I’m ending my term as a board member for the local chapter of a professional organization. I’m feeling bad, both because I’m pessimistic about the direction I see it taking, and because I no longer have the time or the desire to try and affect that direction.
How this started
The proximate cause of this musing was a pretty bureaucratic one. I’d worked with last year’s treasurer to try and convert the chapter’s financial data from a paper ledger and an envelope full of receipts (it was like something from a tax-time cartoon) to QuickBooks Online Edition. Not that QBOE is the ne plus ultra of accounting, but because it was inexpensive and easily accessible by the other board members. That in place of the all-too-common reality of our chapter: someone who knows software sets up some standalone system in the past, only to have the knowledge, the software, or the data not survive the transition to the next board.
That’s what’s happening now: the new board has a volunteer who knows accounting. He’s going to handle the stuff on local accounting software. I can peer down the road two years and see a new treasurer without that application having to not only reinvent the wheel but wonder whether it needs axles or not.
I’m not up to stepping forward and running for treasurer myself, though. So I’ve documented what we did in QBOE, and why, and sent that to the new guy with my best wishes.
Where this went
In the past eleven years, our local chapter has lost four presidents-elect. We don’t have a vice-president; you run as president-elect and then serve three years: the first as, effectively, vice-president; the second as president; the third as a board member by virtue of being “immediate past president.”
Those loses have been a real blow to continuity — in fact, I became president two years ago without ever having been president-elect. The then-president and a board member asked me to run as president. My hunch, then and now, was that they’d been working down a list, which made me (as the first person not to turn them down) president of last resort.
I think the local-chapter model of professional association is fast fading. When I first came to Washington, nearly 30 years ago, the local ISPI chapter was strong and vibrant. Members looked forward to the monthly programs; committees had ample volunteers.
Based on conversations with friends (and a spouse) active in similar associations in different fields, my guess is that there are a couple of trends at work, some of them contradictory.
- Many professionals don’t feel they have much time to give to local professional organizations — either as volunteers or as active participants.
- As members gain in experience, the things they focus on professionally tend both to vary and to deepen. They’re not as interested in general topics, and it’s harder to identify some specific area that will interest enough to them to make an in-person meeting feasible (in terms of topic, time, place, and cost).
- More experienced individuals, at least those who are my contemporaries, give or take eight years or so, don’t seem to adopt newer modes of networking. I’d be hard pressed to name three people I know who’ve been members of the local ISPI chapter who have their own blogs or whom I know through Facebook / Twitter / what-have-you. (I knew a few through LinkedIn, but it doesn’t seem to result in much sharing.)
- For professionals in the training / learning / performance-improvement area who do adopt newer tools for networking, I think the large professional organizations — ISPI, ASTD — seem much like their corporate counterparts: slow-moving, hesitant, and unsure of their ways.
No deep thoughts here, no great solutions. I’m not going over to people’s houses and nagging them into starting blogs or hounding them to do what’s clearly right (as in, what I’d prefer). I think I’m loosening some ties, if not severing them. I feel some regret, but the reality for me is that the local chapter and the international organization are not where I get my professional energy any more.
I’ve found tremendous stimulation and inspiration at the annual ISPI conference — but attending would set me back at least $2,500, and that’s more than I can justify. ISPI’s been offering some “skillcasts” (their name for webcasts). As with the others, the next one (July 9th) costs $49.
The topic? “Giving Away Power.”
“Missing image link” image by Brero / Miguel Librero.