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.