April 9, 2013

The club model is not dead, but it does need some help

I've recently heard of an idea generated by the Optimist International Board of Directors that will create a
"member at large" category of membership. It has been suggested as an amendment to the organization's bylaws to be reviewed and voted on by members who attend the Optimist International Convention in July, 2013.

As written, the member at large option would allow an individual to bypass an Optimist Club and associate directly with Optimist International. It has been pointed out that this might violate its charter within the constraints of Missouri law, where the organization is officially incorporated and headquartered. Knowing that this option has been proposed and rejected before, I immediately assumed that this conflict with regulation has conceivably  been resolved. From my viewpoint, however, the legal process is not the issue.

The issue is that those in leadership positions would even consider abandoning the club model in order to focus on individual memberships. I've said it before and I will say it again, individuals belong to Optimist Clubs and Optimist Clubs belong to Optimist International.

The traditional service club model may seem old-fashioned to the millennial generation. It may even seem old-fashioned to baby boomers and those outside or in-between, but that does not mean that the club model is dead. It simply means that Optimist Clubs and our perception of Optimist Clubs needs to evolve. But in order to evolve, there must be a foundation that does not tilt with every passing wind. Optimist International must first and foremost establish its unique value proposition and that includes making the case to individuals of the importance of being involved with a local club. Optimist Clubs can then run with the theme to do remarkable things in their communities.

Over the past ten years or so, the organization has struggled to determine what it stands for. Some thought it might be the eradication of childhood cancers and the Cure Childhood Cancer Campaign was established. Some thought it might be Optimist Junior Golf Championships and the golf tournament broke away from the Junior World of Golf and grew in its own right. Still even others thought it was simply to bring out the best in kids and they began promoting a mission so broad that nothing differentiates it from other organizations, schools, groups, and countless others who work for children's causes.

I posit that Optimist International's UVP should instead be similar to the following statement:
"Using the philosophy of the Optimist Creed, Optimist Clubs make positive changes in their communities. Optimist International provides resources to help Optimist Clubs effectively manage their time and the impact of their community service projects." 
Optimist International needs to get out of the leadership business and make itself a resource to its clubs instead of individual people.

With more resources, like grant opportunities, event planning ideas and marketing and promotional tools, among others, clubs would have the opportunity to evolve in a meaningful way. As Optimist Clubs evolve, Optimist International will prosper, but it is incumbent upon the organization to lift its clubs up. It must ask its clubs what they need and then do their best to respond.

Most of all, I believe that Optimist International must stop trying to recruit members for themselves. I can't think of a bigger competitor for Optimist Clubs than the umbrella organization to which they all belong.
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