Not Sure What to Call it, But I’m Writing It Anyway
Truth never damages a cause that is just. -Gandhi
In 2009, shortly after I came home with Verona, my first guide dog, I embarked on a new path, this being the guide dog lifestyle. I was now using a dog to travel with and part of the support I decided would help was talking with other guide dog handlers. I Joined a National guide dog organization and began the email dialogue which would assist me many times with new dog concerns. For instance, I got help researching a grain –free diet, grooming tools, and other nutritional supplements that assisted me to bring my new dog to her optimal health. I was also able to glean much needed information on working my dog in difficult situations. I felt like I was part of the lifestyle and was part of a caring, objective, community.
When I decided to run for a board seat in 2010, my relationship with this organization changed. There was a serious communication problem amongst some of the board members. I should have, at the very least, listened to my gut and observed that the problems were not just about that specific issue but I didn’t. I believed at the time that this was just an isolated incident and it would be resolved. Boy was I wrong. The small minded and inflexible attitude’s of some board members and committee chairpersons prevailed and ultimately proved to be the board’s undoing. The major players involved in what would later indirectly lead to the strife within the organization’s officers and directors seemed , to me, a singularity but I was wrong in that assumption.
Eventually, the pre-convention hubbub ruined the board. The resignations of a few board members were the end result of the strife just beginning to play out again for me and the other newer board members. The implosion wasn’t heard around the world but it was heard in our vital and important piece of it and I still grieve for better times and an improved future for the organization.
The strife ebbed a bit and we continued with the board business. I had hopes, what I thought were reasonable and shared by others on the board. I saw great potential for this organization on many fronts. Back then, our president was a sincere and honest person with the right combination of leadership skills, knowledge, and empathy. We were fortunate to possess a large cash settlement from a donation resulting from an access case, which gave us the ability to keep and meet a moderate budget. the population served were passionate and we had the framework in place to take the organization from a PTA mentality to that of a legitimate not-for-profit business supporting our population. Having already been a frontrunner in implementing telephonic voting, we were working on bringing our organization to the top tier by addressing our aged financial practices. Bringing our bookkeeping and office management into the 21st Century by migrating to online banking and electronic bill paying systems was the next logical step in breaking away from a paper-driven system. Electronic banking would not only save money but also save time for our volunteers taking on the bookkeeping responsibilities. The settlement money also needed a more lucrative interest bearing home. Additionally, handling our finances in a more transparent and responsible way would enable us to budget in costs for board members to participate in a board retreat and also defray costs to board members who were traveling and representing us . We were also ready to create a stronger online presence by rebuilding our website.
What happened to prevent the continuation of the transition? I’ve turned this over in my head many times in the last year and I have one hypothesis: corporate identity crisis. Those of us on the board who believed that the only way to keep the forward motion was to step to the next tier of standards of proper business practices were at odds with those who believe that the organization should remain the same; the PTA mentality, meaning bake sales and dollar bills in the cash box was at odds with those who wanted to see this organization utilize more of its resources to increase its effectiveness within the community it served. I’m not criticizing the kind of organizational style of what I refer to as the PTA mentality, but it no longer suited us because we represented over 700 members worldwide and were only one of two groups in the parent organization that merited a high level status and we weren’t living up to our potential. We had a chance to rise up and show the other groups we worked with how a member-driven group rich in finances and passionate beliefs could lead others by example.
Unfortunately, the embedded attitudes refused to compromise in the same key areas: finances, electronic communications/membership management, and the creation of improved corporate policies which would govern our business practices from this point forward.
The progressives, who held a board majority, were viewed as a threat and those who felt threatened put the entire organization at risk by behaving as if it was a personal insult to them to try to change. To be fair, board members did attempt to bring forth a policy structure but it was rejected each time the president appointed a committee to work on a handbook. The resistance exhibited by some board members was almost pathological and boarder lined on paranoia. It was as if the proposed changes were being asked of them in a personal framework and the entrenched ownership can only be described as Founder’s Syndrome.
It is my recollection that the first order of change regarding our public image began shortly after I won a director’s seat on the board and was charge with rebuilding the website. I was ordered by the board, in an official meeting, to work with two other board members to write a RFP, also known as a Request for a Proposal. We achieved this goal in three months, and then proceeded to choose the web designer by board approval and the rebuild began. We had trouble with the old site being sabotaged but the new web design studio went above and beyond to develop a work-around a stayed in our budget to complete the migration despite the sabotage by the former webmaster. Much to my disappointment, the snafu was a serious glitch for us and it effected how some board members viewed my work ethic but I did my best and kept going, encouraging the others working with me to ignore the negativity. I didn’t, to the best of my knowledge, deflect any responsibility for the glitches or the disagreements stated about how we handled things. I recall saying that we did the best we could do, being volunteers and we would continue doing our best. After all, this was the most expensive project with the exception of the annual conventions so I took it all with a grain of salt.
The website was launched in July 2011. The new webmaster was hired in January 2012. My resignation was tendered in November 2012, along with seven other board members. We tried to prevent the shrinking of our corporate identity back to the little metal PTA cash box but failed. We grieve for, and are still mourning over, our failure and hope that one day our organization will one day shed the shackles of fear, controlling personalities and once again get back to living up to its true potential. There was no trust, no personnel policy, and no internal structure. The business side of this organization was missing, causing a serious imbalance in the organization and resulting in poor governance due to the lack of sound organizational structure. The irrational belief that if we begin acting like a business, we will ignore the issues that created this organization in the first place was voiced by some. It is irrational fear like this that ruins organizations, not the push for fiscal responsibility. Mismanagement is mismanagement and we were surely reflecting this in our board.
I suppose that in terms of a confidence building experience, I’d say it was fifty/fifty. I say this because when I did take part in a project in which we excelled, I felt an undercurrent of resentment.
I think of some of the other board members and here a few attitudes that I feel should probably not be expressed for the greater good. These voices are the main reason for my leaving. The first is the self-righteous First Amendment Freedom Fighter. You know the person, the one who flames everyone and flouts their right to free speech. Next, is the narcissist, the one who manipulates with half-truths and lies and denies everything. This person has a puppet, the one who they control and is the mouthpiece. Then, there are the sheep. That is self-explanatory. Where, you may ask, are the normal folks? Well, the normal folks try to hang on but burn out or get pushed out by the dysfunction.
What, if anything, have I learned? I learned what I already knew about myself and my personal work ethic: that I am a good project coordinator. I make mistakes and take accountability for them. I work well with other people who like to cooperate and get things done. I am also a bit of a rogue, especially when I encounter resistance from an individual who refuses to help when asked. I will take calculated risks and accept the consequences. I can stand up to bullies and self-righteous individual’s, and I will not ever volunteer for another board position on this particular organization ever again.
Ann Chiappetta M.S.