Other frames

As you may be able to tell (!), I think that dropping the degree requirement is critcal to AAUW’s future. However, there are many members for whom that requirement is deeply embedded in their identity as AAUW members. It will not be an easy change, and I recognize that.

The purpose of these posts is to find different ways to present the change  in order to find one that will help convey why I think it is so important.

At the moment, my “but it has nothing to do with our purpose” argument is most compelling to me — but I realize it may be begging the question.

The “official” recommendation is to simply let people list the reasons for and against the change — with, I guess, the assumption that the light will dawn? Again, this seems even further down the “begging the question” path, though reports are that it works — AAUW members do know that discussion can lead to change.

Another strategy is to list some of the incredible women who aren’t/weren’t eligible for membership under the current requirement: from Eleanor Roosevelt to Lilly Ledbetter, what are we losing if we shut our doors to such potential women?

Yet another talks about how we’ve gradually opened up over the years (widening the list of colleges whose degrees were acceptable, for instance) and broadening our diversity statement a great deal since early in the last century (when it was customary in some branches to have a vote on a new member). Is this change just an incremental continuation of that process?

What are the other ways to think about this? Which ones resonate with you? If you’ve changed your opinion on the degree requirement, what were the ideas that led to that change?

The degree requirement and our purpose

I was one of the folks who set up the “AAUW: Breaking OUR Barrier” Facebook group to discuss a proposed change to the AAUW bylaws. This change would drop the historic  requirement that all members must have a degree. While a majority of the members at the 2005 national convention agreed with this change, fewer than 2/3 agreed, so the degree requirement was retained. In 2009 we’ll be voting on a complete revamp to the AAUW bylaws, including opening the membership to all who agree with our mission.

I just had an “aha” moment when I realized that this may be more about a completely different article in the bylaws, one that has had very little attention/discussion.

Let’s take a few quotes for background:

Current Bylaws

Article II. Section 1. Purpose. The purpose of the Association is the uniting of the graduates of different institutions for practical educational work, for the collection and publication of statistical and other information concerning education, and in general for the maintenance of high standards of education.

This wording is very close to the text of the 1899 Charter, though that used “alumnae” where we now use “graduates,” presumably to honor our relatively recent decision to admit men.

Proposed Bylaws

Article II. Section 1. Purpose. The purpose of AAUW is to advance equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy, and research. AAUW is organized, and shall be operated, exclusively for any or all charitable, educational, scientific, or literary purposes that may qualify it as an organization described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended (the “Code”), and exempt it from federal income tax under section 501(a) of the Code.

Previous mission

AAUW promotes equity for all women and girls, lifelong education, and positive societal change.

Current mission (approved by the board in 2007)

AAUW advances equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, and research.

In all the verbiage surrounding the AAUW bylaws, this change in the Purpose to match the current mission has been glossed over. Hundreds (if not thousands) of words have been spent on structural issues and procedural details, but nowhere in the explanatory documents can I find a discussion of the change in the purpose.

The new mission was well accepted in 2007. Though in 1997 there had been a failed attempt to simplify and streamline the mission by a vote at the national convention, this fairly quick change by a vote of the board (not the members) did not rouse any serious opposition. Web sites changed, elevator speeches were revised (usually to be crisper and more to the point), dozens of presentations introduced the new mission to members across the country. The board had surveyed the members to find the key components of the AAUW “DNA” before proposing the new mission, and they did their job well, judged by the acceptance of the new mission.

However, a mission is not, in general, a “purpose” — an immutable description of why an organization exists. In our discussions of changing the mission in the past, there’s been an assumption that there is a core of “what AAUW really is” and the mission, while more than a marketing tag line,  is the set of words that instantiates that purpose for the present time.

That said, it’s pretty clear that the current mission and the one before don’t have a great deal to do with the “purpose” in the current bylaws. My sense is that though they can recite the mission and act to advance it, many members, at their core, understand AAUW as an organization that serves that 1899 purpose — uniting alumnae of various institutions. Perhaps this assumption was so ingrained that it was not clearly articulated in the discussions that led up to the 2007 change in the mission.

Why have those responsible for the new bylaws put the current mission into Article II? What has happened to the “uniting of graduates”?

I think we need a crisp answer to those questions, and I expect the answer will be “we change or we die.” At the 2007 convention, where we voted to lay the groundwork for the proposed bylaws, we were told in no uncertain terms that change is necessary — but not sufficient — for the continued life of the organization. We voted, unanimously, to change.

