Organized as part of a new cycle of meetings entitled “The Governance Workshops”, a conference on the governance of associations was held at the beginning of May at EM Strasbourg. The participants shared the following observation: at the heart of the economy and with their strong societal role, associations must strengthen their management to attract external skills and look to the future.
Often praised for their structuring role in society, mobilizing hundreds of thousands of volunteers throughout France, associations sometimes convey an image of amateurism and financial fragility. A reality in some cases, but to which it is possible to oppose pragmatic solutions, discussed during the conference co-facilitated by Patrice Charlier, Head of the “Governance and Business Transfer” Chair at EM Strasbourg and by Bernard Claude, regional director of the French Institute of Directors (IFA). Around them, Jean-Louis Kiehl, president of the Crésus federation of French associations (combating insolvency) and Franck Suzon, president of the LEA association (helping disabled people enter the workplace) recognized there was still a way to go to strengthen these structures, under the watchful eye of Alain Fontanel, first deputy mayor of Strasbourg in charge of social and solidarity economy and culture.
Associations sometimes convey an image of amateurism and financial fragility.
Training as a Buffer Against Mistakes
“An association’s board of directors is made up of volunteers who come to meetings in the evenings after work”, Franck Suzon, who is also director of APF Entreprises Alsace, said in the preamble. An observation which summarizes the issues at stake: how to renew and professionalize the members in place, mobilize ‘qualified’ external figures and bring them to a strategic reflection on their association together. While not all of them face these challenges, the largest ones, whose budgets place significant responsibilities on directors, must take them into account. All the more so as the public authorities, the main financial backers, are watching: “The expectations that weigh on associations are now at the same level as those that weigh on local authorities”, explains Alain Fontanel, “what we want is for this to work, in complete transparency”. He denounces certain dysfunctional elements which can sometimes go as far as to lead to the closure of an association. In partnership with the IFA, EM Strasbourg is preparing to set up a training module for administrators, which will aim to professionalize their role. A good solution, according to the councilor: “I would agree that for an association with a budget over a certain amount, the president, the director, and the treasurer should undergo training".
“The expectations that weigh on the associations are now at the same level as those that weigh on local authorities”
More Attractive Associations
There remains the issue of the appointment of external personalities: “A good idea, because it calls into question the self within associations,” Franck Suzon acknowledges. “Establishing an independent ethics committee, to issue opinions that are submitted to the Board of Directors can also be a first step,” Jean-Louis Kiehl says. He also points out that digital tools nowadays make the work of administrators much easier and save them time. With a view to making associations more attractive, including to young people, this revolution is at least as important as the gradual acceptance that an association can also make a profit, which are then set aside, and gradually free itself from public funding that has become more and more selective.