|Dedication||Who, what, where and how?|
Section 1: The Context - (Exploring issues - dynamics - models - intentions)
Section 2: The only thing you really need - (Start here - do the rest later if you want to)
Section 3: Putting all the pieces into place
|3-1||Your Vision - Mission Statement|
|3-2||Your Identity - Your Name|
|3-3||Forming a Society - Charitable Status? Your Constitution|
|3-4||Basic Organizational Procedures: Goal Setting & Accountability, Board Meetings, Annual General Meetings, Keeping Minutes, Financial Reporting, Bank Account|
|3-5||The Phone Line|
|3-6||Promotions, PR and Fund-Raising|
|3-8||Other Promotional Tools: Web-page, directories, magazines, newsletters, membership-drive, networking, speakers bureau.|
|3-9||Your Charter - An Orientation|
|3-11||Conflict Resolution & Mediation|
Section 4: Conclusion
Copyright © 1996 by Felix Markevicius
Phase 1 - A tidal wave of energy hit Vancouver a few years back, it was men waking up to their issues, and the deep mythic aspects of their masculinity. A group of men woke up, with the help of teachers like Robert Bly and Michael Meade, and started on a journey of self-discovery. They said, 'why don't we bring these guys to town?'; and they did, and they made a bunch of cash, because this was something new and exciting for men, who came along in droves. And they said 'hey let's put a magazine together', and they did, and it won awards. But over time, the men stopped coming to the workshops, and they didn't make any more money, and the money they'd made had all been spent on the magazine, and it all just started to dwindle away.
Phase 2 - In the trough of that wave of energy, a few guys had started to see that there were other important things that Vancouver MEN were doing, and it would be a shame to lose them, and it didn't take much cash, just a whole bunch of effort. So the Wisdom Council found a new leader, and some new guys came along to keep up with the formation of men's groups, and some more said they would put time in on the board, and try to help things along.
Phase 3 - We started to expand, and add new things to what we'd done before, not letting the changes and disappointments get to us too much (some of the older guys still hanker after the good old days - 'bring back old yeller' they say, not realising he's dead and buried). Here are some of the things the current Board of Directors have created.
John O'Sullivan - Past President - has started the Speakers Bureau, and the Speaker Series, where we invite local leaders/counsellors/experts in to an open meeting to inform and guide our members. He's also made appearances on national TV and local radio in Vancouver, promoting our cause and men's work/issues. He also co-founded our first men's and women's talking circle.
Ken Dent - Treasurer - keeping a tight rein on our finances - ably assisting with promotions and soothing our sometimes troubled waters with his doctor's skills, insights and witch-doctor charms.
Tony Smith - Newsletter Editor - created it from scratch to produce an effective and professional looking journal, that helps build our membership and allows us to stay connected. He also created our web-page from scratch, allowing other groups around the world to become aware of us and seek out our 'expertise'.
Ed Gabriel & Godfrey Levy - Phone Line and Group Coordinators - Our front line men, the human face of our organization. Ed has personally liaised with almost all the men who've contacted us, and personally help set up groups, to the extent of combing the local beaches to find an appropriate talking stick, that he began carving for each group, and delivered at the first meeting of each group which he helped to get going.
Felix Markevicius - that's me - I like to write things down, this handbook, another second handbook for men's groups, focusing on men's issues and group dynamics, not to mention our brochures and reams of poetry I sometimes get to read at meetings.
I have an idea this thing is going to be big, it's just about putting the bits and pieces into place. If you are reading this, you may well be part of what it becomes. It all starts with men like those named above, who are willing to make a contribution. Are you? A man does not stand alone when he comes from his heart.
This handbook is dedicated to the dream of what might be, as we reach out our hands, brother to brother.
The phenomenon of self-help groups has such energy that they are even difficult to compile in a directory; as soon as you publish your directory it is out of date - new organizations have formed, others changed or folded. But where are they coming from? They are as diverse as any issue you might see discussed in a newspaper. They are about people wanting to give something back, and who care to reach out to others; people motivated by compassion and their sense of what is right and fair; people motivated by injustice or suffering, who create for themselves a vision of how they personally might change things. But then they realize that the issue, their issue, is too big for them alone, so they look for allies so they might be more effective and make more significant change, touching the lives of more and more people.
Often they will have been through their own personal struggle or life difficulty/tragedy, and part of their healing, part of their joy even, is to give back what they have learned in their process of taking care of themselves. So it's about growth, and triumph over life's problems, and it's about helping others reach that same place.
So it starts with one woman or man, their issue and growth, and the idea, the possibility of giving something back. They may not have, and often will not have, any particular qualification for the 'job' they set up for themselves. But they are willing to do the work of figuring it out for themselves, as they go along. So they try to put all the little bits and pieces into place to help the idea come to fruition, and gradually become more adept, aware and wiser. Along the way they figure out a lot about human dynamics, and politics, but through all the frustrations and problems along the way, it is the warmth and courage in their hearts that pulls them through. Some great things have been achieved by self-help groups; some are being achieved right at this very moment; some remain to be achieved, perhaps by the group you will help to establish.
This handbook has grown out of my experiences in a men's self-help organization. It is part of my growth, and healing, and expresses 'a gift' that I might share with others. It expresses my own thoughts and ideas, as well as prejudices and ignorance. I am no expert, just a person the same as any other who cares to try to reach out to others. So the ideas written about here are just suggestions that you may use or discard at will, perhaps superseded by your own personal insights and knowledge. I have done no research backed up by years of academic study and qualifications. I still struggle on a day to day basis to make sense of the interactions that occur within the self-help group I am a part of. Perhaps this handbook is merely a guide you will use for a short period on your journey. Maybe you'll toss it in the trash. So be it. If you come across something better, let me know!
My own life journey has taken me through a process of exploring my personal, family and relationship issues in a mixed group setting, in men's groups, and currently as a director of a men's organization that puts men's groups together. In my earliest days, we had 12 men on the board of directors, and we were in conflict and really struggled to hear each other. I'd been doing a lot of dream work at the time, and one day before a board meeting my body wisdom was telling me to take a nap. So I lay down for an hour, and had an interesting dream. Somehow I could fly, and a marvellous statue/icon, somehow alive, but fixed in place, huge in size, similar to the statue of Liberty, was before me. On her outstretched hand she wore a Ring of Power on her index finger, and I engaged in a struggle to remove the Ring, which I managed to do. But as I wrestled the ring from her finger, the Keys of Wisdom, which had lain hidden in her cupped hand, fell into the ocean below us, and were lost. What I took from this was that were I to wrestle for power, then I would suffer the loss of wisdom. My ego says to fight and overcome. Another part of me says wisdom is hidden along a different path. Ever since, at the board discussions, and elsewhere, it's not about winning anymore, but about suggestions, and shared perspectives, and working for agreements. And going along with the group decision. It is those people who hang in, and who keep showing up that will determine the ultimate outcome. The heat of the forge is tempering our minds and hearts. At the end of that year, ten had left, leaving two to rebuild the vision, and the process.
Maybe that great statue was more than my immediate issue, of conflict on the board. Maybe it was Feminism herself, or woman's wisdom? Maybe it was a disowned part of myself? What is that edifice? -what does it represent? Power can destroy. How then to wield power compassionately, and with wisdom, and to build and not destroy? Some of these questions are played out in this handbook, and will be played out in whatever self-help situation you create.
Welcome to men's work! And thank you for reaching out to your brother in distress. There is a glue that holds the fabric of our society together, and that glue is the support and good-will of our neighbours. In creating a support organization for men you are fostering the growth of understanding of men for themselves, and for everybody in the arena of men's issues.
There is a panoply of men's issues that the world is seemingly waking up to. Of course women's issues are real and deserving of support. Entrenched cultural attitudes around the world often subjugate women to lesser or subservient roles to men. But in the western cultures, massive strides have been taken towards equality and the establishment of support structures in many areas for women. This is good work, and deserves continued support, and in no way is men's work intended to demean or suppress women, or turn back the clock on women's issues.
The focus on women's issues has taken place over many decades, and in many forms. Overt political action has raised awareness about women's aspirations and hopes and desire for self-determination and self-expression outside the home environment. Initially feminist activists were laughed at, ridiculed and suppressed. Victories were hard won, required determination and strength, but gradually men came on board and supported women's aspirations as they were persuaded by the moral arguments and the passion of women who played leading roles and made tremendous sacrifices. The history of feminism makes fascinating reading and is enlightening for men who embark on the adventure of exploring masculine issues.
The parallels are there, and the lessons are there. Victories will be hard won. You may be ridiculed and your ideas suppressed, even your rights denied. Determination and strength of will is required. Change may take decades. There is an entrenched social attitude that is in denial or asleep to the very real issues of men. But gradually leaders will find compelling moral arguments, be willing to take a stand and speak for equality for men; and gradually the men's movement will take foothold, and win more converts, both amongst men and women.
This is not a gender battle! The 'mystery' of men and women is about complementing each other; working, living and loving together, and finally having the opportunity of creating life-fulfilling partnerships. No, it's not a gender battle; this mutuality will never change for individual men and women. But it is a political battle; a battle of ideologies, and finally of dollars, as varying groups must argue for a piece of the financial pie to fund their programs and organizational structures.
Let's not be naive; the political arena is adversarial - there are winners and losers. Entrenched feminist ideologues have attempted to rewrite history as the oppression of women by men. The most cynical (mislead?) attempt to paint men as inherently oppressive or dangerous to women. Astoundingly, some of these extremists maintain positions of influence and power; from this place they are able to guide social actions and even help construct laws that are so unbalanced vis-à-vis gender issues, that they may fairly be judged to poison gender interactions, with corresponding tears in the social fabric. This malaise must be confronted by fair-minded men and women. I believe the time of the extremist is coming to an end, fortunately.
In the meantime, these feminist extremists will paint any advance on men's issues as a loss for women; this is to be expected - they are attempting to 'win', to maintain their position of power and uphold a belief-system that maintains women as victim, and men as oppressor, and that fails to fairly take into account men's contributions to society, men's aspirations, men's rights, and men's needs.
When will mainstream feminism speak to some of these men's issues? - men are twice as likely to be victims of violence as women are; the suicide rate for men is four times the rate for women; men are 20 times more likely to die on the job than women through workplace accidents. (These figures are quoted for Canada.) Perhaps more men are victims of sexual assault and rape as perpetrated in our prisons, than women in general are - does anyone care to do that study and confront that issue? Again, this is not about denying the realities that women face, it is about waking up to the realities that men face.
When we focus exclusively on the needs and victimization of one gender, women, we inevitably paint the other gender as oppressor and undeserving of support. This is ultimately inhumane and desperately unfair. It creates misunderstanding between men and women and further erodes the social fabric. Fatherhood is under attack - in divorce proceedings fathers are routinely denied shared custody rights supposedly 'in the best interests of the child' - and consequently frequently excluded from meaningful participation in their children's upbringing. Meanwhile our prisons are full of men and boys who were raised without a father.
