Speed, ingenuity, and decisiveness are integral components to the success of any association, advocacy group, or other member-based organization. There are a hundred clichés that tell this story—ever heard of “paralysis by analysis”?—but the bottom line is this: when it comes to association decision making, action is better than inaction almost every single time.

Do you remember the classic 80’s TV show MacGyver? Creative and resourceful secret agent Angus MacGyver always had some new trick up his sleeve to escape from danger, always beat the ticking time bomb just in time, always knew what action to take and took it. And he always saved the day. At the other end of the spectrum was the Saturday Night Live parody MacGruber. Remember him? Unlike MacGyver, buffoonish secret agent MacGruber never quite knew what to do, never could make up his mind, and never—ever—beat the ticking bomb. Every sketch ended with a massive explosion and the death of MacGruber.

So, how about your association? When it comes to association decision making, are you more MacGyver or MacGruber?

Too many times in the nearly 20 years of working with associations, advocacy groups, and other member-based associations, I have seen MacGruber-ish tendencies derail an organization’s agenda, near-term goals, and best-laid plans.

Hand-writing over budget.

Squabbling over message.

Letting the proverbial perfect get in the way of the simply good enough.

While the clock was ticking, they were frozen by indecisiveness and indecision…and the bomb exploded.

It’s not as if this phenomenon is hard to understand, of course. And it doesn’t just apply to associations or not-for-profits. It also afflicts commercial businesses, political candidates, and individual people every single day. It’s not an organizational issue, at its core, but rather a psychological one.

In simple terms: it’s easier to do nothing than to do something.

So how can you and your association overcome it?

Here are some simple, easy tips that psychologists suggest for getting over the indecision hump.

  1. Let the fear go. Obviously, fear is a major component of this phenomenon. Fear of making the wrong decision. Fear of taking responsibility. Fear of not being able to explain later. But most fear isn’t real, right? Fear and worry are perseveration over the worst-case-scenario, or as someone once said: the massive down payment on a bill that might never even come due! Focus on the BEST-case-scenario now and then, and realize that the upside of action is almost always—always!—bigger than the downside.


  1. Give yourself a deadline. Deadlines spur action! Without them, an association can keep researching, evaluating, and debating courses of action until it’s too late. It happens all the time. But your deadline can’t be the day an issue needs to be resolved! It must be set far enough ahead of resolution of the issue that you have time to implement the appropriate strategies to ensure that you win the day. Set deadlines—even for decisions—and meet them.


  1. Make the small ones first. Not every action decision has to be a big one, and not every big decision is just ONE big one! A lot of times, preparing for action means making a number of small decisions to be ready to make a big one. Maybe it means producing a TV ad on an important issue but holding off on deciding whether or not to put it on the air? Maybe it means printing up a bunch of signs, but holding off on deciding whether or not to trigger the big protest? It might cost you some time and resources to lay the groundwork for a big decision, but at least you’ll be ready when the time comes…and you’ll be prepared to be swift and decisive.


  1. Trust yourself. Your association exists because your members, your stakeholders, and your advocates believe in you. You should believe in yourself just as much. When a crisis arises, it’s up to you to show leadership and blaze the path. If your members wanted inaction, they wouldn’t have an association! Trust them the way that they trust you, and take action worthy of that trust.


  1. Look 10 years down the road. Here’s a question to ask. What is more likely to negatively affect you or your members 10 years down the road, you taking action or you doing nothing? Odds are that the worst-case-scenario fears referenced up in point number one—that members might be upset or that your Board may disagree or that your actions might be publically criticized—will be a distant memory 10 days down the road, much less 10 years! But the consequences of inaction are likely far more substantial and dangerous.

Any decision is better than no decision.

Something is better than nothing.

Action is better than inaction.

Almost. Every. Single. Darn. Time.

Think about it this way:

If your association—either your members or your Board or the people you answer to directly—could hire either MacGyver or MacGruber to run the show for them, which one would they choose?

You know the answer.

Association decision making matters.

Don’t be a MacGruber.

Be a MacGyver every time.