Why do people stop volunteering in dog clubs? Why is it so difficult to find people to help out, even on the smallest task? The answers will vary from “I just don’t have any time”, to “I’m not showing any more so I don’t have the interest”, and then there is one that I was given very recently; “I don’t want to be beat up like I see happening to the board”. That last one made me sad to hear, but there is a ring of truth to it.
The election of officers and board of directors is becoming more and more difficult each year. I see the Nominating Committee calling for volunteers and encouraging people to step up. My own experience may serve as something to think about for those contemplating stepping up in the club.
Thirteen years ago I made the decision to run for a board position. I heard the current members speak of wanting to get off the board. They said they had done their time and they were tired. I accepted it as a fact and I thought that I had enough free time that I could help out. I did not come onto the board with an agenda in mind, and I had no thoughts of changing the club in one direction or the other. I really knew very little about what the board did, but everyone around me told me it wasn’t difficult and didn’t really take up much time. Now, either they weren’t doing “it” correctly or they flat out lied to me, because it is difficult and it does take time, if you do it correctly.
When I first was elected to the board, the board meetings were fairly quiet, we didn’t have a lot going on in the club, and the biggest issue to hit towards the end of my term was the Breed Standard revision ballot. While there was some controversy swirling around that, it wasn’t enough to cause me great concern because I was not in charge and it affected me minimally. Under the leadership at that time, the board operated with little or no input from the membership. Decisions were made and not questioned, and no one complained about it. If there were members who were unhappy with the direction of the club, they didn’t voice it much.
After four years on the board, I was ready to run for President. The President was stepping down and I was told that I was the next logical candidate for the job. I knew going into the role of President that there was one thing I wanted to see happen. I wanted to shift the bulk of the decisions that affected the club, back to the members and out of only the board’s hands. It wasn’t a shift of power per se, but more a concentrated effort to get more of the membership involved and to allow them more ownership in their club. It didn’t take long for the members to start taking that ownership, and the results were for the most part, very exciting. The club moved forward in leaps and bounds with new avenues of giving time and talent, new opportunities for competition, and suggestions for new ways to increase the coffers of the club.
Putting the reins back in the member’s hands would also bring a negative result to the table at times though. The people who stepped up and volunteered for the Board or for Committee Chair positions seemed to be under scrutiny at all times by a small group of members. Many times, every move was questioned, and Board members or Chairs were criticized publically, often on the internet on public forums. Some quit, choosing to not be subjected to the harassment. Others grew silent, so as to not draw any undue attention to themselves. As I watched this happen, it made me sad, and angry, and weary.
I understand why so few are willing to step forward. Praise is almost nonexistent. Helpful suggestions are not shared. Criticism flows freely and it can get quite ugly. Being President or on the Board of a National Parent club is a tough, tough job. It is not one for the faint of heart. You are everyone’s friend when you first come on board. Everyone thinks that you will be the one to fix the (perceived) problems. Then after a little while, people start to figure out that they can’t manipulate you to do things their way. They realize that you aren’t going to look the other way when they act out. They don’t like it when you are direct with them. They don’t like it when you stand up for the little guy. All of a sudden you are the bad guy. You are the problem. Factions start working against you and fingers get pointed. Cliques start forming and misinformation is spread. The average member who is not involved in club leadership sees this, and they stay away. They don’t want to have the fingers pointing at them, and they don’t want to hear the angry rhetoric being thrown around, so they stay quiet, and they lay low—and the club suffers.
Over the last thirteen years I have spoken with many, many club members who used to be involved but aren’t any more. They all tell me the same thing. They are weary of being beaten over the head and they just want to go back to enjoying their dogs. I didn’t understand then, but I do now. I am not a person who has ever quit on something I started. I won’t do that now either. But I do hear you, and I do understand.
For those who are contemplating stepping up, good for you. Be strong. Be confident. Don’t hesitate to speak up when something is not right. Speak for all of the membership, and for the good of the club. Don’t get pulled into acting on something just for the good of a small group of people. Each and every decision the board makes must be made while doing what is best for the club. No individual or group of individuals should benefit directly from changes made to the club. It is a tough line to hold. You will be pulled in many directions. Your club was formed to encourage and promote quality in the breeding of pure-bred dogs and to do all possible to bring their natural qualities to perfection.
For those who chose not to step up, it’s okay. You have your reasons. There is something you can do though. Don’t be so quick to jump on the bandwagon of disdain towards those working. Be positive. Tell them whenever they do something that enhances your experience at a dog show. Praise them for a job well done. Offer to help out on the show weekend. You would be surprised how just the smallest thing can be a huge help when just a small group of people are responsible for every detail of the weekend. The show doesn’t just happen. There is a year of planning and work that goes into each weekend. It takes a team of people to pull it off. If you have the chance to be just a small part of that team, take it. You will be glad that you did.
If you can keep what is best for the club as your goal, you may not be the most popular, but you will be doing “it” the right way.