2011 marks Washington Youth Soccer’s 45th year of bringing soccer to Washington’s youth. As we prepare for our 2011 Annual General Meeting (AGM) this week, our structure, bylaws and governance are at the top of mind. I thought I would take this opportunity to review our structure and how we got here, because taking a moment to think about how we function can better serve why we function.
WA Youth Soccer was established in 1966 much in the same way as many nonprofits are: a small group of volunteers agree to basic organization structure and mission and create stability by keeping the organizational structure the same as the organization matures. The same board of directors and basic bylaw structure was used from the creation of WA Youth Soccer in 1966 until 2009, even though the membership increased during that time from a few thousand players to more than 100,000. Based on feedback from the membership through Member Association Representatives and District Commissioners, WA Youth Soccer staff and board members hosted a series of soccer summits around the state in 2007 to address the needs of each level of play and geographic area.
One of the biggest frustrations was that change to rules and program structures was extremely slow, often taking at least a year to get from proposal to coming before the board of directors. The makeup of the board of directors at that time was executive board members (president, vice president of administration, vice president of competition, vice president of development, treasurer, secretary, etc) as well as the District Commissioners. The resulting body was a large committee that was responsible for all business and nonprofit direction as well as all soccer rules and competitions. The combination of governance and competition elements in the same board led to extremely long board meetings that had board members making decisions on topics that may not have been their expertise, preventing WA Youth Soccer from keeping up with the latest knowledge on proper player and coach development techniques.
The board of directors began looking for ways to improve the structure of WA Youth Soccer and modernize for the twenty-first century. In 2008 Jan Glick and Associates was hired to consult with stakeholders at all leadership levels and guide the board of directors in creating a strategic plan for the next 4 years. The recommended restructure focused on improving the decision-making structures by separating soccer/competition decisions from business/nonprofit decisions in a multi-level structure.
The board of directors would be composed solely of traditional nonprofit positions (president, vice president, treasurer, secretary, and board directors) and the newly formed Soccer Operations Committee would address all soccer operational decisions. The Soccer Operations Committee would be populated with representatives from across the state, all levels of play, and both volunteers and staff members. The goal was to divide labor to be more efficient in making WA Youth Soccer governance and operation decisions, which would free up time for the board of directors to focus on traditional nonprofit board tasks (fundraising, strategic planning, financial management, risk management, etc) and the Soccer Operations Committee would then be responsible for the operating documents (rules regarding registration, competition, judicial, etc) and creating standing committees to address levels of play and specific programs.
This entire process was part of the Constitutional Convention, a board of directors initiative to involve the membership in understanding the proposed changes and soliciting feedback to inform the process. Two council meetings (Member Association Representatives, District Commissioners, and board of directors members make up the Council) were held in late 2008 and early 2009 to discuss the plan, meetings were held with each district, and two committees were established to detail what the proposal would consist of and what its goals were (rules & operating documents committee and Seamless Soccer task force).
The primary goal was to develop a Seamless Soccer system providing developmentally correct playing opportunities for all players through increased flexibility and opportunities for like vs. like competition with less travel and a reduction in administrative burden. The means for achieving this goal were the separation of governance from operation, establishing processes for data gathering and feedback, and applying a problem-solving approach to administrative barriers. Simply: make it easier to get kids onto the right field by reducing the administrative challenges and redundancy.
Once the feedback from the Associations and Districts over the winter of 2008 and spring of 2009 was gathered and incorporated into the strategic plan, the Constitutional Convention came to a conclusion when the Council voted to suspend the existing bylaws at the 2009 Annual General Meeting, in order to vote in new bylaws that officially created the separation of governance and operations. The board of directors planned for a one-year transition to the new governance model over the course of the 2009-2010 season. During this time, the operating documents committee worked diligently on editing the Administrative Handbook of the old structure into 2 types of documents: governing documents and operating documents, the latter of which would be the responsibility of the newly formed Soccer Operations Committee. The format of the old handbook was translated to a new document format that aimed to keep all rules about a topic grouped together in one section, rather than bits and pieces located throughout a document over 100 pages long. It would make locating rules easier and editing rules simpler.
Now the board of directors meets quarterly and has the focus of handling governance issues through bylaw review, fundraising plans, and keeping track of progress on the strategic plan. The Soccer Operations Committee is also meeting quarterly to discuss all aspects of operations: competition rule changes, updates on current programs and events, and finalizing the new operating documents for publication in May 2011. Our next post will give more background on the operating documents process and where we’re headed over the next year.