Have we gone so far to the extreme in supporting women's gains that we have lost balance and are actually harming our children, gender interactions, and abusing men through our negligence of men's issues? When will men's programs (support groups, anti-suicide, prisoners rights, fathers rights etc.) start to receive funding equivalent to funding provided for women's programs? Is feminism really about equality? Feminism is losing adherents and credibility precisely because it is failing to find balance in gender issues and failing to address the very real issues of men; after all, individual women and men are interested in forming loving partnerships based on mutual respect and equality. A feminist agenda that loses sight of this mutuality does us all a disservice and needs to be vigorously confronted.
It might fairly be said that women hold the moral higher ground when it comes to gender issues; any time a man attempts to speak of his issues, his needs, his rights, it's hard for him not to appear resentful or disparaging or dismissive of women's issues in the current social climate. Thus ascendant feminism has cast a shadow over 'masculism' that it is hard to move away from.
Perhaps one way to be heard is to begin any dialogue stating that while you seek to advance your issues, this is not about diminishing or attacking women's gains; it is about mutuality, and equality of need. And then you may need to repeat that statement every third sentence. And still not be heard…
You must ask your detractors if feminism really is about equality, then when is it time to address those areas where men are in need and suffering too? Are we building walls or bridges between men and women? -Fostering alienation or understanding? Change is starting to happen, as courageous feminists are challenging the most extreme elements of feminism. But men have to learn to speak up for themselves; men have to learn how to support themselves and each other, and be willing to enter the political arena on their own behalf.
Let me draw a picture for you: If a terrorist throws a bomb into a room and a man and a women are injured, normal human decency and compassion says we should help both the man and the woman. How could it be otherwise? And yet there are metaphorical bombs going off in our society today, and too often feminism can be seen to say - help the woman - ignore the man.
This is not about claiming victimhood, it is about saying that individual people have rights and needs and are deserving of recognition and support, and that no distinction should be made on the colour of their skin, the religion they follow, their sexual orientation, and finally, when we all wake up, whether they are a woman or a man.
Do you really want to start a self-help organization, or maybe what you want is a men's group? These are two different things. A men's group helps you to explore personal, emotional and masculine issues, such as family and relationship problems, what it means to be a man, fatherhood issues and so on. It can be a very supportive place; it can be a very challenging place; it can help you go deeper into yourself, to help you develop greater awareness and self-understanding. It can help you find balance, and meaning, and clarify life-goals. (Separate manuals exist that focus on men's groups.)
A men's self-help organization is something else, with the main emphasis on networking and outreach, research, providing referrals and resources, major organizational processes such as finding and organizing volunteers, setting up a phone line, perhaps a newsletter, even a web-page, getting funding. The desire is to support a larger group of men with their own personal issues, men who may want to share support in a men's group setting. A self-help organization can help create that for them.
It might generally be said that going through your own men's group experience would be beneficial if you are intending to set up a men's organization, so you can become familiar with issues and group dynamics, things that will crop up on a regular basis; learning how to debate issues, find compromise, resolve conflicts, maintain cooperation. 'Good-will' will be a large factor in your success; how do you get it? - how do you keep it? Just because we're trying to help men in a common cause doesn't mean that egos and personalities won't get in the way. Crazy, irrational, dysfunctional things may/will happen; someone, a former ally, may end up trying to destroy what's been built. It can be very frustrating, but it can also be very rewarding.
Whatever happens, it is a learning process, there will be valuable life-lessons in the undertaking, and it will probably take you places you can't even imagine.
The place we first start is simple - an idea. A vision. An intention. A goal. Any organization is structured around a particular idea; men will join and support your organization on the basis of the intention you have, that vision will bind the organization together.
If you are reading this then you probably already have a good idea of what it is you want to do with your organization. The next step is to define specifically what your intention or goal is. That might be a series of statements written out in point form. Try to use plain language, that is balanced and expressed in positive terms, rather than the negative. Try to focus on the issue of equality, and what that means for your organization. Try not to discount women's issues in the same area, acknowledge them but note that your intention is to support men in ways similar to the support women are already receiving. This may mean research and discussion. Try to find out if there are any similar organizations already focussing in your area of interest. Maybe they've already done this organizational work, could use your help and can more effectively help you reach your goal if you joined them than if you started your own organization. Alternatively, you may learn from and guide each other.
How many people do you need to create your vision? What skills are required? What tasks are envisaged? Job descriptions? You can probably find a few volunteers, even if you have to resort to advertising your intent and asking for participants. This is where outreach begins, recruitment!
In so far as you can, build inclusivity into your organization; openness in intent, action and debate helps to create a healthier organization with fewer internal issues and a longer lifespan. It may take longer to find agreement with people coming from diverse backgrounds and issues, but when you move together your strength multiplies. Allow the vision and passion of others to be a part of the generating energy for your organization. Include women; they may become your best allies… But men's support groups will need to be exclusively male for masculine therapeutic reasons.
We are all volunteers and deserve acknowledgement and respect for the contributions we make. Life, our own issues, may call any of us a way at any moment; let's not blame each other, instead remember and thank every man for his contribution, both at his coming and going, thus we always try to keep the door open.
A big part of the coherency of the organization you establish will depend on 'self-care'. Volunteer outfits tend to demand much, and our passion leads us in, but with jobs/careers and families to juggle, we must be wary of burn-out. This is supposed to be, and can be, a good, even pleasant experience. Yes there are serious issues we're addressing, but don't lose your sense of humour, or balance. Be wary of the judgemental attitude: "You have to do it this way or you're all f**ked"; variations include: "My way or the highway"… This is a recipe for ill-will and separation. There are many routes to the same destination. Compromise will be required and displays growth and maturity. But coming back to self-care: try to keep a balance - work - rest - play; don't sacrifice all your off time for 'the cause'. Time away helps you to renew and get invigorated. Look at where your boundaries are; what are you not attending to that deserves some of your time? Family, hobby, exercise? Good self-care helps you to keep your energy up, your vision clear, and keeps you juiced for the long haul. It's ok to take time for yourself; in fact, it's essential! The people who will burn-out will be those with the poorest boundaries and those who lose their sense of balance. Often they will blame someone else for their feelings - and may have contributed a considerable amount to the organization - but "you didn't do this…" or "lacked vision…" i.e. "you screwed up and that's why I'm leaving…". Sacrifice breeds resentment. I believe good self-care ultimately determines the longevity of an organization. It may not look like it, but we're helping our organization by saying to each other "it's ok to take time off!" - even if an 'essential' task doesn't get done this month… After all, this so-called 'essential' task wasn't being done before we started our organization. And as we grow and develop, contingencies will be put in place for the 'essential' tasks. But for now it will depend on individual men, and their time and energy, and sometimes we will screw-up.
Sometimes people will go away for no apparent reason, with or without an explanation. A healthy perspective on this is that they are taking care of themselves, and this is how they know how to do it, and may not understand it themselves, but are just responding to an inner drive or impulse. We're all working on our issues, and all of us will be coming from a more or less dysfunctional background.
The organization we form could stay at a simple level - a few friends who try to make a difference, address an issue in their area or town. Or it could grow, attracting many others and this simple grouping evolves into a registered society that obtains fund raising benefits for itself, has a definite structure - directors - board meetings - and can sell memberships, or a charitable organization that receives tax benefits and promotes itself and its work on a national scale. In all cases the fundamentals will stay the same -
The next sections proceed from these fundamentals, which are developed and explored in greater depth.
The 'Health Model' - Any self-help group will struggle with this concept on an ongoing basis, both internally, with its own procedures, and externally, with the services it wishes to provide to its 'clientèle'. For instance: Does the health model for drug addicts mean legalising drugs, and treating addiction as a medical problem and so providing services? Or does it mean harsher penalties, longer prison sentences, for pushers and possessors? - With any services simply promoting more addiction and subsequent social problems? I have seen advocacies for both sides as recently as this week in my local newspaper (The Vancouver Sun, Vancouver, British Columbia, October 11, 1997). In these types of issues, we may/should draw guidance from programs established elsewhere in the world, and learn from their results.
You may be clear on your concept of 'health' for the issue you are addressing, but don't be surprised if vested interests or other groups challenge your assumptions and model. This debate can be vehement, as opponents battle for recognition, the higher moral ground, and ultimately funds that often mean 'survival' for their group, and vindication of their belief and value system. Who's going to fund a group that is based on false assumptions, or is 'demonstrably' unbalanced, or oppressive? And you thought you were only trying to help…
It really does become a survival issue, with all the passion and energy that may create. This conflict of opposing values and belief systems is messy, real and enervating. We may be left in the frustrating position of not being able to understand another groups 'reality', and our work may become stuck, as we are seen as opponents to their ascendant/accepted and socially/politically entrenched philosophy. Politicians are keenly aware of 'constituencies', i.e. where their political support and opposition lies, and will prefer not to upset strong vociferous groups. (In Canada, Prime Minister Chretien has declared himself to be a feminist). Saying the wrong thing can mean political suicide. The new kid on the block (you) has little influence until you can demonstrate a sizeable constituency and political 'savvy' - the willingness to understand politicians problems and limitations. Politicians are human too, they want to address urgent social issues, but not at the expense of failing to be re-elected. Thus we see few politicians providing outspoken leadership on issues of abortion, or drug-legalisation - where there are sizeable constituencies on both sides. So your 'Health Model' needs to take into account the political and social realities of the day; sometimes change may only happen over a longer period of time as we are able to educate and influence others with our perspective. Meantime, focus on balance and growth!
Another example: At one time alcoholics were considered to be bums and degenerates - these were the people you might have seen passed out in the gutter. Or they were hidden away behind closed doors, and their secret was held tightly within the family. But then some courageous people founded Alcoholic Anonymous, and created a 'health-model' for alcoholics, based squarely on the principle of self-help. Nowadays we see alcoholism as an illness, and we have more compassion for those who suffer, and provide services - such as 'drying-out' facilities, and medical options, as well as support groups. Countless thousands have been assisted by this self-help system and the vision and courage of a few individuals willing to put their ideas on the line.
What about our 'internal' Health Model? What procedures are we going to set up? Who says they are 'healthy'? What makes them healthy? How should we run this organization? Are we building from square one? Who's got some ideas? Is there a template we can use…? Hence this handbook.
A basic, obvious principle, is that to work together as a group we have to be able to make 'agreements'. Sure we may have differing visions, ideas how to do things etc., but the basis of our forward motion is the set of agreements we can make. This means being able to hear each other and understand another's perspective; being able to compromise, meet in the middle (the agreement), and follow through on your word. Ok two people, or groups, may decide they actually want different things, or use differing processes on how to get there; they decide they can't work together… so they split… try again independently. If it's not a one man show, they are still going to have to make new agreements with their current or any new allies they make. You can't get away from agreements.
So the internal health model must focus on the agreement making process, making that process clear, and getting commitment. If you find yourself shuffling from issue to crisis, and back again, consider your agreement making process… This will determine the maturity of your group (are they willing to be pinned down? - are they willing to commit to actual tasks and deliver?), and ultimately your overall effectiveness.
