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Re: OT: NEEDS Breathing New Life Into An Old Club

In a message dated 1/21/2005 2:04:56 AM Central Standard Time, 
irisdude@msn.com writes:

> How do you breath new life into an old club besides increasing membership? 

       Patrick's post caused me to contemplate the question's inverse. How 
might new membership be attracted and used to breath new life ...?

       The issue contemplated is one faced by many flower organizations and 
by iris clubs in particular-- decline. For the most part it cannot be divorced 
from retaining present members and attracting and keeping new ones. This 
response is necessarily more serious than is common for me. It is based largely on 
values and my perceptions of people their responses, and organizations.
       Solutions start with such analysis. An organization that has been in 
continuous existence for 36 years speaks well for Patrick's club. He did fail 
to mention its size or how the membership levels had changed over that period 
of time.
       Our club, Old South Iris Society (OSIS), is far younger than his. I 
believe us to be in growth mode but cannot ever be sure. I suspect the mean and 
the range of ages of the memberships are about the same. The focus of a local 
club, while it should center on irises, must cater to and be fairly broad in 
appeal to the interests of both its members and potential members.
       The greatest asset and that of any voluntary organization is people. 
Most already recognize this. Arguably perhaps, they are the only true asset of 
enduring value. A common failure among clubs is the accumulation of wealth in 
dollars beyond what should be a reasonable safety net. Bank CDs that sit and 
sit are pretty common fodder. The point here is that voluntary organizations 
can and should operate somewhat differently from the way a for profit business 
or even a family does. The objective is not increased financial net worth for a 
volunteer organization. A business is not afforded the opportunity to just 
quit and an individual does not get to pick and choose the family to which he 
belongs. Both of these must accumulate financial wealth to satisfy the needs and 
future of those involved. Clubs are different in this respect. The single 
easiest asset for a club to accumulate or replenish is dollars.
       People act in their own self interests. This is fact. This is not bad. 
It is the key that unlocks success for businesses, families, and voluntary 
organizations. Most of us, club members and nonmembers have already met our 
basic needs. (Here I must confess to having poorly met some of these. I ate 
sauerkraut for supper last night because it was cheap, the last freeze got the 
turnip green, and the surviving radishes are still too small). The real question 
becomes, "What is left for us to do that fills needs for members and potential 
members, and how might we go about meeting of these needs?"
       Maslow suggests the needs that we can help fill are the upper levels 
(social, self-esteem, and self actualization). There are a number of ways these 
needs might be accomplished or detracted from. The commonality of all is that 
individual beings are basically good, rarely fail to positively respond when 
asked for help, and enjoy feeling good about what they accomplish and do.
       On the other hand, people respond poorly to being told what they must 
do.  One of the greatest failures in voluntary organizations is in leadership 
dictating rather than understanding its obligation to serve and lead in a 
direction the membership wishes to go. This doe not preclude leadership itself but 
precludes tangents, opposite and obtuse directions in which it might lead 
contrary to the interests of the majority-- otherwise the organization declines. 
Voluntary organizations and their objectives should be consistent and dynamic 
at the same time. The same things done routinely, over and over, eventually 
become drudgery and force decline no matter how appealing they may once have 
been. Doing the same things, the same way, all the time ultimately dictates that 
new members be recruited at a faster rate than existing members become jaded 
or the organization declines.
       Rules should be kept to a minimum in voluntary organizations -- in 
both bylaws and competitions. Flexibility in these rules is paramount. Avoidance 
of favoring a special interests or cliques a must. I smile often in my mind 
when I consider the ten commandments and the great body of law political leaders 
have adopted in attempts to explain and refine them -- I laugh some when I 
think how well the former work in meeting societies needs in relation to what 
well meaning politicians have produced.
       At best, in voluntary organizations rules are guidelines, not law. 
Attitudes that perceive them as such are counter productive. This is particularly 
so when adherence to them is "because they are there" or when leadership 
steadfastly refuses to diverge from them to accommodate individual needs. Often it 
is the divergence or interpretation that improves the organization and the 
member's perception of it. On occasion leadership is called upon to do what is 
"right" and there may be no rule to follow. Clear thinking, honorable, 