Why, though, did we change the “purpose?” I can’t say I’ve gone back through the documents of the strategic process, but my impression is that the whole strategic process was in the context of

“uniting alumnae” is no longer a viable purpose for a national organization

Those who want to join a group of college graduates, for whatever purpose, can find that group in their neighborhood and among their colleagues — it is no longer difficult to find other alumnae. Indeed the disconnect between even the “lifelong learning” mission and the current purpose argues that it’s been irrelevant for many years. It’s also accepted that those who  “join for the mission” are less likely to oppose the change to the degree requirement than those who “join for the people.”

We need a new purpose. We have a well accepted mission, and a decision was made to drop that in to Article II.

Once that’s done, the degree requirement no longer makes sense. Nothing in that mission requires that members supporting it have degrees.

So if you want to continue the degree requirement, how would you articulate a 21st century “purpose” for AAUW that includes that requirement?

I recognize that this change in purpose will seem unexpected to many who see AAUW as primarily a local organization —  friends and colleagues — doing good work and having fun, making connections to the community, continuing that “lifelong learning.”  It’s unexpected to those who haven’t dug down into the “why are we here” question. It’s the national board that’s had to grapple with that question — and after listening to thousands of comments from members across the country as well as the best legal and organizational development advice they could find,  they have approved the proposed bylaws. This is what they see as the best way forward to make AAUW a vibrant organization that will help advance equity for women and girls through its unique history and culture.

But we’re not there yet. Even if the proposed bylaws pass, we may face the “slow death” that was raised as a specter in at the 2007 convention in Phoenix. We will lose some members — perhaps even branches — who want to cling to the 1899 purpose. However, if we are to move forward into this new age, finding a way to energize our members, recruit new stakeholders and forge alliances with new partners, we must change.  We do have a chance at reversing the decades long decline to rise again as an organization that honors our incredible past as we invent our future — for all women and girls. Join me!

Maybe I’ll get my life back

Hmm… I understand it’s hard to predict what the specific requirements will be for volunteers with AAUW after the new bylaws pass in June, 2009. But I really don’t think the application form that’s just been released will help populate whatever positions the new board and the staff will craft to support the new organization.

The information that’s requested:

  • which of this long list of skills do you have (and how do you rank yourself, expert to novice)
  • which of this long list of career fields have you worked in (and at what level, admin to exec)
  • your resume (with no prompts about how to make that particularly relevant to an AAUW recruiting team)

My guess is that at some point the folks who are responsible for AAUW tasks that could leverage volunteer efforts will decide

  • It’s not worth it. Let the board set policy and the staff implement it. The other volunteers can get on with their lives working on local issues (which is what 99% of them do anyway).
  • Folks will try to use the data collected in this form, realize it’s a losing battle and fall back on personal networks. Maybe I’ll be on someone’s radar screen. Maybe not.
  • Someone will come up with a form that will be helpful — as well as a sample list of tasks that will help match volunteers in a specific, time-limited, skills-appropriate way. Maybe I’ll see it and apply. Maybe not.

Full disclosure: I did see drafts of this form and, working with others, tried to improve it. The powers that be obviously disagreed with the direction of my suggestions, so if this works for other people, great.

Changes we made in forming a branch

AAUW North Carolina has just formed the Tar Heel Branch, http://tarheel.aauwnc.org, a “branch without borders” that will serve the entire state using the Montana model .

Given this experience, I have a few comments on the process AAUW recommends for branch formation. Since this is something folks tend to do once in a lifetime, there’s not much opportunity for learning the process. So here’s my two cents, particularly for the benefit of those who are forming these new-style virtual branches. I have written the membership department and membership committee with some of these comments, but don’t have the sense that changing the documented process is high on anyone’s TODO list.

The short version of the recommended process (login to get the whole scoop – or let me know where this is posted on www.aauw.org) is

  • Phase I: A small group recruits 15 individuals eligible for membership, chooses a branch name, notifies any branches that will be affected by the new branch, and petitions the state for approval.
  • Phase II: The initial group decides whether it will use bylaws or working rules during its initial period, finalizes the appropriate document and sends it to the AAUW bylaws chair for approval. Recruiting continues and discussion/implementation of programming begins.
  • Phase III: The group elects branch officers (using guidance from the bylaws or working rules). Copies of the state approval from Phase I, the bylaws chair approval from Phase II, and the list of (at least 15) charter members and the branch officers are sent to AAUW. The AAUW executive committee reviews this information and issues a formal letter confirming the branch as a duly chartered organization. Recruiting, programming continue.
  • Phase IV: The branch receives the charter, applies to the IRS for an EIN, opens a bank account and starts collecting dues.

