by Gary Wunder
We all know that being a chapter or an affiliate president means more than presiding at meetings. Often it means setting the pace by showing through example one’s commitment to the cause and the ambition to get things done. But what happens when activity in one area leads to the appearance of inactivity in another and when those closest to us think we aren’t setting the right example? A discussion of this type came up recently on our chapter president’s list, and some of the concerns and observations seemed appropriate to address here. Names and locations have been changed so that the discussion is more about concepts than individuals. Let’s see what we can learn together:
I am seeking advice. I feel like my chapter presidents and many of my affiliate members are constantly seeing all the things that I do not do and not seeing the things that I actually get done. My local chapter president is upset with me because I missed the June and July chapter meetings. During the July meeting I was up in Buffalo preparing for our BELL Academy and attending the Northern Lakes chapter meeting, and during the June meeting, I was attending a family event for blind children put on by another foundation here in Kansas. I am being criticized for not supporting or showing up when the truth is that what I am doing is giving my time freely to the Federation. It just comes as a shock with this last wave of criticisms—being told that I am micromanaging by telling the chapter presidents to play the Presidential Release during their meetings. Our student division is at a halt with all of the leaders resigning from that division. I am just tired. How do you all keep on continuing on when you feel like all the work that you do is not noticed or appreciated? How do you not let the criticisms get to you? I love this organization and am willing to serve when and where I am needed. However, sometimes it is just draining to feel alone.
Thank you for reading, and thank you for any advice that you might be able to share.
One response was offered by Anil Lewis, the executive director of the NFB Jernigan Institute:
Ah yes. This brings back memories. The joy of being an affiliate president.
One of the ways that I attempted to address this issue is to prepare a monthly memo to all chapter presidents (I would also copy the chapter board members) to let them know what I was doing and to guide them with suggestions on things they could be doing as well. The memo let everyone know that I was busy doing things we can all take pride in and set an expectation that they should not be criticizing but working as well. You could strengthen this by also inviting the chapter presidents to submit items for the memo as well. It would be more difficult for them to complain that you are not doing anything if they are not equally as active. Of course, this is an additional administrative burden for you, but the benefit outweighs the extra work.
Scott LaBarre, a veteran president in Colorado offered these observations:
Autumn, you have been getting some great advice. One thing that I would add is that we follow a practice of inviting all chapter/division presidents to every board meeting whether they participate on the phone or in person. I appoint them to committees and keep them very engaged and involved. Other than having an official vote, they really are acting like board members. You should also not forget the social aspect for building camaraderie. For example, just this past Saturday, we held an in-person NFBCO Board Meeting which several chapter/division presidents attended. Afterwards, we shared some drinks and snacks and hung out for a while. All in all, it was a great afternoon.
I took my turn at offering some advice as well:
One of the struggles of any Federation leader is to figure out how much time to use in one’s life for Federation work and how much time to live out the goals of the Federation. If one of my goals is to be an integrated member of my community, I can’t spend all of my time at a writing desk putting together a magazine. I can’t spend all of my time attending chapter and board meetings with the message that all of us should be out in the community if my example does not show that I too am a part of it. I can’t hope to lead the Federation band without picking up an instrument, but there can be no Federation band if I am the only instrument playing.
You have to do enough work in the Federation that you deserve the elected position you have campaigned for, but you have to work at a pace that will let you run a marathon and not leave our ranks because you thought you were continually required to run a sprint. Let your heart be your guide, but don’t leave it exposed. It is a good heart; take care of it for all of us. You too have the right to live the life you want, and I thank you for showing us through example how that is done.
A real pearl was offered by Immediate Past President Maurer who said:
You are not alone. I am a buddy of yours. Now, we don't talk very often, but that doesn't mean I'm not a buddy of yours.
Being criticized is a badge of honor when the right people are doing it. Sometimes if your friends do it, this can be painful. However, when you carry around the notion (as I do) that you know what you want to get of this organization, things get a lot easier. I know that I want certain things. I want the subminimum wage to go away. I want employment for the blind to become practical at many different levels. I want technology to be accessible and reasonably simple to use. I want educational opportunities for the blind to exist at every level. I want blind people to be welcomed into society as valuable members of the community. I can't get these things without help. If I thought I could get them without help, I would do it. However, I know I can't. Consequently, I get a bunch of friends about me and we make plans together to change the nature of the world in which we live. For example, I need friends like you. What does this mean? Don't give up on me. I will not give up on you. Don’t worry that I’m perfect because I’m not. I make lots of mistakes. You can criticize them if you want to. When you’re done with the criticism, let’s make a plan to change the world. If you plan with me, I will listen a lot harder to your criticisms.