Sometimes 'pathology' is revealed in this process - some people are willing to sit and debate, and stay in that conflict seemingly forever, rather than actually come into agreement and make a commitment. Sometimes as you get close to an agreement, they will divert or create another issue to avoid coming to a resolution on the issue at hand. Somehow it's easier for them to sit and talk rather than do anything. Sometimes they will focus on item 'D', and not allow debate to move to items 'A', 'B' or 'C', which is the rational sequence that must be covered in order to ever resolve 'D'! Sometimes there are complex issues that necessitate this kind of sequential process - A to B to C etc. - only clarity and agreement at each level will allow you to move on to the next level. The 'pathology' seems to be about being stuck mentally/emotionally at one place and not being able to see the bigger picture, or the logical, sequential process. See the following section on 'Good Will' for a further discussion of the health model and group dynamics. Also see the concluding section.
My particular focus is the 'Men's Health Model', but this discussion may be extended to any self-help organization. The context for this discussion is the self-help arena, of course, and also direct comparison with the many and diverse support structures available for women. If you consult your local telephone directory, or one for the nearest large city, you will find a wide range of agencies and organizations listed in the yellow pages in the section for women's organizations. Consider what is listed for men; You may not even find a section for men's organizations! If you do, there will only be a few. In my local area, one courageous individual had to battle the phone company even to get them to open a section for men's organizations!
I don't believe that there is any 'conspiracy against men'; I think rather that this situation reflects the lack of awareness about men's issues. Feminism has done a tremendous job over the years of raising awareness of women's issues, rights and opportunities, and the diversity of social agencies available to women reflects this hard work. This hard work is yet to be done for men. One unfortunate and extreme expression of feminism is that if women have been oppressed, why then, it must be the men that are responsible, and they don't deserve support, just to make it worse for women… For those that care to look a little deeper, they discovered a system, called 'Patriarchy', that essentially subjugates both men and women to prescribed roles, and places expectations and restrictions on both genders. This is revealed in the social statistics. They can be hard to look at. Feminism has said look at these statistical realities, these circumstances of women's lives. And demanded we look and respond appropriately.
Let's now look at some realities of men's lives: in Canada, the suicide rate for men is four times higher than it is for women (perhaps higher, many 'accidents' may actually be suicides). The comparative death rate for workplace fatalities is twenty men for one woman. Men's lifespan is on average 5 or 6 years less than women's. If any of these statistics were reversed, the feminists would be outraged and have proof positive of the 'oppression' of women in our society and demand action, programs and funds tailored specifically to these issues. Yet when it is men suffering in this way, we hear not a peep… no action… no programs… no funds…
One argument that is used is that there are many health structures in place for men, the doctors and mental health professionals; and we have to ask - why aren't the men using them? There are many complex factors at play here, but what is fairly plain to see, is that we need to construct a health model for men. In the same way that Alcoholics Anonymous constructed a health model for alcoholics; in the same way that feminism has constructed a model and system of support for women. Right now there is a health model gap or vacuum for men. And so we need to begin to educate ourselves, and to actually fund programs tailored for men. But first we need to have the courage to confront the current attitude that would seemingly deny men recognition of their issues and equal rights of access to support and funding for their programs.
The self-help movement has focused its work in the area of addictions - alcoholics anonymous (AA) - adult children of alcoholics (ACOA) - codependents anonymous (CODA) and so on. Valuable support is provided by these groups worldwide, as they focus on immediate support for individuals who wish to confront their 'addictions', and who are willing to recognize that their lives are unmanageable. What is becoming clear is that theses addictions are the visible symptoms of a dysfunctional family of origin - the basic needs of the children growing up in these families were not met - and the addictions are how the pain of loss, abandonment and suffering manifest themselves in our lives.
This work is beginning to show that many, and perhaps most of us, were raised in less than ideal circumstances, and have to deal with the fall-out from dysfunctional families of origin, or perhaps painful childhood incidents. Some have suffered severe abuse and are still deeply traumatized. This is not about blaming our parents, who often were just doing the best they knew how, coping with their own pain and trying to get on with life, but it is about naming the issues and getting some power over them. We are the fortunate generation, in that these issues are more widely known; teachers like John Bradshaw, and Melody Beattie are able to help us deal with family and subsequent relationship issues (where we often replay family of origin dramas).
These 12-step groups have a rigid format, with their essential elements unchangeable. This has therapeutic benefits (we know what to expect!), and we either agree with it and work in this format, or move on to find or create something else. The rule of no cross-talk allows everyone to own their own stuff - their own feelings and reactions - we don't blame or confront or argue. Again this has tremendous therapeutic benefits - we are learning how to establish 'healthy boundaries' - what someone else experienced or is feeling is their stuff, what I'm experiencing or feeling, my reactions, are my stuff, no-one is to blame, it is my job to take ownership, grieve my pain and loss, and consequently begin to heal myself in this safe environment. It's safe because I don't have to reveal myself until I'm ready, and no one is going to confront me.
What does this mean for a men's self-help organization? It means that everyone coming in to your organization as volunteers, directors etc. will be somewhere along this spectrum of possibilities - from absolute denial, to working on their issues by attending support groups, to 'graduation' - making healthy choices and in control of addictive impulses, and more self-aware.
The 12-Step format has been developed over decades of trial and error. What should the format be for a men's self-help organization? Everyone is going to have their own viewpoint - after all, everyone 'knows' what it means to be a man. Do not be surprised if crazy or irrational things happen. These are simply unhealed inner wounds and pain being acted out. Warren Farrel has characterized the men who get into men's work as the 'walking wounded', and the mythopoetic branch of the men's movement talks of the 'masculine wound' being a deep invisible psychic scar that influences our interactions - and is often 'acted out' or played out as we struggle to find out how to work together. Often an inconsistency appears, i.e. a man says he acknowledges group consciousness, but won't let go of his disagreement on an issue that the group has decided is fully debated and wishes to move on from. Perhaps the best approach is to as clearly and unconfrontationally as possible highlight the inconsistency in thinking, and stay at that place, until that man can make a consistent choice.
What finally determines our ability to work together and move forward on our goals? An elusive quality called 'Good Will'.
|Good Will||is saying there is a higher purpose here than my own opinion, self-interest or gratification -Good Will is saying its not about getting control or taking power, more about openness, inclusivity and sharing -|
|Good Will||is saying this is about cooperation and compromise, not competition -|
|Good Will||is saying this is not about 'my way or the highway' everyone's opinion is as valid as mine -|
|Good Will||is saying weird stuff will happen, I will do the work of going back and trying to heal the wounds -|
|Good Will||is saying I acknowledge each of us personally and invite all our contributions -|
|Good Will||is saying I must throw away my preconceptions (what a man is supposed to be) and be guided by 'group consciousness' -|
|Good Will||is saying sometimes I will be 'wrong' -|
|Good Will||is saying I will not shame another man when he is 'wrong' -|
|Good Will||is saying this is about doing the work of moving ahead as a group, and working to find agreements -|
|Good Will||is saying I will acknowledge my own limitations and issues, as best I can -Good Will is saying I will work on my issues, I will acknowledge my boundaries, I will take ownership -Good Will is saying sometimes my expectations will not be met, and I choose not to hold resentments -Good Will is saying I acknowledge and participate in the conflict resolution choices/methods the organization wishes to set up -|
|Good Will||is saying I acknowledge the decisions that are made by group consciousness -Good Will is saying it is not about telling another man what to do, or what he 'should' do -|
|Good Will||is saying it's ok for each man to decide his own contribution and limits, we merely invite his contribution.|
What happens when we try to work with good will? Our group procedures, meetings etc. and our organization develops with a buoyant energy, characterized by inclusion and openness, which helps develop in turn an attitude of solving the problem and moving on, and not one of holding resentments and judgements.
On the other hand, we can get bogged down in any of the areas described in the list above (and more I can't think of!). Typically it will be because a man is holding onto an issue, perhaps two men holding to divergent opinions and not willing to compromise. It's like the ego has grabbed hold of it and won't let go, and will fight tenaciously. Our egos are a defence mechanism; anger is a survival tool - when we do grab hold of an issue it often feels like a 'survival issue' - some part of us, because of our childhood experiences, or belief/value system may feel profoundly threatened. Those of us who haven't done our own healing work will more easily fall into this place of intransigence, and may defend our position vehemently, even to the point of destruction of our working relationships and friendships in the organization. In a small organization that is starting up, this attitude can easily derail meaningful progress and even destroy the organization.
If this whole idea is going to work and keep on working, once again the way ahead is to acknowledge that -Good Will is saying there is a higher purpose here than my own opinion, self-interest or gratification -and ultimately, group consciousness must be the deciding factor. After all, we can always go off and start our own organization… But guess what will happen there too…?
Getting your organization off the ground doesn't require a lot of knowledge. In some ways, this handbook is overkill. You may only ever want to read this page, and nothing else. (Maybe later you want to dig around for more ideas?) So what are the Basic Elements in starting up?
If it's going to be more than a one man band -
Determination is saying: "I am going to do it" - and then doing the work of 'doing it'. Without self-care it's just a matter of time before frustration, disillusion and burn-out hit you. 'Good-will' will determine your growth and success.
If you want to get off on a good footing, ask yourself if you have all these components, and work at establishing and maintaining them. Our passion, our idea or vision brings us in, our determination allows us to follow through. It's normal for energy to change over time, yet our vision hasn't changed, it is still a worthwhile, even commendable goal, where then did my energy, my determination go? Raw emotional oomph can take us so far but if our vision is high enough, so that we still recognize it as a worthwhile goal and don't just chuck it away, then we have to be smart enough to know how to renew ourselves. Item 3) above, Self-Care, will help us relieve stress and to renew our energy.
Sometimes our thinking will change; we may realize our approach has been a 'reactionary' one, and a new perspective has dawned on us, reducing the amount of emotional rawness that pushed us into our position. We may decide to let go of our idea at this point, and put the whole thing down to experience. Organizations that base themselves on this kind of 'reactionary', even negative, stance, may lose the energy to sustain themselves over time. A better approach is to think through what you're reacting against and ask yourself-what would be the positive action that would solve this problem, or address this issue, and then express your idea or vision in positive terms and actions. Psychologically this is much easier to sustain over time.
Sometimes the men's movement is judged as being 'reactionary'. Of course as we wake up to and become aware of our issues, then it is normal for human beings to 'react' emotionally - with alarm, disdain, anger, resentment etc. (Try reading Warren Farrel's The Myth of Male Power and not have a reaction!) The challenge at the organizational level is to couch our agenda is positive terms, that look beyond the confrontation of the issue/problem and promote the harmony - equality - health - recognition - balance -support etc. that ultimately we do wish to create through our organizational efforts.
If or when things crap-out, analyse what has happened from a number of perspectives:
Renewal is possible. It is about recognizing change as inevitable, even to be welcomed, even as it is sometimes accompanied by heat and friction as two opposing ideas or agendas clash on the battlefield of debate. What was, has gone. What is to come remains to be created - which is where we started originally. Change can make people uncomfortable, they will often resist it, but it is often about growth and new possibilities. 'Change or die!' I believe is a saying of one of the Hindu gods. Be wary of not being able to adapt or change; it may mean losing support and the ultimate demise of your organization. Of course this has to be weighed against the many chaotic influences or ideas you will encounter in your day to day running of business; you will still need to steer a course that remains true to your vision, mindful of sea-changes, whirlpools, or storms that may lie ahead.