We saw two major problems with this process

  1. State approval is requested after the 15 charter members are identified. It should be possible to describe the concept of the branch (“evening branch” in a community where another branch already exists, virtual branch that might recruit from all the other branches’ areas) to the state board and get the state’s approval before recruiting is very far along. The recruiting message can be much stronger if the organizers can say they have the state organization’s support.
  2. Dues are not collected until phase IV. In the best of cases, this process can take 3-6 months. Nonmembers who become prospects early in the process should become AAUW members as early as possible.

Here is the process as we modified it for the AAUW Tar Heel (NC) Branch:

  • Phase I: An initial group comes up with the idea for a new branch. They contact the state mvp and president to discuss how the new branch would advance the AAUW mission. The state lets the other branches (especially those that would be directly affected) know that this group would like to form. The group petitions the state for approval in principle of the branch concept.
  • Phase II: The core group recruits a fiscal agent, decides the amount (if any) of local dues that will be collected during this phase, and starts recruiting members (who pay dues at the this time).* As the group grows, discussions of programming start (both to serve the current members and to provide opportunities for recruiting additional members). The state provides resources to orient the new members on AAUW priorities and programs.
  • Phase III: The threshold of 15 members is reached. A group works out the bylaws or working rules which will guide the branch during the first year (and gets them approved by the Association bylaws chair). The members approve the name of the branch, approve bylaws/working rules, elect officers, and approve the amount of local dues. This information is sent to the state for its approval, and then the petition for a charter is sent to AAUW.
  • Phase IV: Once the charter is approved, AAUW creates the branch in its database, connects the branch members and officers to the branch in the database, and sends formal approval to the branch. The branch applies to the IRS for an EIN and opens a bank account. The branch settles accounts with the fiscal agent. Recruiting continues (with checks now being written to the new branch), and the branch programs begin using the branch’s formal name.

Again, we did it this way during July – December 2008, using AAUW NC as the fiscal agent. It really adds two steps to the proces: state approval in principle (Phase I) and the use of a fiscal agent (phase II, III). It’s likely that this isn’t the best process — but we tried to comply with the current requirements while making sure that our prospects got AAUW and AAUW NC benefits as soon as possible.

We recommend this modified process to any other group starting a new branch. It requires some familiarity with the dues schedule (MALs converting to branch membership, half-year dues, branch members from this state and other states joining the new branch as dual members, c/u reps joining the branch, etc.). It was helpful that the person responsible for tracking new member data was a branch treasurer who could see information on members (e.g. expiration date for MALs) through the aauw.org Member Services Database. That meant that the when the list of charter members was submitted it could include the member id and expiration date of each charter members. A fiscal agent with branch treasurer access may be able to help the new branch with these details.


*The branch doesn’t exist, so it can’t have a bank account, therefore it needs a “fiscal agent” to collect dues. We did it this way partly because the last branch that formed in North Carolina had a terrible time with dues collected but not promptly forwarded to AAUW. A couple of models for this:

  • The state is the fiscal agent. A new member writes a check to the state. Someone in the core group is responsible for filling out an at-large membership form and forwarding the form and the check to the state treasurer. The state treasurer forwards the form and a check for at-large membership dues to AAUW (keeping the state portion of the dues, and holding the local portion in the state account for the branch).
  • Another branch is the fiscal agent. A new member writes a check to this branch. Someone in the core group is responsible for filling out the branch membership form and forwarding the form and the check to the branch treasurer. The branch treasurer processes this as usual, except that the local portion of the dues is held for the new branch. The existing branch may or may not confer the benefits of branch membership, but the new member will get benefits from AAUW and the state

There will be expenses for the branch during Phase 2 and 3 — postage, printing, etc. It may be that the core group will be willing to cover these out of pocket — but if the branch chooses to collect local dues (or has other income — perhaps fundraising?) the fiscal agent may also be asked to reimburse expenses.