What Makes an NFB Affiliate?
by Anna Kresmer
From the Editor: The following is another in our series of historical documents in the Jacobus tenBroek Library:
All members of the Federation know that the NFB is made up of fifty-two affiliates, including one for each state, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico. Each of these affiliates is modeled after the national organization with elected officers, a board of directors, constitution or by-laws, divisions which represent member interest groups, appointed committees, and annual conventions, where resolutions are passed by the will of the assembled membership. Apart from some subtle variations, the make-up of the modern NFB affiliate has remained relatively unchanged since 1982, when the current format of the NFB charter of affiliation was adopted by all NFB affiliates, excluding Montana, which chose not to sign, and Puerto Rico, which did not become an affiliate until 1992. But 1982 can be a misleading date. In truth the development of the affiliates that make up the NFB today evolved over forty years. So how did we get here? The answer, of course, can be found in the archives at the Jacobus tenBroek Library.
In the earliest days of the Federation what would be identified as an affiliate today was simply called a member, and the requirements for membership were basic. As stated in the original version of the NFB constitution, drafted at the founding meeting in 1940:
Article III. Membership:
Section a) The membership of the National Federation of the Blind shall consist of delegations from each of the states of the United States.
Section b) Each state shall have one vote.
Section c) Delegations shall represent organizations of the blind controlled by the blind; but individuals may be admitted to membership with all the privileges and duties of representative members except that they shall not be entitled to vote or hold office.
In the interest of quickly building a nationwide, coordinated movement of organized blind people, the founders left much to be defined about the way in which an affiliate organization should be run and how its relationship to the national office should work. No one had ever tried to coordinate a national disability rights movement before, and it was crucial to keep up the momentum. As a result some organizations were allowed to join the Federation who, for one reason or another, would not have been admitted if they applied today. Unsurprisingly, as the Federation grew and its framework developed, ensuring that the original intent of its founding—to create a national organization controlled by blind people to treat collectively with the federal government for the economic and social welfare of all blind Americans—became an increasingly unmanageable task.
To combat this problem, in 1954 the Executive Committee (a precursor of the NFB board of directors) created a committee on affiliate standards, the task of which was to define the requirements for and outline the powers of a state affiliate. The committee's first act was to create the NFB's first affiliate standards report, the recommendations of which were formally adopted in a resolution at the National Convention in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1955. Over the next twenty-seven years, the relationship between the national and affiliate organizations would continue to evolve into the system still used in 2013—with many peaks and valleys along the way. But the foundation for the affiliates that together are the National Federation of the Blind today was undoubtedly laid in 1955. Here is the text of that report:
Report of the Committee on Affiliate Standards of the National Federation of the Blind
Adopted at the Omaha Convention, July 18, 1955
Since the establishment of the National Federation of the Blind in 1940, many questions have arisen regarding the relationship between the Federation and its affiliates. These questions arise most frequently on the subject of organization and program standards within the respective state affiliates. Because many of these questions could not be directly answered, the Federation’s executive committee in July of 1954 created this Committee on Affiliate Standards to make a study of this subject and to make recommendations which, if adopted by the convention, would serve as guides for affiliated organizations.
The Committee on Affiliate Standards is composed of:
Durward K. McDaniel, Chairman
Clyde Ross, and
The Committee met in Chicago at the end of October, 1954. The nature of the task requires that the product of the committee’s work be made in the form of a Statement of Policy which will become official when and if it is adopted by a Federation convention.
Statement of Policy Applicable to Affiliate Standards
- The National Federation of the Blind has grown from the base up, and by its structural nature is the sum of its component state affiliates. Independence, representation, and democracy are the fundamental qualities which inspired its formation and which justify its existence and growth. Since the Federation derives its existence by reason of its components, it follows that the preservation of these qualities depends upon their existence within the Federation’s affiliates. An affiliated organization of the blind should be independent of other organizations and interests, and it should be truly “of the blind.” By this is meant an affiliated organization of the blind must be controlled by blind people themselves. “Control” does not require exclusion from membership of all persons who are not blind. Rather, control can best be measured by the leadership of the blind members within the organization who must exercise a dominant role in the formulation and execution of program and policy.