Ultimately renewal is about rebuilding the ship of who you are and where you wish to go, and inviting like-minded people to help construct it with you and to journey on what you have created together. How many times will we be shipwrecked under the weight of false expectations, loss of good-will, burn-out, even just from changing circumstances? How many times will we have to go back to our starting point? This effort comes from a place in our hearts, and is a measure of our own healing, balance, and non-judgement.
In very general terms, we are trying to effect change, or transformation. Where does this happen first? - In our own minds. Permit to quote that masterful document dealing with thought processes and transformation - The Bible - somewhere it says "Be ye transformed by the renewal of thy mind". Whatever happens on this journey, it all ultimately comes back to us as individuals and our own thinking. So do we hold onto our difficulties with resentment or judgement? Or do we recognize those challenges as a new lesson? - a new opportunity to question our thinking, and renew our minds? Is this where transformation actually happens? -for all of us?
You don't even need a plan; I believe one man holding to a higher vision or principle, even without a plan or agenda, a principle that is about service to his fellow man, even without knowing how he might achieve his goal, acts like a beacon in the universe, which responds to that light or intention, to guide events and open doors to help fulfil that service. Try it, hold your intention in mind, perhaps as a daily affirmation, and see what doors open for you. I believe that man with a higher purpose, beyond self-interest, will not, and does not stand alone. That of course enters the spiritual realm, and we are focusing on 'political' objectives; but it is our hearts that inspire us, and I believe our hearts are renewed from that place of spirit.
If one word could encapsulate the above discussion it would be 'INTENTION'. As long as you hold to your intention, everything else is flexible, plans, timetables, personalities -these will all come and go over time. The one constant in this process? Your Intention. Egos can get hung up on plans (the way it's supposed to be…), timetables (this should have happened at this time…), personalities (I don't like the way you did that…). Intention comes from a deeper place; it's open and welcoming and inclusive, and never stops finding a new way to happen.
In general terms, write down phrases that describe what you see yourself doing as an organization. Try not to exclude or discount any ideas at this stage, let's honour each man's contribution (brain-storming).
What practical things do you see yourself doing? What is the intent behind those actions? (on a separate sheet of paper)
Having done Part 1 above, you should discuss as a group, which of the mentioned items is the most Important? And so on through the list until all aspects are prioritised. Separate them into four categories
Once Part's 1 & 2 are complete you should have a good idea of who you are as an organization.
Can you now complete the following sections, using positive language and action verbs; Note that it is hard to construct an appealing statement 'by committee', typically one man will suggest a phrase, which may be slightly modified by another, and which will then gamer approval by the group. Remember, you are learning to compromise and cooperate, rather than compete.
Your Vision (Focus on one or two primary aspects that define your organization)
Our vision is to
Mission Statement (Focus on one or two practical ways that you plan to achieve your vision)
Our mission is to
Let's write out some specific goals we want to achieve, and the deadlines: What do we want to have/do/be…
For each time period above, write down some goals for your organization - what do you see as the lifespan of this organization? What defines success for you? At least get something down on paper, it's not written in stone… you can change it!
You have now defined who you are as an organization! (To yourselves…)
Did you avoid couching your vision/mission statement in negative terms? (It is psychologically very much harder to work for a negative result rather than a positive one - this is one place where language is extremely important).
Now that you've created a vision and mission statement, you've achieved your identity, right? Wrong-O! 99.9% of people will not be able to get past your name to even consider your vision or mission statement. In other words, your identity is almost exclusively created by your name. We live in an age where there is wariness of men's organizations, and even fear of what they are or could be 'up to'.
Some groups want to be secretive and exclusive, closed off to outside inspection (the 'boys club' mentality). The difficulty here of course is that closed organizations can be manipulated to the benefit of a small cadre, or even one man, and not really be established to support their fellow man at all. Some could be rip-off artists who shield themselves in secrecy. Some organizations are reactionary, and repressive of women's issues, and therefore judged to be unbalanced in themselves.
What I'm saying is that by being identifiable as a men's organization, it will immediately conjure up all sorts of associations in the minds of others. Of course there are many people who support the notion and actuality of men's self-help organizations, but perhaps it is fair to say there are many more, unaware of men's issues, who are more likely to react negatively and be dismissive of who you are in the current social climate. So there is some very real 'selling' to be done, to win people over to your point of view, that these issues are important and deserve at least acknowledgement.
In this climate, what's the best thing you can do to avoid this negativity and plant a positive seed in people's minds regarding your organization? Simply this: don't 'hide' behind a non-descriptive name. It should be clear, descriptive, easily and immediately understood. Don't ask people to work too hard to decipher your name! This is your first and last sales tool; you will win or lose more members and supporters (read 'donations') with your name than with anything else you do (barring scandal and sensational events) in the normal course of events.
Here's some examples
Vancouver Men's Evolvement Network (allows the acronym - Vancouver M.E.N. cute, right?) - except that 'Evolvement' means what? - it confuses, diverts, and is non-descriptive - do men need to evolve?
What about 'Network' - is this a business organization?
WE know what we do (mostly put men in men's groups - also have a help line and newsletter), but it is not apparent from our name - any time we have media contact we end up spending valuable sound-bites explaining our name when we could be focusing on issues. Besides, we don't even know what the name means… Of itself, it is almost meaningless - this is not the way to win support or members. What are potential supporters contributing to? What are potential members joining? Hell, we might have had money pouring in the door for the good work we do, if governments/foundations/philanthropists could figure out what the heck we do.
Unless you can come up with a catchy phrase that isn't a 'groaner' and is memorable, it is safer to stick with a clear, descriptive name, even if it is mundane, such as: Vancouver Men's Support Groups Association.
No cute acronym, but it is clear and descriptive, if a little bland. We haven't lost anyone to confusion or having to work too hard, most people know what a support group is, and recognize its value to people in need. It is neutral - non-confrontational and doesn't 'hide'.
When are you deciding on a name - consider 2 or 3 candidates, and do a survey. Ask a series of individuals what they think each name means, and which they prefer and why, and compile the answers for later discussion. When I did this with the two names shown 9 out of 10 people preferred the second name, for the reasons outlined.
A logo can help promote organizational identity - have a competition amongst your members to design a logo. It can be a 'feel-good' thing with immediate visual impact and instant recognition. People will do a double take on a flyer with an appealing or intriguing logo where they might have just skipped over a text based document.
If you do wish to become a registered society, or charitable organization, there are legal restrictions on the names you can use. You may have to pay for a 'name search' to ensure your chosen name doesn't conflict with another organization. Then you will have to pay to register your name. Restrictions are even tighter for charitable societies, for instance Revenue Canada (which grants charitable status in Canada) doesn't like the word 'network', and seemingly may refuse charitable status for a society using that word. Time to do some research if you are planning to go down that route; restrictions will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. (See section on Forming a Society - Charitable Status)
All right! You guys mean business, and are going to go all the way - so whaddya need?
The best place to start with a constitution is somewhere else, I mean with someone else's constitution. Use it as a template to help you design yours. Note that every country/jurisdiction has its own legalities/requirements regarding establishing a society. So what do you get out of it?
Applying to become a registered society establishes your organization as a formally recognized legal entity, with the right to open bank accounts in its name, borrow money, invest funds, offset some financial liability from the members/directors (through insurance). During the course of organizational undertakings, events could arise where individuals or the organization itself can be sued for i.e. negligence, in the way that any company or individual could be sued. Note that directors/members are not allowed to benefit from the society's activities, but may be reimbursed for certain expenses; non-profit societies are essentially voluntary organizations (which may however employ staff).
As a registered non-profit society (which is what I'm talking about), you won't have to pay income tax on your eamings (from membership fees, events, fund-raising etc.) - these can all be ploughed back into your organization to promote your activities. You will be required to file an annual report with the Registrar of Societies, who is mostly interested in your money… where you got it and what you did with it - your report will have to include a Financial Statement. Typically your annual report is produced by the Directors (elected by the members at the AGM) who report their activities over the past year at the subsequent AGM for ratification, and then must file the report within a given period with the Registrar of Societies. Thus while you receive benefits, there are obligations… beware… if you fail to hold AGM's or fail to file reports you may be struck off the Society's List be dissolved by the Registrar and lose your legal standing. This does happen! (Most recently, [September 97] in British Columbia to an aboriginal legal services society - and their directors were lawyers!) So be warned, you must fulfil your legal obligations! Note that you may also be required to keep a list of members with home addresses and membership expiration date.
As a registered charitable society you will be able to give tax receipts for donations and possibly a portion of your annual membership dues. Plus you have much more cachet and credibility with potential financial donors (individuals/companies/foundations) - who like to get a tax receipt for their donations. So not only do you benefit, but your donor benefits by getting a tax credit. In this way your country supports its charitable societies by allowing some of the tax money it would otherwise have received be directed into your coffers. BUT, the requirements to become a charitable society are of course more stringent; there are more involved reporting requirements, and there are definitions on what type of activities are actually considered charitable… e.g. if your main activity is considered political, you may not be given charitable status -charitable status is more likely if your main activity is educational, religious….blah blah blah -Yup, this is where you have to figure it out! Contact your national revenue (tax) office. They will give you pamphlets and forms.
If this is the route you want to go, you could probably figure it out yourself, through research and analysis -but it is a good idea to talk to a lawyer who works in this area; sometimes they have essential insights and know the tricks of the trade. Again wording becomes paramount; using the wrong word, or expressing your activities the wrong way could prevent you from getting charitable status. But when you see a lawyer make sure you are fully briefed and have specific direct questions, to minimise waffling/'discovery' time and ultimate fee. Consider asking a lawyer to join your board… know any likely big-hearted candidates?
In addition you may be required to file a proposed budget or business plan for your organization; or if you've been in operation, your last few years financial records. Once again, note that every country/jurisdiction has its own legalities/requirements regarding establishing a non-profit society or charitable organization, and there may be self-help books that are produced (by another non-profit social agency) to help you work through the steps involved. Yup, we started and we'll end with some dry dull research… But, keep your sight on the road ahead - and - delegate! (Did I say that?)
So you've set up your Mission Statement (maybe even a constitution), so you know what you're about… You've hopefully talked a little about 'Good-Will' and compromise… Maybe you've even skipped ahead and done job descriptions, and people are ready to launch into particular tasks…. Whoaaa Nelly! Now it's time to breathe life into the heart of your organization - your monthly board/group meetings are the heart from which all else is nurtured and vivified. Construct these meetings with as much clarity as you can.
What system do you want to set up for yourself? Time-limited or open-ended debate on issues? (A few 2am finishes might make you think again…) Roberts rules of order? Consensus? Majority vote? Equal vote?-or Chairman/President has deciding vote in event of tie? Location? Rotational hosting of meeting by each board member (home or other location)? Who's taking minutes? (nominal/elected secretary?). Record just motions/votes & outcomes, or the whole debate? Minutes are public record, open to members/others.
Whatever system you decide, consider also the dynamics - Who's not being heard? Who's dominating and why? By dint of ideas and clarity, or personal passion or even aggression? Who's not hearing others? Is an agenda being pushed through that not everyone has bought into? Is it ok to agree to disagree? What commitment is required? My way or the highway! - Says who? Why? Compromise is essential in group settings - ride that bucking bronco of passion, anger, aggression, resentment towards the corral of compromise; sometimes he'll toss you - sometimes you'll get there - sometimes it will be an incredible ride to who knows where…
These are some of the mechanics and dynamics you will have to attend to. But what about Content? Start with a brainstorming session, and the questions: "What do we think we need to do, or should do?" or: "What should be our goals?"
