A Short Note on Managing the 501: "Fitting In"
© 2014 EEASI Corporation

 

The 501(c)7 has a particularly difficult problem: too often, no one wants to be the president. this is understandable since a (c)7 organization is social and recreational and thus has no enduring purpose or significance to the greater good of society. In short, the position of officer in a (c)7 is usually a thankless job with a lot of attendant headaches and complaints from grumpy members. The consequence of this is, understandably, that no one wants the job.

The ideal candidate, when she/he can be found, is an altruistic personality that will reluctantly accept the responsibility for keeping the club running smoothly. The worst case candidate is the controlling personality who needs to puff up their ego by having the title of "president". Most candidates will fall somewhere between these two extremes. The degree to which the new president tends to be controlling rather than altruistic will determine their ability to fit into the club's social structure.

Beware of the Controlling Personality

The controlling personality will usually see themselves as above the membership and may even be condescending to the former management. A controlling personality will want to remove all past Board members and pack the board with their own "friends". Since the volunteer work force is essential for any 501 to operate, the controlling personality may seek to eliminate well established volunteer help with new faces with whom they are more familiar. When a government changes hands, the act of sweeping out the old and bringing in the new bureaucracy is common. However, in a 501 organization, this is illegal and can result in the loss of the club's 501 status. The reason that the 501 status may be lost is that a 501 is governed by the Board of Directors, not the president or any single individual, see "Who is in Charge?".

The danger that accompanies the president with a controlling personality is the alienation of the membership, the volunteers, contractors and Directors leaving the president alone and isolated having no other choice except to step down for the good of the club.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do

Not all transitions are as bad as exemplified by the controlling personality president. There are other matters of "fitting in" that can isolate new officers or reduce the confidence on the membership in their ability to lead if miss handled. The best rule for a new officer is this: "When in Rome, do as the Romans do". Corporate luncheons during which a new candidate employee is being interviewed is a good model. The hiring authorities will wait until the new candidate makes their selection from the menu and then will make the same selection, saying something like "That sounds good to me", or "I'll have the same". The point is that the menu selection is the very first opportunity to begin establishing a bond of trust between the hiring authority and the new candidate. There are analogous situations that will present themselves to the new officers and every new officer must be alert to these opportunities to promote mutual trust and understanding.

Get to Know the Membership.

because the job of Officer is so unattractive, the new officers may only be familiar with their own small group of friends. This is problematic unless the new officers make it a point to get to know the membership. there are many ways of going about this: Share personal experiences; discuss common issues concerning one's children's success or difficulties in schools; exchange favorite movies, books, stores, etc. The list is long.

Demonstrate True Concern for the Good of the Club

This bonding strategy is more subtle than one might suppose. New officers may have their "own" ideas of where the club should go; but, this may not coincide with the interests of the membership. Controlling personalities will likely try to impose their idea on the club, thus resulting in serious a backlash whereas the altruistic personality will seek out the ideas of the membership. Sending out a questionnaire to the membership soliciting their ideas is always a good move, regardless if not a single reply is received. No response is not equivalent to no interest. Members have busy lives, children, social obligations, jobs etc. You may need to speak to them in person after the solicitation of ideas has been sent out. The only practical way to do this is at a social function of the club.

Regardless of the response to the questionnaire, the message to the membership that this questionnaire carries is clear "We care about what you think", and that is a great bonding message.

Do not separate yourself, either factually or symbolically, from the Membership

Separation equals distrust and a loss of confidence by the membership. This can be fatal. Separation can be symbolized in many subtle ways, but these separation actions do not go unnoticed. For example, going to a "cowboy day" party not dressed like a cowboy or cowgirl; staying away from activities that are personally of no interest. Officers must show up as a sign of support. Not participating in the clean up after a party makes a officer look like they think they are too good to do that type of work. Sitting with your own group rather than circulating among the membership will be seen as an act of separation. There are many more possibilities.

In summary

  • Avoid the controlling personality
  • When in Rome, do as the Romans do
  • Get to know the membership
  • Demonstrate true concern for the Good of the Club
  • Do not separate yourself from the membership, either factually or symbolically.