For any volunteer organization, the grassroots matters hugely; it matters most for all
I recently had the opportunity to get together with a group of great people that I have worked with, as a volunteer, for more than 20 years.
Here are some photos – including one of the Intercontinental Toronto Centre, which was the Crown Plaza Hotel when the third CSA (Canadian Stuttering Association) conference took place (with 201 attendees) in 1995.
I mentioned at the meeting that I would share some key points about what in my experience (with SAT, the Stuttering Association of Toronto and CSA) helps when starting up a new association:
- A shared sense of ownership of the group among its members.
- As much as feasible, speaking time at meetings – and, in fact, at the first conference, in 1991 in Banff – was shared more or less equally; we never had a situation where one or a handful of people did all the talking.
- A sense (and practice) of shared decision-making (for planning of conferences, we ensured we had a way to systematically vote on key decisions; the decision-making process was always clear and well documented).
- A culture that emphasized leadership succession; that included fixed terms of office; the previous leader would often serve as a mentor to the next leader.
- It’s easier to establish a culture, for an organization, at the outset.
- Formal titles typically weren’t stressed, to any great extent, but were always useful when dealing with other organizations and with government bodies.
- A flat hierarchy approach to things; there wasn’t a strong sense of a hierarchy; the grassroots was a vital and important part of the picture at all times; everybody’s views were taken into account.
- Provision of an open forum for sharing of information; we also ensured that there is an emphasis on evidence, and we did not provide anybody a platform to push a product or viewpoint in the absence of evidence; we didn’t adopt a particular way of looking at stuttering, or at treatment options; we were there to provide an impartial forum for the sharing of information.
- A general principle has been that it’s good to balance volunteer work with the time that must be devoted to one’s personal life and career.
- A focus on strategic planning, in one form or another; it’s understood that, with limited resources, it’s important to get input from as many sources as possible, regarding what projects to focus on, within a specified time period (e.g., over a five-year period); that is, “do a few things well.”
- With CSA in the early conferences, we had a volunteer who was an opinion-surveys professional; he devised the questionnaires that we sent out to people before a conference; he also devised the conference feedback surveys that were used in the planning for the subsequent conference.
- A key part of the culture has been a focus on growth and renewal of the organization; the focus on leadership succession, and ensuring that input from all possible sources is solicited and strongly welcomed, is a part of the focus on growth and renewal.
These are some thoughts that occur to me, off the top of my head. Other people involved with the Stuttering Association of Toronto (which has since folded) and the Canadian Stuttering Association (which is still going strong) may very likely have other ways of seeing things; such other ways of seeing have equal validity; what I have outlined is just my own personal sense of things.