July 2, 2013

Having a voice, or not, at the international convention

Some of my friends, representing different Optimist Clubs around the globe, are checking in on Facebook with their locations today as they head to their ultimate destination: the 95th Optimist International Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio. It will take place July 4-6, 2013. 

At the convention, new international officers will be selected during a mostly ceremonial election. According to Optimist International bylaws, nominations are not accepted from the floor and the International President-elect and regional Vice Presidents-elect are therefore running unopposed. 

The Board of Directors, with two seats to fill, will be chosen from a slate of six candidates. While still no nominations may be made from the floor, at least in this category delegates will have a choice to make. 

Delegates will also muddle their way through 19 proposed amendments to the bylaws. Theoretically, the delegates will have discussed all of these issues with the club that they represent because, as I've said here many times, individuals belong to Optimist Clubs and Optimist Clubs make up Optimist International. Therefore the bylaws should apply to and be approved by Optimist Clubs.

Somewhere in the early part of this century, that idea became skewed. The role of international board of directors was invented and a push for individual representation was on. The challenge, and partially why I am not attending this year's convention festivities, is that the focus for Optimist International began moving away from providing benefit to its member constituents (Optimist Clubs) to providing a more public benefit. Through efforts such as the Childhood Cancer Campaign, Optimist International began raising and giving money away to a third party. 

This year, one of the amendments to be considered allows individual memberships to Optimist International. The need to belong to an Optimist Club will be removed by this pilot program. While I am outraged, the crafters of the proposal say, don't worry, these members won't be allowed to vote. Well, now, isn't that special. If successful, there will be a large portion of members without a voice. If not successful, the organization will have still told its member clubs, we're looking to replace you. What a lose-lose situation for all and, in my opinion, a public relations debacle. 

Optimist International posted on its Facebook page today that 1,000 persons are registered for the convention. That includes staff, vendors, and family members of registered delegates. That seems like a rather low number although percentage-wise it's probably within acceptable terms. And as I mentioned earlier, I'm one of those who decided not to go. 

For me, a three-day trip to Cincinnati would have required, due to airline availability out of Boise, four days and at least $2,000. I would have gladly made the trip if I felt that had a real need to be there or if I believed my presence would make a difference. But as I know that communication within the organization is top-down and informational only, I feel shut out. I decided that it was better for me to feel shut out from afar rather than being an island amidst a sea of revelers. Those revelers, Optimist Club members and friends that I enjoy, seem to have somehow forgotten that the purpose of the convention is not social. Social is a benefit, a wonderful benefit; but the purpose of the international convention is to create a forum where member clubs can provide guidance to the organization and generate enthusiasm behind a common purpose. That common purpose is the work of Optimist Clubs.

When they realize that, we'll take our organization back to the Optimist Club model – a model where providing local benefit is empowered by the international umbrella. Service clubs are not dead. Optimist Clubs are not dying. They are just being led astray. It's up to caring members to get them back on track. Contact me to learn more. 

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