call for Nominations for the committee to consider when compiling its list of candidates. These methods ensure that members have a say in the nominating process and that it is not only the committee that decides who can run.

In addition, the committee actively seeks suggestions and input from Board members, chapter presidents, division administrators, and committee chairs.

It has really surprised me how few nomination proposals we have received through the Call for Nominations during the past five years I have chaired the committee. I think two was the highest number, and some years we did not get any. I try to think positively and interpret this to mean that after seeing the names of the committee members, you were so sure we would do an excellent job that you did not see any reason to send in your suggestions. Thank you. However, the committee would very much appreciate additional suggestions from the membership no matter how good we are. When you do submit your nomination, do it as early as possible so that the committee will have sufficient time to consider it fully.

The committee starts its work by examining the composition of the current Board and looks for background and expertise that would be particularly useful to the new Board. Then we start looking for candidates who could fill those needs and are representative of the membership at large. One of the main objectives is diversity among the candidates. It is actually quite easy to start listing the various factors that need to be diverse, such as language, geographical location, type of professional involvement (such as translator, interpreter, company owner, etc.), gender, background, experience, etc. It is also just as easy to start listing the desired qualifications for candidates, including the following: a proven track record; active participation and an interest in ATA, its divisions, and chapters (or other local groups); experience in other nonprofit organizations; ability to cooperate and work as a team player; and reliability. But it is quite another thing to put this all together and find a combination of candidates with the perfect mix of these backgrounds and qualifications. Even if you are able to create a “dream team” on paper, you must then face the next problem: availability. Many good candidates are already very busy with other ATA, chapter, or non-ATA volunteer tasks—not to mention their jobs and families.

Why Only One Officer Candidate?
You might wonder why there is only one candidate for some of the officer positions, but two for each of the director positions. This is actually nothing new. It has been the case in most ATA elections in the past. This is also in line with the current thinking on association management. One reason for this trend is that it is increasingly difficult to find candidates for the time-consuming officer positions: president-elect, secretary, and treasurer. Neither does it make sense to “force” the Nominating Committee to find a second candidate if it has already found one strong one. The preference is to have two strong candidates, but the Board did not want to make it mandatory. In addition, candidates may petition to be added to the slate and, in fact, petitioned candidates have won.

What is Your Part in This?
This is easy and does not require much effort. First, vote in the election. If you cannot come to the Annual Meeting of All Voting Members at ATA’s Annual Conference, please send your proxy to ATA or to a colleague who will attend the meeting and vote for you according to your proxy instructions. (A proxy and instructions will be mailed to all active and corresponding members in late September.) Second, start thinking about who would be a good candidate and bring those names to our attention. You can do that officially through the Call for Nominations by the end of February, or “unofficially” by contacting any of the committee members. Feel free to approach us at ATA’s Annual Conference in Boston if you have a name in mind or would be interested in running yourself.