So everyone throws their ideas into the hat (write them on a board, or flip-chart) - look for way-out and even impossible ideas. IMPORTANT - do not judge or debate these ideas at this point, instead allow the free flow of ideas, encourage far-out stuff, after the 'normal' type items have been put-up. This helps to stretch our thinking, and hopefully we can avoid closing anyone down through negativity or ridicule. Sometimes one of these far-out items catches our imagination, it inspires us, and we decide to go for it! Sometimes it helps to make a DEADLY SERIOUS process a lot of fun! (Once it's on the board, it belongs to the group anonymously, and my ego won't get hurt if it isn't subsequently prioritized.)
The next step is to prioritize each of those items as one of - essential - would be nice - ok but get to it later -or impossible right now - too wacky for us - we might get locked-up etc. Then tackle each of your top/essential items in order; and debate how to accomplish it, i.e. decide what tasks are required - set a timetable/schedule - allocate resources of manpower/money (oops did I forget to talk about a budget…? - anyway you probably know how much cash you got and relegated that half-hour TV slot to a later more prosperous time of your existence…). Now we have Commitment. Who is actually going to do what? Did they volunteer, or were they volunteered? What does accountability look like? Some essential tasks are very essential/critical, you don't want to miss e.g. a publication deadline for the promotional launch of your organization, or a deadline for the local phone listings/directory, a conference registration/spot, not get notices of your AGM out in time… All of these have happened and will happen again - to you? Also, let's be realistic, your budget will allow you to do some things, and not others. I've seen grown men wring their hands and get all twisted-up and forget about what could be accomplished right now because the 'world was against them - there's a conspiracy against 'x'… etc.', just because the cold hard cash wasn't instantly available. Earning it, fund-raising, creating a convincing promotion/appeal, building membership was just a little too hard for them… don't see too many men's self-help organizations do ya?
Your minutes should have Action Items highlighted, with Names and Dates written in next to them. Someone needs to ride shotgun, oops a little too much of a violent image perhaps, let's say, be a buddy, to oversee/check in on such critical items and their completion. We are the walking wounded… sometimes we screw-up… in a big way! Don't point that thing at me…
A special word from our sponsors: "Don't trash with the cash!" Which means your Treasurer is scrupulous about recording the ebb and flow of your financial tide. Every dollar/cent coming in should be noted in your accounts. Likewise every dollar/cent going out. Nothing leaves a bad taste like dubious or unrecorded spending. Hopefully your Treasurer has some accounting or book-keeping background. If not you may need to set up a simple recording system for them, with categories where they are to record income and outgoings. Your board needs to be able to follow the flow of finances as an inherent part of their planning; having a current/monthly report is a great help (not only the balance, but also the individual items). This is an excellent tool and safeguard to remove doubts and prove your financial credibility and scrupulosity to members and others. In addition, your accurate financial accounting may one day support your application to become a charitable society. Non-existent financial records do not impress the powers that be - who are there to oversee the appropriate use of public money, and to safeguard public trust. Ideally there's a hacker amongst you who can help to set-up a simple computerized accounting system. Then your coffers can be managed in a very straightforward process. Simply select the account category, enter the numbers going in and going out, and the computer prints a report and balance automatically. This doesn't even have to be on a sophisticated accounts software program - a spreadsheet will do.
Two or more of your officers should have signing authority on your cheques. They will need to sign a form when the bank account is opened. Cheques should require two signatures, and not be pre-signed by even one of the officers. Ok it's a little inconvenient, but a monthly payment of bills is not too much of a delay (at board meetings). Also it's not as inconvenient as someone running off with all your cash, with your signature on the cheque. Again, your Treasurer needs to be on the ball here, if bills don't get paid, e.g. phone line, you might get cut off. Ouch! Consider a petty cash box, with a float of $50 to $100, this will pay for incidentals, occasional mail-outs, office items etc. - receipts need to be provided to be reimbursed - otherwise you've just made a contribution, brother! Some banks will grant no-fee chequing privileges to non-profit societies -check around. (Sorry).
This is where you get to tell all your members what a wonderful job you've done, how much fun you've had, and wouldn't it be great if somebody, anybody, would bloody volunteer to help! They will say 'wow, you were great - see you next year', and clear out at the end if you're lucky. They may say 'you were terrible, why didn't you do this or that' (projects that cost too much or no one wants to do…) and think or imply you are an idiot, or a slick evil mastermind (related to Beelze-boogieman), or a thief, or all three! And still clear out at the end.
If you are really lucky, and you've chosen your AGM at the right-time (say, a full-moon), then someone in a moment of lunar influenced madness may actually volunteer to help or even join the board, to replace the two or three or more burn-outs you've had this year.
If you are really, really lucky, someone is holding a grudge against your board or one of your directors, and shows up to display some verbal fireworks - get set for a rare display of ego entertainment and possibly organizational meltdown. We all love drama, and we should thank him for this special treat - but lastly, don't forget to ask him what positive contribution he would like to make? A dictionary may be useful at this point to help understand some of the descriptions - adjectives - nouns - expletives - applied to the persons on the board so as to explain why he wouldn't lower himself to that level. You might then ask yourself' whose stupid idea was it to hold the AGM during the full moon?'
More seriously, the AGM's are the place that you report back to your membership the results, achievements (highlighted) and failures (down-played), and maybe even your plans for next year (you do have some don't you? - beyond 'it's somebody else's turn…'). Each of the officers reports on the areas of their jurisdiction -Treasurer - Financial Report; President - overall report; Membership - membership; Editor - newsletter; Special Events Coordinator - special events etc. You get the picture. Usually the current board stands down/resigns, new elections are held with brave and courageous heroes of mankind stepping into the breach, over the bodies of their fallen comrades - fade to one or two members of the old board slinking back because no one else wants to do it… End of show… roll the credits… tidy up the pop-corn… Where's Laurence Olivier when you need him? Dead? Bloody selfish git.
If there's anyone left, they write up the minutes/motions/elections of the AGM, report on new officers and forward the Annual Report, including the Financial Report to the Registrar of Societies. And it's - 'Onward me hearties, for England, Harry, and St. George!' and 'Glad that man that he was there and he will count himself one of the Brave, and one of the Few!' Now, did that feel good? I hope so. And don't forget your scarf, it might be cold crossing the channel. Ok, mother.
Yup! The hardest thing you may have to do, is to pick up the phone and talk to the human being on the other end of the line. This is about being authentic, and in the moment. This is the tangible face of compassion, beyond the ideas, beyond the format, beyond what's supposed to happen - this is real and happening right now! Listening to and attempting to understand the words, and the meaning and issue often hidden behind the words, and responding appropriately, is HARD WORK. After all, counsellors get paid to do this - we're volunteers. It can be a tremendous emotional drain of energy. Its not simply about finding the time, it is also about finding the energy.
Your phone line people will appreciate at the least some guidance on how to respond to different types of calls. Some of the calls may come from individuals in distress. Consider crisis-line training/guideline for your staff/volunteers. Your local crisis-line agency/centre may offer such training. Otherwise - consider a standard response for consistency across the 'team' of volunteers. What types of calls will be re-directed to directors etc.? How to respond to abusive callers?
Consider a 'debriefing process', whereby your phone person can call someone else nominated as 'debriefer' to discuss a call or issue that arose during a call. This can be helpful, and supports the person doing the support, who now doesn't feel all alone. It can be particularly helpful after a difficult call, and assists in bringing 'closure' to a situation as they in turn can talk about their reaction, their feelings, something it may not have been appropriate to do during the original call. The person nominated as 'debriefer' should have phone line experience themselves, the more the better.
The phone line is the most direct way your clientèle (and potential members) will reach you. If it's handled well it will boost your growth/membership and give your organization a professional look. If it's handled poorly it will do the opposite. Many self-help organizations struggle to find the volunteers to work the phone line, and messages are often left unanswered for extended periods. Consider your response time, what target do you want to set for yourself? - how will you share the load of phone line duties? How will you monitor phone line performance?
These will vary; from individuals looking for support - some will want referrals - some will be curious -some will want to join/be active - some will want to make a donation - some will be from 'opponents' (people who question your motives/intentions) - some will be media or other agents wanting information - some will be from the lost/lonely/disturbed. A volunteer agency is not equipped to deal with some issues that will reach you across the phone line, the best you can do is refer such callers to professional counsellors/therapists. 'Peer Group Support' does not mean you suddenly know all the answers to everyone's issues.
Consider having appropriate materials available for your phone person so they can refer callers to other local agencies - counsellors etc. There may be a local directory available, put out by a self-help group like you, or you may have to do your own research. Do you endorse particular therapies/therapists? Why? Do you tell people to avoid others? Why? What standard do you hold yourself to? Accountability?
It is often easiest to set up an automated phone line system which takes messages. The greeting/message can also promote current events. The messages are then picked up on a regular basis by a designated individual or team. If you are funded and have staff to immediately respond to calls, so much the better. It is probably a good idea to avoid having one of your directors/volunteers using their own line as the message line; calls can interfere with other family/personal activities. It may lay too high a burden on one person. People move and change their numbers - it's a good idea to keep the same number for your organization over an extended period. Automated message systems are not very expensive to set-up, and your phone company may give non-profit societies a deal. Plus members of a team may easily dial in to pick up messages on an ongoing/rotational basis.
It is of course a given that any publications (flyers/newsletters) you produce should have your phone number and other information on it (mailing address - box number?). Make sure it's correct! Don't laugh - the British post office once had a postal code promotion, and printed their own post code incorrectly on thousands of flyers! Circulate your promotional material to appropriate places - social agencies - referral centres - media outlets - community centres - libraries - doctors offices…
Keep a neat organized log of every call you receive - date - time - name/number/organization - type of call -time/name of person who called back. Consider confidentiality issues; last names are not always required -callers will assume confidentiality, information should not be divulged elsewhere, even with other members of your organization - RESPECT CONFIDENTIALITY. What statistics do you want to draw from your log? What categories do you want to set up for types of call? e.g. referrals, support, support groups…
PLUS - If/when you grow and seek funding from govt./foundations, they will be keenly focused on your 'relevance' - i.e. size of membership, and also phone line activity. Obviously an agency that receives 100 calls a week is more deserving of funding/support than one getting 10 calls a week. They will want to look at your phone log as proof of relevancy. Unfortunately they may not take us at our word that this is an important project/social issue. We promote our future prospects by maintaining a well organized phone log today.
