CWRT Congress: A House Divided Against Itself

Lincoln at the Lincoln-Douglas debate in 1858.
(Credit: Bettmann Archives/Getty Images)

In Abraham Lincoln’s June 1858 House Divided speech, as a then candidate for the Illinois Republican Party’s nomination for U.S. Senate, he made his expectations clear:

“I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.”

The struggle for survival of a ruling body has long existed. CWRT boards are no exception.  As many round tables breathe their last breath and reach for the light switch, there are other round tables which continue the fight to stay in existence – and succeed.

One of the sustainability challenges is having and keeping a healthy and vibrant governing board.  How many CWRTs show vacant seats of VP or even President and continually fail to fill those positions?  The efforts of a spotty board cannot sustain a healthy membership.

So how do you get people to step up?

Since 2004, Greg Biggs of the Clarksville TN CWRT presided over the organization.  Exhausted from running the entire operation and with a new business venture pulling his interests elsewhere, he gave an all-out plea that the round table could no longer exist unless he got help.  Thankfully, several members did step up, and he feels hopeful for Clarksville’s future.

But that’s a risky move. Board recruitment should be a well-planned process and not something that’s done overnight. Deciding to serve on a board is a serious commitment of someone’s time and efforts. Therefore, full disclosure of what the position consists of is vital. Do your by-laws address term length and limits? Some organizations have adopted a three-year commitment for officer positions, i.e., vice president, president, and past president.  That is only one way to rotate leadership responsibilities, among others.

Many CWRTs have the same board members year after year but haven’t discovered the secret sauce to change. In May of 2022, the Twin Cities CWRT tried something new and held a 30-minute informational meeting for those interested in finding out more about serving on its board. Publicity of the meeting went out well in advance. They made copies of the By-Laws and committee descriptions for distribution. Surprisingly, about 30 members attended, and five new board members signed on!

Others, like the Brunswick CWRT have initiated a system called Advisors. Advisors are asked to attend board meetings and to provide their opinions on topics of discussion. Although advisors do not have the power to vote, they learn about the challenges the board of directors is facing and develop a perspective on ways to address them.

Once you have the new board members, make sure it’s a decision they won’t regret.  Everyone’s voice should be heard and respected. Engage them in a committee that uses their unique talents and experience. And have patience: change happens slowly, so allow time to get on board.

5 Responses to CWRT Congress: A House Divided Against Itself

  1. It is unfortunate that so many CWRT’s are failing. Equally unfortunate is that some CWRT’s are their own worst enemy.
    I recently moved to another state and joined the local CWRT. I attended four meetings, and nobody, including the president, made any effort to speak to me or to make me feel welcome. I tried to start conversations with other members with no success. I felt like the unwanted guest at a family dinner. So, I stopped going and will never go back.

    1. The Civil War Roundtable of the District of Columbia is doing well despite the challenges.
      We are meeting in person at Fort Meyer and on Zoom.
      We are fortunate to have had an excellent group of speakers.

    2. had the exact same experience in my various moves during my military career … members were uniformly unfriendly and clubbish … didn’t seem to care if they had new members or not.

  2. Now that we’ve returned to in-person meetings, we’ve had very good luck at having two designated Board members serve as the official “greeters” for the Pasadena CWRT. They greet all attendees at the door and make sure they are on our mailing list to receive future meeting notifications. We have to return to the practice of having guests introduce themselves and tell us more about themselves before the speaker is introduced.

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