An organization that sees its mission as larger than its present reach hits natural barriers if it uses an association management firm. The management organization is not an “association growing” firm. Nor is the firm devoted solely to the association. In fact, the management firm’s financial incentive structure is akin to that of a fitness center: the best member is one who pays dues and never requires anything. It’s job is to manage and control something that, optimally is passionate, dynamic, and slightly out of control because it is actively flourishing in multiple directions. These disparate tendencies came to mind as good news arrived December 21, 2018 – Solstice Day – that arguably the most powerful engine in the integrative space, the Academic Consortium for Integrative Medicine and Health (“the Consortium”), completed a transition away from an association management firm to its first, 100% time, fully devoted executive director.
The position opening magnetized 140 applicants, according to the note to Consortium members on the selection from Consortium chair Rick Hecht, MD. The Consortium’s Transition Task Force winnowed these to 30 who were interviewed by a consultant then sifted further to 7 for video conference interviews, then down to 3 for board final interviews. The importance of broadcasting the process was linked to concern from a subset of Consortium members who became concerned about process and inclusion under the prior management. An intense dialogue of all interested members on the future of the Consortium, including its leadership processes, was convened in May 2018 prior to the Consortium’s huge research Congress. The majority agreed to set out on a new direction. The appointment of the TTF, the search and the transition began there – and ended with the selection of Dale West, CAE.
Hecht shared his own anticipation: “I am extremely excited to announce the selection and appointment of our new executive director, Mr. Dale West, Certified Association Executive (CAE). Dale stood out for his extensive experience and depth of knowledge of association management and was our unanimous choice. The Board believes that he will be an excellent fit with the culture and mission of the Consortium.”
I contacted the founding vice chair of the Consortium, Georgetown University integrative medicine leader Adi Haramati, PhD, for his perspective. Haramati, a present Consortium board member, was a part of the team that urged reconsideration of the association’s direction at the May meeting, Said Haramati: “I am ecstatic that the Consortium Task Force and the Board have been able to identify and recruit Dale West–an individual with broad experience as an executive director in the non-profit sector and national recognition as a leader of leaders. Dale is excited to assume this role because he believes in the Consortium’s mission and its values. His leadership will not only help our organization, but I predict he will have a positive impact on the expanding field of integrative medicine and health.”
Interestingly, West’s background inc;ludes service in multiple roles as both association executive director and also in leadership of an association management firm. West has two decades of experience with nonprofits. He most recently served as the vice president of Healthcare and Scientific Practice at SmithBucklin, a major US association management company. There his roles included service as executive director of the Neurocritical Care Society, of the Society of Gastroenterology Nurses and Associates, and as interim executive director for the Association of Clinical and Translational Science. Haramati confirmed that West has left his Smith-Bucklin role and will serve 100% with the Consortium.
In the notice to members from Hecht, West is quoted as stating: ““I’ve had the privilege of serving some outstanding healthcare organizations and have been looking for an opportunity to work with an organization making a positive and lasting impact on the entire healthcare system.” Consortium vice-chair Francoise Adan, PhD put me in touch with West. Via e-mail over the holidays, I quickly framed-up a few questions and invited him to answer as he was comfortable. West was game, answering each. Here are my questions and his responses.
Integrator: Have you ever worked in a field that is still viewed as much as a challenge to the dominant paradigm as this one? What is your work experience that you think is the most similar to what is ahead?
West: No, but that’s what makes this job so exciting. I’ve certainly worked with a number of organizations that were going through tremendous changes in their profession and industry, but I’ve not worked with an organization that is in such a unique position to change the healthcare system. In addition to being an executive director, I have also run a consulting practice that helped organizations define their most important priorities and develop strategies and operational plans to achieve their goals. The Consortium’s vision is to transform the healthcare system promoting integrative medicine and health for all. We have to stay focused on the most important issues to achieve that type of transformation.
Integrator: Similarly, the Consortium like the rest of its field has large change ambitions – yet is rather under-powered from a capital perspective. Thoughts on what might be done?
West: That’s true for most of the organizations I’ve served. We will certainly work to increase the financial resources of the organization, but the true power of the organization lies with our members. Their work, research, and voice will create the change that’s needed. As an organization, it’s our job to harness that power and amplify their voices. I look forward to finding new ways to engage our members.
Integrator: Along a similar line, have you worked in an environment of such ambition amidst limited resources?
West: Definitely. There are over 1.5 million nonprofits in the US and 77% have revenues under $1M. While financial resources are important, our members represent some of the most trusted and important medical institutions in the world. That’s a powerful resource.
Integrator: The release noted a “strong interest in integrative medicine.” Can you say something about that?
West: I’ve always sought non-traditional therapies for myself and have benefited greatly from a more holistic approach to my own health. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have had great relationships with a number of healthcare providers who believed in the principles of integrative medicine. Fifteen years ago I finally quit smoking with the help of acupuncture. It was the single most important thing for my health and I finally achieved it with a cost effective treatment that had no side effects. I’ve always viewed it as common-sense medicine.
Integrator: You are entering an organization that at the same time has the staid, conservative qualities of academic medicine and research while also being led by people who are passionate advocates for an integrative model. Any thoughts?
West: Change will only come through the research being done in academic medicine. Having data on both the positive health outcomes and economic impact are critical in the change process. With the data and the passion of the members, the organization can do incredible things.
On receiving West’s responses I have an increased sense of why such excitement on his selection is expressed by Consortium leaders. This, particularly, struck the right notes: “We will certainly work to increase the financial resources of the organization, but the true power of the organization lies with our members. Their work, research, and voice will create the change that’s needed. As an organization, it’s our job to harness that power and amplify their voices. I look forward to finding new ways to engage our members” To reference how I started this piece, his voice here is an “association growing” voice, with all its necessarily chaordic dimensions, not merely a “management” one. Welcome, Dale! Here’s to a long and fruitful relationship for you, your new employers, and the change you each serve!