The growth and success of any organization is based not only on its inherent appeal, i.e. a sympathetic cause, but on how well it sells itself. There are many organizations competing for audience, membership, donations, media exposure. This could be thought of as 'a marketplace', or perhaps the 'hard-edge' of your organization - those places where you contact the outside world. What is the 'image' your organization has? How is that created? A poor public image is easily created by a whiff of scandal or being judged intolerant or biased. The media loves to sensationalize, and extremism/extremists are good copy! In addition you may be 'attacked' by other organizations, perhaps longer standing with turf to defend, and who may feel threatened by what you stand for. Arguably men's self-help organizations will have to defend themselves against feminist rhetoric/judgement/attitudes that inherently seem to diminish men's issues in order to promote women's issues. This battle of the sexes is a battle that no men's self-help organization can win. From day one you may find yourself embroiled in a political scrum that you have no taste for, but must endure, in order to be in the 'marketplace'. If this happens to you, perhaps the best approach is to scrupulously emphasize your aims in balanced terms, without being 'reactionary'. Do not be surprised, that as a men's organization you may instantly be judged as anti-women, anti-feminism, and even repressive or hostile towards women. Are you? If not, how will you sell yourself/your ideas in this tough environment?
One place to start is to look at those hard edges where you touch the outside world. Your newsletter; your phone line; your promotional material - brochures etc. - media representations. Some organizations use their newsletter almost exclusively as PR, the emphasis on creating a certain public image, rather than on news items. I believe this is a poor approach for a starting self-help organization, which needs 'feel-good' news items, and meaty issues to draw interest and help build an 'identity' with your members. You will still need to keep an eye on content; do you print the more extreme or unbalanced articles/ideas of your members? Disclaimer? Or censor? Every issue will have a certain tone, or feel. A series of newsletters, over a longer period, establishes distinctively what type of organization you are. The same sort of overview is required for everything you put out - your brochures or flyers - your phone message - media representations. You must ask yourself, what image does this create in the public eye? Do we come across as tolerant and balanced, or intolerant and biased?
Every so often there may be important events/news items that you feel are important to comment on; perhaps the media will contact you directly. It is very easy for individuals to go off 'half-cocked' at these times. You might want to consider your collective approach; do you want to debate the issue as a group and put out a news-release based on your collective thoughts, rather than one persons perspective? You may want to establish a PR officer, and choose a person who has a knack for this kind of thing/diplomacy - it is certainly not a skill everyone has! It then becomes their job to respond to media or help guide media relations. Even with the purest of intentions/motives, your organization will have to respond to others credulity, doubts and even fears, misrepresentation and slander. The best defence is a good offence… take the offence by promoting yourself in the clearest positive/balanced terms you can imagine… and attack only to point out the lack of balance, the inequality/unfairness, and the prejudice in the others argument, again coming back to aligning yourself with balance, tolerance and equality. Can you prove that you are balanced? How? Show it.
After the newsletter, your advertising material will be the most distinctive statement of your organization. You could create brochures to promote your organization/membership/donations; you can create them to promote specific events, such as public meetings, speaker events and lectures, rallies etc. A basic informational brochure can be produced on a typewriter. Use of a computer, with a nice layout/graphics/photos (coloured paper?) has a much more professional look and will be more successful in drawing a response. Consider consistency in design/flair/being different so the public get to recognize your promotions. Local radio and TV and print media are always on the lookout for community events. They may publicise your event for free, they may even cover it as a news-worthy item, they may ask for an interview. (Do you have a media release available that details who you are, your aims?) Build a list of local organizations that take 'Public Service Announcements' (PSA's) and make sure to publicise your events with them; they may or may not take your listing depending on space etc. and timeliness - consider their deadlines. This may be set up on a fax-machine/computer to be handled automatically, to take the drudgery out of it. Also consider local libraries, community centres social agencies etc. Someone has to call/visit/drop off items - draw up list of places, assign each place to someone specific - it becomes their responsibility to make sure that location is 'stocked'.
Money coming in the door is inextricably linked to your public image. (A recent harassment scandal at Simon Fraser University, British Columbia  led to the cancellation of a multi-million dollar fund-raising campaign). Your growth in membership is based directly on how well you get your message out, and of course, the relative appeal of your cause. But, a weak cause, well promoted will draw more support than a great cause that no one ever hears about…
A men's self-help organization will depend on personal donations of money (and time, naturally) by those that initially set it up. As you attract more and more members, their membership fees will help to cover the costs of newsletters/mailouts etc. Some individuals will make donations. You may want to consider a membership drive - mail-shot to a particular target group. Who are your potential clients? How/where can you reach them? What are the results of that approach? Is it cost-effective?
Is there a particular project you want to tackle? Do you need funds to do it? Draw up a plan/budget - and then go look for a sponsor. Government agencies may fund you, find out which ones are appropriate to approach. Local or national, even international philanthropic foundations may give you funds. (Is there a local United Way campaign you can join?) Research local etc. corporations e.g. banks, or unions to discover their 'giving' history. Funds are available from diverse sources; in each case your task is the same - research -find - approach - sell (meet requirements) - accept/thank - execute/monitor project - report back success of project to funder. Build a portfolio of organizations that have funded projects like yours in the past; approach those similar organizations that have received funding - ask/figure out their approach and difficulties, and their successes. Consider a 'blitz' - launching your organization/project to get as much exposure as possible with local and national media. Look for sympathetic companies to give you deals on advertising (bill-boards, magazines), even donations. Some may grant reciprocal benefits or subsidised rates for your members. Can you get a celebrity or politician to help launch you? Or perhaps another publicly recognized and respected person? Don't forget to build your infrastructure to cope with the response/enquiries you will get. Maybe you'll want to do this every year, as part of a promotions or membership and fund-raising drive.
There is a wealth of information, and even courses available on fund-raising - it comes down to determination and hard work to obtain funding for your essential project. Research, plan/schedule, execute, monitor/adjust, evaluate. Try to build fun into your projects, to help attract and keep your volunteers. Sometimes we are guilty of taking ourselves just a little too seriously, especially in the field of self-help.
Some organizations distance themselves from and even refuse government handouts. They do this so as to be able to promote their issues and actively and openly criticise government action/inaction without having to worry about losing their grant. They obviously must look for funds elsewhere. Some organizations are formed around the very availability of a government grant! They tailor their mission/identity around this singular source of their existence, and one or two people with initiative can create a working organization based on these circumstances. But government priorities can change - whole ministries are dissolved and recreated with different functions/goals/agendas. If you become dependent on one source of funds, what will you do if/when those funders recognize other priorities?
Perhaps the healthiest model is to create a solid foundation of membership that funds your basic/essential 'structure' - identify those items that without which you cease to function as an organization. Prioritise them. What is the minimal budget each component can survive on? (e.g. phone line, newsletter, brochures - other publications…) Can you adapt to changes? Slim down to essentials in tough times? This means changing your thinking. Survival requires adaptability in the changing marketplace. Sure the govt, has just cut funds for your two staffing positions - can you re-create yourself as a purely voluntary organization? Perhaps at a much reduced level of functioning, but still some of your work is being done, and maybe other funds are on their way… Time to go look for them, and encourage their arrival.
Lastly, people want to join or support a successful organization. Everyone wants to be part of success. No one wants their money going into a sink-hole, or an organization that is disintegrating. Try to avoid your outreach being based on 'negatives' - 'Because of govt, cutbacks…' - 'We're desperate to save…'. Instead focus on positives - 'We've grown from…' - 'We are putting into place/establishing…' - With your help… this (good stuff) could all happen'. Sure cutbacks and difficulties are true, seemingly unavoidable - but what is even more true, and more important, is your vision, and the good work you are doing. Promote the best of who you are, and you may dance right over those difficulties. Is the glass half-full, or half-empty? There will always be another something to trip you up - just keep on dancing!
One of the things you may like to institute down the road is a newsletter. Not only does it perform the basic function of helping you and your members keep in touch with each other, it can also be the primary promotional tool for your organization. If people want to know what you're about, the newsletter will tell them. A good-looking regularly produced newsletter inspires confidence in your membership, as they think -'hey, these guys seem to know what they're doing…'.
And more, your next batch of volunteers will be drawn from the ranks of your members, and everyone wants to be part of a success story, few want to join something that seems to be struggling. It is a tangible thing a member can hold in their hands, and can be a feel-good experience that allows the member to really identify with your cause and your organization.
If you want your organization to grow - consider the appeal and consistency of your newsletter; do not underestimate its power to attract or repel support for your organization and the work you do.
A newsletter can start off as a very basic thing, a one sheet notice board of events, newsworthy items and issues. It can be very simply produced even on a typewriter, but of course nowadays most organizations will have access to computer word-processors and even publication software, which can quickly produce an excellent design including pictures. Always include a quarter page 'Membership Form', to encourage new readers to sign up, and pay their dues, and old members to re-enlist. Your membership fees will pay for your services until you are able to arrange other kinds of funding. Consider allowing advertising; some professionals, corporations, other members, may wish to advertise to your membership, this can help offset the costs of newsletter production - photo-copying, mail -out… Don't load up with too much advertising, the volume of it shouldn't overwhelm the newsletter itself.
There are many opportunities to promote your organization in the community with your newsletter (and other info. i.e. brochures). Libraries, community centres, local social service offices, other self-help groups, churches, doctors offices (if you're creating a support organization) and so on could all be possible locations for you to display your newsletter. Also consider local/community radio and TV; they're always looking for newsworthy items, a newsletter dropped on someone's desk may be the progenitor of a radio spot or TV appearance for your organization. So, don't forget about distribution opportunities in the flush of yet another excellent production of a great looking newsletter!
Consider the plight of your volunteer editor. All too often stories/columns arrive on his/her desk barely ahead of the production deadline; what format are they in? - length ok? - spell-checked? - coherent? - grammar? -50-word sentences? Planning and design can be a big task; you will make your editors job a lot easier if you can establish some standards for contributions (article length, format, on computer disc, include hard copy/print-out…). Flyers can also be used as inserts to get attention and to promote specific events, use coloured paper to draw more attention.
Your organization could consider purchasing publication software. This will allow the work of newsletter production be shared amongst those members/volunteers who have a computer, if they are interested in contributing this way. A selection of people could each produce their own page, using a template for consistent design. More often than not it will probably be one individual person who designs and creates the newsletter - because they have the computer, software and the skills; however if you rely on one individual, what happens when you bum them out (inconsiderate demands, unrealistic expectations…) and they go away? Does your newsletter go away too?
Consider judicious use of graphics! Photos are a nice touch - look professional.
Include 'white space' for readability; consistent use of fonts/type size…
The Pulitzer Prize is waiting for you!
There's more than one way to skin a cat (whatever that means, yuck, don't worry Jack, I would never do that to you) and there are many ways to get your message out. Of course you will have to go do some research to find out what's available, and what suits your approach/agenda. Let's talk about the kinds of things you might find.
There are local, national and international directories that you could get listed in, of course reaching a different range of clientèle in each of them. There may be a local self-help organization or several) that publishes directories of self-help groups as a resource for local therapists and consumers. In Vancouver we have the well known 'Red Book', and the 'Self Help Resource also publishes a directory. Plus some directories may be oriented to a particular type of service, such as child-care, etc.
Your area may have a self-help or resource magazine/publication (or several) - consider the constituency or type of reader it reaches, will it include your prospective clients/members? Will you have to pay for advertising or can you agree to do a 'news item' or article with the publisher, perhaps on an ongoing basis? This may amount to free advertising for your group, especially if it's an arena the publisher wants to explore. If there's isn't one in your location, consider bringing one in from another city, and handling the distribution yourself. This is an easy sell to a publisher, and you may develop opportunities to be written-up. In addition, your geographic area needs representation in the magazine, and you may well be the group that establishes what that might be.