leadership devoid of self interest motivation is required.
       While there are numerous examples of this in OSIS, however the most 
poignant example familiar to many of us is Neil Mogensen's effort to have his 
judges credentials reinstated with the AIS after a 20 year absence. There was no 
rule specifically covering his situation. Anyone following Neil's posts with 
only a passing interest knows that his iris knowledge, value to the 
organization, and continuing study exceed that of most individual members of the judging 
community as a whole. We all know what should be done. We all know people of 
exactly this caliber are needed. And nothing has yet been done. To his credit, 
he has remained an integral, knowledgeable, helpful asset to the iris 
community. You cannot expect such a forgiving response from most members and 
potential members of voluntary organization.
       To this end, adopting the AIS organization or attitudes as a model in 
either rules or actions is counter productive and should be avoided. The 
leadership of the AIS may or may not understand it is a service organization 
offering intangible products or even the basics of successfully promoting its 
products (registration services, evaluation services, coordination services, 
commercial services, and communication services all related in some way to the 
promotion of irises) These services are funded by individual membership dues. AIS 
hopes to meet membership needs by providing these services. These intangibles 
are the only products it has. It sometimes seeks to dictate how one might choose 
to use these services and sometimes continues charging for them after they 
have been paid. How well it meets our needs for these services determines our 
level of use. AIS membership change is the measure of how well the membership's 
needs were met and how well the services were promoted to potential new 
       Local clubs are promoting a different product of which services are 
only one component. While we offer the same intangible products as the AIS, we 
also offer an additional intangible-- a sense of personal worth to the club. 
Just as the AIS can become misdirected in what is required to meet our needs, so 
may we in meeting the needs of members and potential members.
       The other components of what we, as clubs, can or may offer beyond 
those of the AIS are tangible in nature. We can swap rhizomes and other garden 
plants, chase bargains, hold auctions, visit each other, listen to speakers, see 
demonstrations, raise funds, get really into verbenas and daffodils, promote 
our events, participate in events held by others and do so as often as we 
please. We sometimes physically pat each other on the back, shake hands, and on 
occasion give hugs. We build, expand, and maintain public gardens. We keep "too 
large" collections and laugh about it. We share a lot and wish we shared more. 
We even organize and an occasional garden tour.
       We can promote what we have to offer face to face. We can even brow 
beat people into attending a meeting or embarrass them into paying dues, giving 
time, or making other donations. Unless we meet the individuals need for self 
actualization early on in the relationship and continue to do so over time our 
memberships decline and they should.
       We all do much organized around the concept of fun. That's important. 
More important is whether that fun was a result (by accident or design) of 
doing something that endured beyond the moment. Otherwise the fun was little more 
than a fleeting emotion we could appreciate only in that instant and it must 
be repeated incessantly. (Puttin' this another way, sex is fun in the moment. 
You can never get all you want of it at any one time. At any one time you can 
get all of it you can stand. The result, whether by accident or design, can be 
a child. A child can be enjoyed for a lifetime by all who cross his path). 
The point is that projects, efforts, etc., that produce induring results 
benefiting others beyond the self interest of a single individual or group, create a 
since of accomplishment that promotes a feeling of self actualization-- you 
have become all that you could be. An emotional response is elicited. A bond is 
formed. The club acquires another asset. Fun is not the objective. It is the 
result of persuing objectives that you sometimes achieve. (Hummm... sounds like 
       Secrecy, or the perception of it, is a huge common failure of 
leaderships elected to serve and perhaps one of the most abused. In voluntary 
organizations respect for our leaders does not emanate from the title we confer. It 
emanates from how well our will is followed in producing beneficial results that 
meet individual needs.
       It is not uncommon in even small clubs to hold "executive meetings" 
from which the general membership is excluded. Or, see various committee 
meetings called in the same way. While there can be no question such meetings are a 
necessity, always they should be open to any concerned member unless they 
involve personnel matters (most of clubs have no employees about which to be 
concerned) or those that involve pending liability in our litigious society and we 
have spy concerns. Elsewise, the sun should be shining.