Certainly, a majority of the members within an organization must be blind persons, and a higher ratio is recommended. Likewise, a majority of the members of an executive board must be blind persons. It is mandatory that the president and the vice president, as executive officers, be blind.
- Organizations of the blind frequently criticize programs and policies of agencies for the blind. It is increasingly true that blind persons from within our organizations are being employed by agencies for the blind. These persons should not be denied membership by reason of their employment. As a practical matter, however, a blind employee of an agency who has been elected to an executive office may find it difficult, if not impossible, to represent forcefully the position or program of his organization when it is at variance with his employer’s policy or desire. There is potential educational value in having both blind and sighted agency employees eligible for membership.
- In order to more adequately fill its representative role, each organization should continuously strive through an organized plan to enlarge its membership. It should endeavor to inform unorganized blind people of its purposes and functions. The organized blind men and women within these organizations have found common bonds of philosophy and objectives. Our strength and effectiveness depends upon our ability to bring others within this common bond. It is much easier and more desirable to settle our differences of opinion as equal members within one organization than it is to compete publicly as rival groups.
Representation requires more than a membership. It requires that each organization of the blind formulate and actively present its program and criticism to its state legislature, to administrative boards, and to public administrators. It is essential that each organization have a legislative committee, board, or officer expressly charged with the responsibility for carrying out its legislative function. It is only through the Federation and its state affiliates that blind people can effectuate their programs and philosophy both at the state and national levels. The Federation’s national program is formulated by the collective will of its affiliates. After the national program is formulated and implemented, the National Federation of the Blind must depend upon the active support of its state affiliates in order to successfully achieve the program objectives. It is only through the dedicated work and cooperation of members and organizations that the inferior, dependent ward status of the blind can be replaced by equality, dignity, and right. Any enterprise or project which is dedicated to the advancement of our common cause and to the achievement of first class citizenship for the blind deserves the support and active participation of all organizations of the blind.
- Organizations of the blind should be managed and operated democratically. This standard requires adherence to the principle that the membership is the primary authority of the organization. Preferably, a general convention of the membership or elected delegates of the membership should be held annually. To assure democratic control, the membership of a state affiliate must meet and its principal executive officers must be elected at least once in every two years. There can be no closed memberships. Procedures for internal discipline should apply equally to each member.
Each organization must have a written constitution or bylaws setting forth the structure of the organization, the authority of its officers and representatives, and their terms of office.
- Organizations of the blind have found that operating funds are necessary to carry on their constructive programs and projects. In the spending of contributed funds, no affiliate shall divide publicly contributed funds among individual members on the basis of membership. Each affiliate must maintain adequate records of publicly contributed funds and must be able to account for the expenditure of such funds in accordance with the stated purposes given in the solicitation of such funds.
- Participation in and representation at the national conventions are important duties and functions of each affiliate. In recent years, the National Federation’s greeting card sales program has resulted in the disbursement of considerable sums to its participating affiliates. Current prospects are that future disbursements will be much larger. Since such disbursements are more than adequate to send at least one representative from each participating affiliate, such representation at national conventions, commencing with 1956, shall be required as a condition precedent to each participating affiliate’s right to its disbursement in the following year; provided that a deprived affiliate shall be entitled to an appeal to the Executive Committee or to the convention. An affiliated organization which fails to be represented at three consecutive national conventions may be considered inactive and may be suspended as an affiliate by the Executive Committee.
- The moneys disbursed by the Federation to its affiliates are received on a basis of representations made to the public. It is therefore made a condition precedent to such disbursement that the affiliates make a full report to the Federation of their use of these funds and establish proper accounting procedures, the adequacy of the reports and accounting procedures to be determined by the Executive Committee of the Federation.