With advertising, you may have to maintain a consistent presence over a period of time before you see much response. You will help establish your credibility by being consistent and having a 'professional' look to the advertising you put out. What image do you want to have? This takes some thinking about, as well as proof-reading. One sloppy advertisement can label you as a bunch of… looney tunes? Let's not be too dysfunctional, shall we? Remember, you are trying to persuade someone to do something or respond or support you, or at least sympathise. Why should they bother to make the effort if you can't be bothered to proof-read your advertising? Psychology is a wonderful thing, but sometimes I just can't seem to get it out of my head…
Other peoples newsletters, I mean. There may be brother/sister organizations that work in the same area you do, and you might develop a working relationship whereby you can each promote your activities in the others newsletters and reach a larger joint audience together. Or you might even plan joint events, and share the costs and your resources; and have a better turn-out and greater success than you might have had alone.
Maybe there is a national, or umbrella organization/publication that can promote your events/agenda over a much wider area?
Any time you are in the public eye (event/advertising/articles), consider that this is a good-time to promote membership. Include membership and contact information on all your publications - bring membership forms or brochures, even your organization's business card to other peoples events, and especially your own.
I guess that means networking, and approaching people, finding out their interests and why they are here. Consider an official 'Greeter' at your events. Toastmasters does this to great effect. Everyone you talk to is a potential member, or at least someone willing to listen to your perspective, and who for a moment at least, sees things through your eyes. Winning political battles often (always?) starts with education. The hardest prison to break out of is the one where you can't see the bars, it's been said.
You may have some experienced and eloquent speakers in your organization. They could be excellent ambassadors for your organization. There are many groups that invite speakers to their meetings, some will pay an honorarium, some might even offer financial support in the form of a donation to your organization. But even if it's a 'freebie', taking the opportunity to address other groups helps you; your presence in the community is enhanced, your educational program moves forward, you win allies, and you open yourself to other's perspectives, and your own thought processes are sharpened in this environment for perhaps tougher political challenges or media opportunities that lie ahead. Don't forget to take newsletters, brochures and membership forms… But don't be too obvious. Try to work in a few quotes from Shakespeare; that always impresses people. Am I kidding? - I don't know anymore… Try to be sincere, but it's ok to fake it 'til you make it… But if you get caught, I didn't say anything…
Or, how to reach more people world-wide than you could ever talk to personally. But be careful, because they might send you e-mail (ask them for money first, and maybe they won't bother you). If you have an HTML guru, excellent. If not, wait 'til someone shows up who is. (Try praying). Or pay someone. Then if they are willing (to do it unpaid), and you care to pay for the space on someone's server to build your organizations web-page (for newsletters, manifestos, plans for world domination, chat lines etc.) and you are willing to tackle e-mail - go for it! But then you have to debate and draw up guidelines on what goes on the web-page and why, and what doesn't and why. Apparently it's the wave of the future, but personally I didn't get too excited about sliced white bread either (I have a gluten allergy). And I thought I was escaping computers when I quit my programming job, and here I am typing this in on my HOLIDAY! Self-help -that's supposed to be people oriented isn't it? Not technology, I've had too much technology - HELP! yourself, Felix. I hope someone appreciates this. Write to me c/o the institution on the front page, please, no e-mail. Nice warm touchy-feely paper - colours are nice too.
Ok, a volunteer walks in the door, or you have a new batch of directors elected at your AGM - where do you go from here? Of course, they will probably have some idea of what they want to do. A volunteer may have a specific interest - newsletters - group work - membership, you should be able to team them up with someone who can orientate them and work with them, at least initially, to help get them going. Some individuals may want to, (especially your new officers, who will have to) get in a little deeper than that. You may want to prepare an Orientation Package - which might include any of the following: -
In addition it is probably a good idea to ask them what 'success' looks like to them - and request they focus on specific goals for their term of office, or for the project they are undertaking. Request they read their job description, and consider any questions they might have. You may want to establish an Orientation Officer who coordinates and records this process, and who should subsequently follow-up, one on one, for feedback and renewal, at appropriate markers, 3 months, 6 months etc. into the term. It could be an occasion for a social type meeting, with the basic theme of getting everyone oriented for the year ahead, with everyone being supplied with their own orientation package, and having an opportunity to share their aspirations and commitments with the group. This reinforces our group identity, can help build a team spirit and create some personal warmth between people who are just getting to know each other. Then when we get into the serious stuff of debate and decisions at our board meetings, we will have somewhat of a basis of friendship or at least acquaintance with each other. Who really knows the secret of longevity…? How much of it is just basic human warmth and good will?
Now we've talked about what we do, and even made some commitments and plans i.e. actual tasks we will tackle. But what will really glue us together as an organization?; or what did we not do when it fell apart? This isn't talked about very much, but when you look at it, it really is the core essence of what really holds things together. Warmth and good-will. People embody it, and may not even realize they have it. Some others, perhaps more driven, with a particular agenda, may not have it, and may not realize it. If it's there it's usually because someone at the centre of your organization does embody it, and maybe becomes a role model; maybe they simply try to be inclusive; maybe they want everyone to be heard and respected; maybe the plan is secondary if it means that we spend the time to create a 'feel-good experience'. If it feels bad, who's going to stick around for the long-haul? Sure you can't please all the people all the time, but pissing them off all the time may not work either…
So we are really dependent on who shows up to do the work, and whether they embody these human qualities. Then warmth and good will may seem to naturally 'evolve' and it does become a warm and even fulfilling experience, as we work together. But at the same time we can certainly try to establish an 'ethos' for our organization, that really says clearly how we will treat each other as we do this work. Where do we do that? In our Directors and Volunteers Charter. This would be the wrapper on the binder of items listed above; it is an attempt to formalize that type of human informality and mutual appreciation that can build heart and soul into what we do. By itself, it means nothing, except perhaps to help clarify why things didn't work (We lost good-will…). You can't mandate good-will and warmth! But you can say, if we are to have an organizational ethos, it should be along these lines. See the next page for a sample charter. It may seem overly legalistic, but we do need to let individuals know their legal duties and liabilities.
Welcome to another year at (Your name), and thank you for volunteering your time and skills! This charter is a brief orientation to the processes and approach we use to conduct business at (Your name). (Your name) is a registered society, and must conform to the requirements of the Societies Act.
Any organization has to determine the tasks it wants to perform, and prioritize them in order of importance - i.e. bills have to get paid, expenses reimbursed, controls made over expenditures, financial reports etc - so the financial tasks are critical to the well-ordered organization. Of course there are many other tasks that have to get done, uppermost in our minds will be delivery of services to the clientèle, the reason we got into this in the first place. But if these other ancillary tasks are not managed well you could come to a grinding halt, even with the best idea, the most compassionate service, the best of intentions that have ever been imagined, designed and created in the whole history of the universe! Phew.
The simplest way to order and manage these tasks is through job descriptions. Individuals are then assigned or volunteer to play a/several roles, and it is their individual activities that taken together actually comprise the organization running itself. Each job usually has a title (human beings love titles, even though they may not admit it - it gives them a sense of importance), and part of the gift each of us has is to be able to fulfil a role, and even identify with what that is. We invest that task with human warmth, vigour and passion (sometimes). Of course in a voluntary society we are looking for volunteers to play these roles, and should try to match peoples skills and interests to the tasks in hand.
It is a respected management credo that to give someone responsibility for a job/task, it is a good idea to give them authority for that task, i.e. they can make decisions that aren't going to be scrutinized under a microscope. Perhaps delineate broad boundaries for the task (or as much as the person asks for) and let them fill in and create the rest from their own ideas and resourcefulness. This allows them to 'own' their project and glean satisfaction from the job they perform.
If you are creating a registered society, or charitable organization, there are certain positions that need to be at least nominally filled, usually 'directorships'. The 'directors' of the society have legal duties to perform as laid out in your jurisdictions 'Societies Act', and you may have to record their names with the Registrar of Societies (usually in annual report, which also reports the new 'officers'). Certain functions are prescribed to specific directors; i.e. the 'President' nominally chairs board (directors) meetings; the 'Secretary' records minutes and handles mail; the 'Treasurer' controls financial dealings, and produces financial reports… Not only are there legal duties to perform, there are legal ramifications - directors may be personally liable for the actions/inactions of the society - consider getting insurance, and also consult with a lawyer if this is unclear to you after doing your personal research. If you are setting yourself up as an 'agent' to act in your society/culture, then your society recognizes and prescribes in law certain responsibilities that adhere to you as a 'social agency'.
Recently (Oct. 97) I heard the British Prime Minister (Tony Blair) give a media release on the Irish Peace Process - the gist of it being that they could reach an agreement by the scheduled deadline if good-will exists… on both sides (well done Tony; now where have I heard that phrase before?).
If we are in conflict, then typically we might have already lost good will. People get into entrenched positions, adhering to their ideology/point of view, and can be strongly invested in a particular outcome. If people are willing to compromise and work together, they may be able to move through conflict into an agreed resolution on their situation (the 'mature' perspective - at least at the level of volunteer work).
Conflict is not bad! It just means you and I have differing ideas or wants. (This is the normal situation - never are any two peoples ideas going to be always perfectly aligned; throw in a bunch more people/ideas and it gets interesting). 'Conflict' is a normal part of the debating process; it helps us to clarify our position and our thinking, and come up with rational/logical justifications as we weigh our ideas against each other. Of course personalities and egos come in to play. Some people, by force of character, or eloquence, can be very good negotiators; some people find the whole process frustrating and even scary.
Some people run away from conflict, perhaps having suffered trauma in their family (or elsewhere) as a result of conflict (people do get hurt - emotionally, even physically etc. as the result of conflict). Thus some people will have poor experiences around conflict and poor models for 'conflict resolution'. They may be unable to compromise - may get stuck in the attitude 'My way or the highway'.
Our job is to find a path through these difficulties. Perhaps recognizing and naming the conflict is the first step, and then identifying the differences, what it is that separates us. Let's remember Tony Blair - even to get this far requires 'good-will'.
We may not even get this far. Some people are not willing to reveal themselves, and what it is they want. People do hide their expectations - and when they don't get it, may run away in petulance, and you never know what it was about. They may even 'blame' you, somehow it was your fault - you failed to read their mind properly (!). They may even create conflict about an unrelated issue, just to unload their resentment (sub-consciously? - or even with full awareness…). This is human nature, and happens all the time. 'Projecting' unowned issues and dumping emotional energy (anger, hostility) does happen, and can be severe in their effect. This is when it feels crazy, because people aren't revealing themselves, being honest - their own unresolved issues may set-up this kind of dysfunctionality. It may look like, they 'flipped-out', or went weird or lost rationality. This can happen to any of us, as we get into deeper and deeper stuff. Hence the guideline in legal conflicts - what would be the reasonable action or course to take?
Let's see what it takes to get through those 5 steps above. We have to be willing/able to do conflict, to be in that scary place. We have to be able to understand our own wants, and willing to reveal them. We feel vulnerable here because we can be hurt when we reveal ourselves - by being discounted, or ignored, even ridiculed or shamed. This happens all the time too. (This happened in our families, and on upwards) This is why we are not always perfectly open with each other. Beware the hidden agenda! Especially your own.