       Here again, it is unwise to use the AIS as a model. Those in power 
appoint (rather than have the membership elect) a nominating committee. The size 
of the committee so appointed is kept artificially small. It isn't capable of 
selecting "candidates" that represent the broad interests the organization 
purports to service. If memory serves, it also requires those so appointed to be 
"in tune" or "of a like mind" with continuing what's been done in the past 
when filling expiring terms. Nor is it possible for all regions to be represented 
in the selection or election of the "candidates." Reading between the lines, 
positions of influence must be filled by those having special interests 
consistent with the special interests of those in power. Ultimately, one region 
and/or special interest group becomes over represented, gains power and directs 
efforts in directions that satisfy that regions and/or groups interests. Secret 
meetings are pretty common. The membership is rarely, if ever informed of 
pending issues until after the fact. AIS membership is kept secret. If source and 
application of funds statements are produced they too are kept secret and the 
financial statements (balance sheets) that are published are minimal: done is 
such broad detail they might as well be kept secret. The AIS appears to seek 
aloofness and formality in the channels of communication it does acknowledge, 
having input directed through RVPs (In my region this position is largely 
ceremonial in nature). The net result is leadership facing rapid changes, adapting 
at a snails pace to events if at all, pursuing its own agenda, spending where 
it wants, for pet projects if it chooses, rather than those espoused by 
members. The net result is empowerment and continuation of leaders that are 
insulated from the membership and for practical purposes cannot be changed. From a 
pragmatic perspective, there are neither meaningful nominations, elections, or 
selection by the membership.
       We sometimes learn from others. Often we are learning how not to be. 
Don't solicit input for appearances. Solicit input to mine the gold. Ask for 
help getting the rocks off the top. Don't rely on cliques.Rely on values and 
input from individuals with values. My expectation is that even members of the 
most basic voluntary organization expects to know where its money is spent, 
wants voting power concerning who gets chosen and trusted to lead as well as most 
other issues, expects to provide input when it chooses, expects fair 
consideration of that input, and to know the names and contact information of other 
       Don't you feel empathy for that Tom Gormley guy, AIS membership 
chairman? His compatriot's actions are as if membership is his job alone, not their 
responsibility at all. And they should be asking him, how will this affect 
membership if we do it? How might it be changed to improve or aid efforts to 
attract and retain members? Every decision made by any compatriot affects 
membership and/or the serviceing of its needs. Each decision a compatriot makes should 
be examined in terms of how it affects membership ... else the real assets, 
people, decline.
       Thinking some, is there a single new project or change that might 
address every members needs and increase membership? Not likely. One untapped 
source of members are individuals who can be financially motivated. Instead of 
asking members to give and donate more, split sales proceeds with the person 
bringing the plant. Another and one of our most popular OSIS events is an "all 
plants $2.00 sale" with all proceeds going to OSIS. Response? Always tremendous. 
People know there will be some far more expensive irises there. Greed can be a 
wonderful motivator. You might consider expanding the geographacal area your 
club serves to expand your potential membership base. Contrary to what is 
common, you might consider fewer meetings of higher quality rather than more 
meetings. Leave 'em wanting more. We change the complete slate of officers every 
two years and frown heavily on recycling them in a different capacity. Everyone 
accepts this. We usually gain a few more AIS members each year by doing that. 
You might also consider modifying and modeling, on a smaller scale, the TBIS 
Display Garden concept. Coordinate with your membership chairman. Invite the 
public to see local garden collections at their convenience over a weeks time 
interval during bloom. Advertise. Give visitors an iris to get them started. 
Make a concious effort to sign them up. When you are successful, at the first 
meeting they attend give them a collection with which they can participate in the 
tour the following year. Make the next years tour of those new guys. And, 
don't forget to fill the upper level needs old Maslow talked about in the one 
year interim.
    Know that leadership success is measured. In some eyes by how well one 
performs assigned tasks. That's not the way you measure leadership though. 
That's how you measure the output of an office secretary. How well leaders meet the 
needs of a voluntary organization's membership and aid in the increase of its 
true assets, people, are its true measure.

Bill Burleson

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