When Membership Has No Privileges

If you are part of a member-based, board-run organization (like a not-for-profit) and you struggle to get enough members to even fill your board then you need to ask whether your organization should continue to exist.

The traditional structure of a not-for-profit is as follows: members are the base of the pyramid, the strong foundation; members select a small group to implement and exercise the vision and mission of membership through the wise management of resources like money, property, volunteers and staff.

This structure is simple, elegant and eminently wise – when it works and operates within the spirit of how it was envisioned.

An organization starts as an idea. This idea comes from a passionate person or people. These people, motivated by the passionate idea begin to work on implementing a vision to communicate the idea to the world. As part of this process more people are attracted until you have a movement, usually of volunteers, working and bringing unique talent and sweat equity to bear on the idea which has become a vision.

This group will often gather and pool resources in the form of product, property, facilities, money and more in their work unfolding the vision.

Eventually the group gets to a point where the value of incorporating (say as a not-for-profit) makes sense. It gives the group unique tax and funding opportunities and can help to take things to the next level as it requires infrastructure to be put in place – rules of operation like bylaws, a structure that enshrines the idea as a mission governed by people who report and communicate in a certain required way that includes financial reports, regular meetings of a board, an annual meeting to report to members and provide opportunity to ensure leadership understands and continues to implement the will of those members who are the ultimate stewards of the idea.

Too often however organizations lose momentum for one reason or another. People lose interest, members drift away, communication slows down or stops, and strong systems of governance corrode or corrupt to a place where membership has no privileges or purpose.

The key to a healthy organization is a strong and vital membership. The key to building this membership is planned, intentional work to constantly communicate the idea and its value and relevance.

Members must be invested in the organization. In for-profit, board-run companies, members are shareholders and investors. They are literally, financially invested in the company and this gives them rights, the primary one being voting for a board of directors.

In a not-for-profit members must also be invested. Sometimes this is financial, sometimes this is volunteer sweat equity, sometimes this is tax dollars invested on their behalf by another organization they are members of – their city, run by the board they elect, their council.

Without a strong membership a board of directors becomes beholden and accountable only to themselves and devolves into a self-fulfilling coven focused on their own needs.

This is radically unhealthy and deceptively alluring as such a board becomes comfortable with not having to be held accountable, not having to deal with members, failing to recognize that this is the only reason they exist. The composition of a board is a reflection of the needs, priorities, and personality of the membership – if their is no membership they reflect nothing.

Membership is the lifeblood of board-run organizations, it is where an organization gets its vitality and creativity from. If it is anemic or non-existent the organization will ultimately suffer and the questions of “why are we here?” or, more frightening “why are YOU here?” get louder and louder.

Ultimately it comes down to one question for those left – how passionate are you about this idea? Are you passionate enough to work to save the life or this dying beast? Are you passionate enough to mobilize members and reinvigorate the body?

If you find yourself doing all the right things to draw members (communicate, listen, nurture, advertise, meet people, create opportunities to infect the community with your vision, outreach, etc) and still there is no harvest then you must ask the most difficult question of all – is it time we close?

An idea is not necessarily forever. For all things there is a season. The only thing worse than riding a dying horse is riding a dead horse. Some ideas need to die so that they can rest a while and be resurrected as something bright and new, otherwise you are just keeping a zombie.

Another option is to learn if your passionate community is elsewhere. Maybe the most passionate people about your idea are 100 km away and have a thing of their own? Maybe you should join with them to sustain your idea and passion until such time as local support reaches critical mass.

Perhaps being incorporated no longer works for you and you should consider shedding the status in favour of becoming a private business.

It is challenging to run a member-driven organization but it is member-driven for a reason. It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that things would be so much easier if there were no members and you with five or six of your peers could make all the decisions accountable to no one – but this is a path that ultimately leads to irrelevance.

It is true, sometimes people become members of organizations for the wrong reasons. Sometimes members betray a motivation to harm or diminish the organization instead of help to build it up. When this happens a board has tools available to it. It can remove a harmful member like a surgeon removing a malignant tumor. It can be painful but it it leads to health. That being said a good surgeon does not cut off the entire arm when they can simply excise a 3 cm nodule.

Membership represents healthy boundaries to an organization and its board. Some think that unfettered freedom leads to unfettered growth but nothing could be further from the truth. In reality boundaries and constraints can lead to some of the most creative acts by organizations.

Food for thought based on one simple premise – nothing is more important to a board driven organization than membership.

i am deep sorry come

i am deep sorrow come,
Sargasso arms open wide
to entwine and pull you under

that we might dance
that we might love
that we might make

a dark child within
to live in your shadows
and keep you cloaked
in fearful company

don’t strangle it
in sunlight and laughter,
let it cling as cold, wet gauze
a living burial cloth
ahead of the inevitable

i am deep sorry come
to sing you to your sleep
i am deep sorry come
to bring you wail and weep

and i will creep
and i will creep
and i will creep
into you
i will creep

Where compassion ends

The path of forgiveness, tolerance, love, compassion and grace never ends. This is the challenge. Once you are called to forgive you will be challenged to forgive more. Once you accept, tolerate, feel compassion for and extend grace to others – you will be challenged to do more.

Not so with hate. Hate is the period at the end of a sentence. There is no more…hate consumes all and is consummate in the moment it is engaged. This is why it is easier to hate than to love. There is no work or challenge in hate. Love requires engagement, hate requires nothing, not even an object…hate is self-sustaining.

So why love? Love feeds the source and the object. Hate consumes the one it exists within like a fire that cannot be quenched until only a vacuum is left, void of all including self.

The Anguish of Bo Burnham

If I could ask Bo Burnham one question it would be this – how much pain are you carrying in any given moment?

Standing in the cold, brilliant, white light of Burnham’s newest Netflix comedy special ‘Inside” it is easy to get lost in the humour (which is the point I suppose).


What Burnham really excels at putting on display here is naked pain and cynicism that somehow is both sarcastic and self-critical at the same time. It’s a tightrope no one can walk like he does.

The entire production is written, directed, filmed and edited by Burnham throughout a year confined at home during the Covid-19 pandemic. There is a cadence or rhythm to the show where the audience is knocked out of phase or off balance by a back and forth between ridiculous and deep, where one makes the other intensely personal and powerful.

Packed with existential dread Burnham has the kind of terrifying, insightful energy and presence of Robin Williams or Andy Kaufman which makes you feel like the joke is on him as much as it is on you…and this is intentional. He is holding up a double-sided mirror and while you are forced to look at yourself you know he is doing the same.

Burnham makes you feel his discomfort, he pours it into you and maybe this is cathartic for him.

Ultimately Burnham is one of the most honest, anguished comedians or artists I have watched epitomizing the fact that “all the world is a stage”. In the end I wanted to weep as much as I wanted to laugh.

Good Government

“Good government never depends upon laws, but upon the personal qualities of those who govern. The machinery of government is always subordinate to the will of those who administer that machinery. The most important element of government, therefore, is the method of choosing leaders. -Law and Governance, The Spacing Guild Manual”

From Children of Dune by Frank Herbert


there is no hope-filled nimbus
rising black and pregnant before us
to shade the verdant green
that spreads like an illusion
along the betraying earth.

there is only the baking blue sky
with its dour, ominous eye
that scours the cracked land for moisture –
a thirsty lover forcing sand-paper rough kisses
across the unwary, tender breasts
of a spent and empty vessel
yielding nothing but themselves;

and the shadows are too sharp
against an over-exposed backdrop;
so we close ourselves up,
lie exhausted above hot sheets,
wary that in touching one-another
we may combust
then fall to dust

until a rain restores us whole to one-another.