April 4, 2013

When success doesn't equal growth

At the Boise Noon Optimist Club evening meeting this week, Larry Highley (right) announced that he was running for club president. That was quite welcome news for a club that has been twisting arms to get members to step into leadership roles.

You see, the Boise Noon Optimist Club has been suffering from membership problems of late. Not that all service clubs don't experience attendance and participation issues, but the Boise Noon Club's are just a little bit different.

About 12 years ago, the Boise Noon Optimist Club partnered with the City of Boise to develop the Optimist Youth Sports Complex. It seemed like a great idea and with a growing population in Boise, more and more kids would soon be going through their popular football program as players or cheerleaders.

What happened is the Optimist Club became developers, fundraisers, coaches, facility maintenance workers, and concessionaires of a vibrant city park instead of being an Optimist Club. Wow! Some might say, what a great problem to have! But for some, that level of commitment and involvement became tantamount to having a second job. For others, the coaches especially, the commitment began and ended with the twelve weeks they devoted to the football program each year. They didn't share the ongoing, year-round commitment that the Optimist Club members owned.

Signing the coaches on as Optimist Club members didn't help and while the club averaged membership levels of approximately 280 people for at least 8 years, less than 15 members would regularly attend meetings. Those 15 were getting quite a workout, tending to fields and facilities, and recruiting volunteers to staff the concession stands and other spots needed to run a sports facility.

They would try valiantly to host other programs and have been successful in maintaining a relationship with Mountain States Tumor Institute (MSTI) at St. Luke's Hospital as part of the Childhood Cancer Campaign, but other programs fell by the wayside. There wasn't enough manpower to do it all.

To right-size their club, they dropped most of those football coaches last year and now sport only 76 members on the roster; but recruiting more members has been a tough sell for this Optimist Club. The successful football program is well known and people very often say, "My kids aren't in football; I'm not interested," or "No thanks, I don't want to be involved with a football program." Unfortunately, the club has put itself in a position that it can't say, "But we do so much more!"

This is an example of when success doesn't always equal growth.

Now back to Larry. Larry is one of the regular 15 members that attends most meetings, fundraisers and football games. He came to Boise from an Optimist Club in Missouri several years ago and hadn't wanted to step up to lead because he has already been there and done that. But he knew that something had to give or the Boise Noon Optimist Club would wither away.

His election will usher in a new era. I predict that the Boise Noon Optimist Club will soon be the sponsor of  Boise Optimist Football and that they will hire people to run the program and facilities. As an experienced association manager, let me say, that is how it should be. Volunteers are great. I love to volunteer; but sometimes, professional management is needed to take a group to the next level.

Good luck, Larry. I hope you achieve your goals.

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