Build It Up; Take It Down — Professional Organizations

My professional organizations all seem to be in the throes of something major. Some are formalizing, taking on a much needed layer of governance as a group realizes we need something more than an email chain. Others are really finding their feet after flailing around. Others are heaving under longstanding bureaucracy and what appears to have been several serious rounds of questionable fiscal management. There are so many spreadsheets.

Being in the midst of all of this is exhausting. Several groups want people to help write governance documents or navigate what necessary infrastructure looks like. Others are looking at major disruption or end of life and need someone to acknowledge when things are done. Still others are just getting started and resisting any of that “formal document” stuff–although increasingly we recognize that this doesn’t work due to historical power, race, gender, etc issues.

I find governance development and maintenance fairly enjoyable, which surprises few as it goes back to that idea of process vs. product that I’ve discussed before. Digging through Bylaws isn’t my favorite pastime but so help me if it means we can edit language and create a checklist so this isn’t a headache for someone else in the future, sign me up.

But it’s exhausting. Having to try and tackle these varying fronts means I have lost a clear sense of what my professional organization home is, where I feel “my people” are, where I go to be inspired. I’ve both taken on more responsibility and given it up — indicating where I can the need for others to step up and keep work going if this is actually of value to the organization. There’s an overwhelming expectation that all the volunteers will want to spend an extra x hours a week on this organization, this new sub-group listserv.

And I am indescribably weary of paid staff members who dump their work onto the volunteers; seem incapable of major portions of their jobs; face no accountability when issues are raised; believe that budgeting is all magic handwaving; or who hand out guilt trips about how I’m letting the profession and the organization down by not doing ^insert time-intensive thing here^.

There are always compounding expectations.

I’m headed into conference season, all of which are tied to various organizations. I am in the midst of preparations to present research — all projects I have worked hard on and which I hope others can use, adopt, and engage with. Yet simultaneously I am running the cost balance and questioning if what I am getting back is enough. And the number of potential conferences I could attend, could pitch my research to…that seems to multiply every day. I could be somewhere every week and in many instances I would *love* to get speak to engage with those peers and learn from them. But (1) my job is my first priority and making sure I’m doing that well has to come first and (2) the cost both financial and of time can be enormous.

V and I were discussing last week why we stay involved. We have different understandings of the primary mission(s) of one of our mutual organizations and they overlap but I can see how that, multiplied times each member, makes things unwieldy. And that particular organization, it’s leadership, it’s staff do not articulate clearly either of the missions she and I see as an actual goal or how the organization is supporting the members. What do the members *get*? The opportunity to pay thousands of dollars to serve on committees, donate volunteer countless hours, and give presentations. Oh, and have our email addresses handed out.

Where does this lead? I don’t know. I have this hope that something this spring will inspire me and I will feel deeply connected again, rather than simply obliged. I’m working on a five year plan (separate post) and trying to determine who gets my energy and who has just become a drain. Donating my time comes with personal and professional costs and right now that feels out of balance. Perhaps I can come up with a checklist and Hedgehog Governance. We shall see.