'Maturity' and the ability to do conflict well thus depends on the structural process we set up (1 - 5 above) and recognition or selling of the basis for allowing resolution to actually happen - i.e.
Quite a complicated mix of stuff… When you get it working, great! But conflict will be your constant companion when you start to work with others on a volunteer basis. I didn't even mention personality clashes - this is just the extreme in our differentiation from each other, and will require even greater effort in self-clarification, and harder work to really hear what the other person is saying. At the end of the day, two people just may not be able to get along together - just don't let it pull down your whole organization.
At a basic level this means using or setting up a conflict structure that involves a third person. This is helpful because arguments/debates/conflicts are often polarised; two camps or individuals (countries?) facing off against each other, each insisting they are right… not wanting to look weak… or give up ground… what/who/how many have to die before we are willing to sit down and negotiate?
How do you choose a mediator? The mediator could be a respected third person, mutually selected. It could be a person who is specifically trained as a mediator, it could be a lawyer. Are both sides, at least at the outset, willing to abide by a mediated decision? Will the mediator be required to make a decision that binds both parties in the event of non-agreement?
The third person acts like a release valve. I'm talking to them rather than having to stare down my opponent. It's their job to hear me (and the other side). All of what I'm saying. Suddenly I feel I'm being heard, and my 'heat' gets turned down, my frustration level and antagonism is diminished. Now I'm more able to hear the other side. I'm especially more able to hear the other side when it comes from a neutral third party. I know he/she is not trying to dupe me, but has my interests equally at heart. Phew!
The mediator can also help clarify issues, and point out flaws in thinking or rationality, can help to find a balanced perspective on both sides, which makes resolution much more likely. They bring us back to 'good-will' and clarity and balance which is always a good basis for us to work together.
If you want to set up a mediation structure, you may want to decide between a mandatory or voluntary basis, each has its issues. What about a mediators report in the event of a breakdown of negotiations? Who is acting in good faith, and who isn't? Your membership might like to know why your organization is going 'bye-bye'. The 'Truth' is out there…
This whole arena of conflict resolution and mediation is a vast and complex one, people can spend their whole lives exploring it - whole books are written on just one aspect of it. In the space of a few pages I can only scratch the surface and offer a simplistic approach or overview. So if you get heavily involved in conflict, or your agreements aren't working - it probably means it's time to dig deeper and do more research.
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, and our purest intentions, it all comes to naught. Sometimes someone screwed us. Don't get mad (oops, that's wrong, it's ok to have your feelings), don't get even, because the Jabberwocky will get them, let that be your consolation. Sometimes it might come down to one man, a High Noon that lasts forever, the clock sticks, and life is played out at the point between the hammer and the bullet, and somehow he hangs on, and does the impossible, and slowly crawls back from the edge, and it starts to build again. Sometimes one man can do that.
Or sometimes one man can really screw up, and you got closed down by the Registrar, and you'll never work in this town again. Whatever the scenario, it will have been a 'learning experience', and hopefully, it will go better next time, if there is a next time for you.
If it is time to 'shut up shop', then there may be certain things you are obliged to do, and certain things you should do. Do your members/newsletter subscribers know you are 'going bye-bye'? May be you should write to them and tell them? An explanation might be nice? Have you kept track of recent memberships? You might consider returning those funds if you can track it. Alternatively, you could call a general meeting to put official closure to the organization, and let those members who wish to, find their own closure in that way. Maybe some of them want to carry on the work, in another format, creating a different organization, and you/your work may yet rise again from the ashes. Death and rebirth is such a cute thing, so inevitable (and whose joke is that?), lets not get too strung out shall we?
You may be required to return your official seal to the Registrar of Societies. If you are a charitable society, you will be expected to account for all funds (and return them to govt.) and capital items i.e. office equipment, computers etc. that the society bought. It may be possible for you to donate these to other charitable societies (check your jurisdiction's regulations). There will probably be official documents for you/the officers to sign, confirming the demise of your organization, and then you will be wound-up, well and good.
Of course there may be an emotional impact. Many people will have invested a lot of time and effort. But along the way, many people may well have benefited from the vision and hard work of those who were ready and willing to give something back. To me, that speaks the loudest. In my volunteer work, I know I have touched the lives of some people that were ready to opt out, and they are still here. Others, more tormented perhaps, I have seen let go.
In time of failure, I prefer to see instead a door that is closing, knowing that ahead lies another that I may enter as I choose. Timing is everything, and my lessons will repeat until I have learned them, and until I'm ready to make other choices. What are you choosing? Maybe one path has closed for you. Do you think there is no other? Look, and think again, braveheart.
There is something magical about 'following your bliss', as Joseph Campbell put it. In the context of a self-help organization, our 'bliss', our passion pushes us to create something outside of ourselves. It is about creating a vision, and doing the hard-work of manifesting that vision. That vision is of course constructed on our personal belief system, i.e. 'this is wrong and I'm going to change it' or 'something needs to be done to help…', and then we take up the challenge, investing a large part of who we are in the changes we are trying to bring about.
Psychologically, this strikes very deep into our psyches - this could be a life cause, even a reason for being here, in this body, having this existence, as we may judge for ourselves. That attitude is at one end of the spectrum. At the other end it is perhaps only an idea that we loosely attach ourselves to; much more important are the daily chores of life, and we gave some time as we can to the self-help organization, it might even just be a hobby, with little more significance.
Within this range of approaches and attitudes, we can try to create space for all to make a contribution. If over time we could take a look at the bigger picture, we would probably see people coming and going and be able to consider with hindsight the value of the contribution they made. Some will arrive in a whirlwind, shake us up and may leave in a thunderous storm. Some will arrive quietly, and leave quietly. Are we able to make a space for these two opposites to work together? Are we skilled enough to find common ground? What is the ethos of our organization? Whose philosophy, whose prejudices are we allowing to guide us, and why? Who do we value, who do we discount, and why? How much heat does passion have to burn with, in order to be recognized?
This handbook has attempted to lay out a template, a guide to assist in the formation of a self-help organization. I've also touched on some issues of group dynamics, and organizational ethos - things that we will all grapple with from day one, yet may lie beneath the surface of understanding, until we name them and shine the light of rationality on them. BUT, beyond the formulas, beyond the suggestions and the techniques, are very real human beings, with passion, heart, and yes, with pathologies.
Magic is magic precisely because it emanates from a place beyond reason; it is hidden, mysterious, unexpected. It will arrive and dissolve away unbidden. Yet it can transport us to new horizons, and inspire transformation, to evoke a new perspective, a new world view. Perhaps we all yearn for this magical transformation, perhaps this yearning lies in our unrevealed expectations; perhaps these lie even deeper, hidden in our subconscious minds, and we dare not reveal them even to ourselves. This whole process - of holding an intention - creating a vision - working for social change - can be a wonderful journey of personal growth. It can be a journey of seemingly unremitting effort and exhaustion, if we fail to find healthy boundaries, and a place of renewal that we can visit as required. At the worst, we could be confronted even with a pathology that exhibits itself as destructive and damaging - destructive to the organization and our intended purpose, and damaging to our friendships and personal interactions. Sometimes these pathologies will emerge when other stuff is going on in our lives, sometimes when our expectations and plans are thwarted; we may even watch them emerge from within ourselves with shock and surprise at their energy and vehemence. When we see them in someone else, they may seem (at the least) to be vastly over-reacting to a small issue, and possibly to have lost all balance and even rationality. This is part of the human experience too. This can happen when an individual is deeply invested in a particular outcome, their plan for 'the way it's supposed to be'. It's scary when it happens, because it's like your close friend that you've worked with for months, years even - they just spontaneously combusted right before your eyes.
The treasure is of course a metaphor for our personal healing, and for the gift we are trying to manifest in our work - the two are inextricably linked. This pathology that has just emerged is the dragon that might kill us. We can run screaming from the cave, or we can try to face our fears, dig within for hidden resources of courage and understanding and attempt to fight this overwhelming foe.
This is where formulas and rules are inadequate; this is where we need magic. Sometimes we will create magic, sometimes we won't, and we will die a metaphoric death in the cave - killed by our own fear.
Beneath this pathology, our metaphorical dragon, is a wound, guarded by fear. This is where our hearts have to grow to encompass and contain and heal this explosive dragon-energy that might 'kill' us. This is magic. It's about seeing fear beneath the issue, and woundedness beneath that, and knowing it will only be conquered by love. Not to blame a man, or condescend, or judge - but to wrestle with vigour the actuality of the event, to find the healing of love that pushes you past your own fear, and allows your gift of magic. This too is not a formula, and can only be created in the moment, by those who choose a higher purpose, and seek to build, and not destroy. We win or lose in our hearts, before it happens anywhere else - at the beginning -and at the end.
When you write a mission statement, it is so much more - it is you revealing your deepest self-identity to yourself. The intensity of that connection can lead to pathology if your expectations, wants, goals are thwarted. It can be deeply disturbing if your deepest self 'cannot be', or circumstances/individuals seem to be saying 'you are wrong', or 'you must change'; if you 'cannot be' your deepest self, then you may be left with 'who am I?', and your highest purest intention may precipitate a crisis of confidence, that others may even exploit, and the dragon eats us up…
The tempering heat of the earth, and our souls, lies further within, where dragons abound, and where we may be loath to go, for death lies in that place, but so does rebirth. So many of us lose our way on this journey, but that is why self-help organizations exist, to help us move through the trials of transformation, to allow a metaphorical death to happen, so that the new can be born, and we emerge with a new vigour, a new perspective and the wisdom of our own journey that we may even yet bestow as a gift on others. Problems and difficulties aren't meant to defeat us, but to inspire us to greater awareness and greater accomplishments. Compassion is a wonderful human quality that will never change, as you and I reach out to each other, to allow us to be more than we seemingly can be alone, to support each other and to heal that place within that cries out for understanding and the touch of another human soul.
Another perspective, the mythopoetic idea, is that 'from the wound comes the gift'. Further we might say that our 'wounds', our difficulties, the pain we experience, and even life tragedies, can be transformed into a positive outcome. An even deeper spiritual perspective is that there are no accidents, and these events are meant to transform us, not destroy us, but we have to dare do the work of transformation. This idea runs deep in the collective psyche, and is frequently exemplified in our fairy stories and myths. But it is also very real. For example - a group of women who had lost children in accidents caused by drunk drivers, started an organization "Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (M.A.D.D.)". This helped transform their grief and life tragedy into a positive outcome, by helping to reduce the carnage of drunk drivers on the roads, so that others might not experience the same tragedy in their lives.
It all comes down to the magical mix of men and women who show up to do the work, and those who dare to face the dragons along the way. There is no enemy, except that which lies within. For our pathology belongs to no-one else except ourselves - and it stokes the fires of our passionate hearts. Whatever else we might do or accomplish, this will always be a journey of personal awakening, and personal transformation. If we've had a 'bad' experience, consider that malice is rarely intended, and that it is our 'woundedness' and its attendant pathology that has gotten in the way - can we avoid blaming and holding onto resentment? - and answer the call to even deeper self-healing? Good journey, good heart, and a blessing.