What’s the problem?

This may be the draft of the summer 2007 AAUW NC president’s letter in the state newsletter.

I’m a member of the Association’s Organizational Structure and Governance task force (see announcement), and was tasked with drafting criteria to evaluate the OSG recommendations. As I started thinking about the criteria for the OSG recommendations, I went back and asked “what’s the problem?” I said to myself, “declining membership,” “financial challenges,” “few supporters willing to commit significant time or money,” but then I caught myself. I need to keep in mind the real problem:

In the classroom, the workplace, and the community,
here and around the world,
equity for women and girls is still an issue.

How do we address the problem?
In AAUW we attack that problem on three related fronts:

  1. Research on equity issues that impact the lives of women and girls and which resonate with members of the community.
  2. Education for ourselves on those issues so that we can learn where there are opportunities for us to fight those inequities while we also encourage education on all fronts as the best strategy to decrease inequity overall
  3. Advocacy to carry out what we learn and “shape the future” with work in our schools, our legislatures and courts, and our communities.

What’s required of us to address the problem?

Time and money. Simple, but complicated. On some fronts, we must depend on professional staff to lay the groundwork and establish the framework for volunteer efforts. That takes money. On the other hand, our power comes from our grass roots structure and committed volunteers. That means time. The creativity of those volunteers, filtered through professional communications channels, can be multiplied many fold. Money again. The cycle continues as projects rise and fall. If we tap the passion of those who care about “the problem,” and avoid siphoning time and money into low leverage activities seemingly unconnected to the mission, our capacity to advance equity for women and girls is enormous.

——-End article, begin OSG-specific comments——–

So how does this affect our structure and governance?
With that in mind, here’s what I’d propose for evaluating the recommendations of the Organizational Structure and Governance Task Force:

  • Shifts resources (time and money) towards mission-related work
  • Increases resources (time and money) available overall
  • Improves flexibility to allow more individuals to connect to our efforts
  • Supports improved focus, alignment and branding to make our efforts clearer to stakeholders and others concerned
  • Radiates excellence to make our efforts more visible and attractive


  • National dues collection (shifts resources)
  • “Development Corps” (cf. Lobby Corps) (increases resources)
  • Fewer, themed “regional” meetings (improves flexibility)
  • Ongoing evaluation of efforts (e.g. committees) (excellence)

Interactivity at a distance

My theme this week may be “teamwork” – how do we encourage it, support it, reward it, take advantage of it?

A prompt is the fact that the Organizational Structure and Governance Task Force, three months after its announcement, still has not gelled or produced any concrete recommendations. There’s hope, of course, but given conference calls where a few people dominate and there’s no real focus other than walking through an agenda, gives me pause. Another is a “conversation” on the AAUW CA Online list about streamlining the AAUW CA board where someone raised a concern as to whether the smaller board would have enough folks to do the work. Our common practice of “working boards” with less support for “off board contributors,” does, I think, need to change.
One seminar that might provide food for thought: Increasing Interactivity in Webinars, 1pm ET, April 22, sponsored by the STC Instructional Design and Learning SIG. I’m unlikely to attend, but let me know if you do. Registration and more info. While the topic may seem narrow, how to engage those at a distance is a key issue for us moving forward.

What do women want?

As we think about AAUW’s competition, it’s clear that some “women’s groups” are doing better than we. The explosive growth of the relatively new Red Hat Society has been noted in many conversations. Federated Woman’s Clubs and Junior Leagues are much larger than we in some areas of the country.

This week’s Raleigh News and Observer highlighted two different groups that I wasn’t aware of but which are much bigger (at least locally) than we:

March 15, 2007: Wake County Extension and Community Association

The group, formed in the 1920s as a social network for women, wants to reach out to younger women looking to learn how to can fruit and vegetables, sew, quilt and do other handicrafts that once were commonplace in Wake County households. …

[There are] nearly 200 … members of Wake County’s 12 ECA clubs. … The ECA used to be an integral part of the social fabric of Wake County and North Carolina, Laymon said. Statewide membership was nearly 17,000 in the 1960s; it now stands at 5,000.

March 13, 2007: Two (!) stories on the Sweet Potato QueensOverview with background on national organization, Highlighting one of the local groups

“We’re like the Red Hat Society with a libido,” author Jill Conner Browne said from her home in Jackson, Miss. Browne has built a royal empire based on her best-selling Sweet Potato Queens books, which offer everything from advice to recipes.

Since Browne started the first SPQ club more than two decades ago, more than 5,000 chapters have sprouted around the globe, including about 100 in North Carolina and a dozen in the Triangle area. … Most of the Carolina SPQs are women in their 30s and 40s. They are teachers, nurses, lab techs, stay-at-home moms and school administrators. … Having fun is a major component of the chapters. But, more important, members say, the clubs are an ideal way to celebrate womanhood and sisterhood, as well as support charitable causes.

For context, AAUW has two branches in the “Triangle,” and one in Wake County. The Chapel Hill branch has had 70-100 members recently, and Raleigh/Wake County ranges 40-65. There are about 1150 members in 21 branches in North Carolina with another 500-600 members-at-large.

Branch certification

Would it be possible to come up with a process to “certify” branches? Initial thoughts –

  • Branch would demonstrate commitment to mission appropriate for its size and its community
  • Branch would demonstrate technology expertise to allow Association to make assumptions about how it can deliver information to the branch.
  • Financial reports in a standard form

Would phasing this in over, say, five years be possible? Would it make sense to charge a per-branch fee to those who cannot receive information electronically? Who, exactly would administer this? Who would “sell” it to the branches?

Is a branch like a classroom?

In the UFT column this morning, Randi Weingarten talked about different philosophies for changing schools:

  • Change to how it looks — ala NYC chancellor Joel Klein, centralization of control
  • Change to how it works — ala NY Gov. Elliot Spitzer, emhpasis on smaller class sizes, more resources

In another note this morning (sorry, I’ve lost the reference, but will post if I find it), there was a reminder that it’s fruitless to “tell” people to change. Leading change means providing motivation — a reason for change.

It got me thinking about how we’re pushing AAUW change. Are we looking at a centralized model — “telling” the branches that they need to change. We’ve been watching (what? 20?) years of declining membership that “should” be motivation enough. But why hasn’t change happened before?

What are we giving the branches that is a clear “we are changing so that you can reach _____” message? What’s the goal that they are changing towards. It must be more than mere survival.

If the change that’s in progress is perceived as “change at the top” then that’s where it’ll stay. Enough of our members spent their careers in the classroom — and how many “changes at the top” have they learned to ignore?