Regional Vice Chairman
From your perspective, what is the role of local groups within American Mensa? Are they important? What steps would you take to implement your vision of local groups?
Unlike the corporate model in which a constituency often has a great deal of clout, Mensa's local groups play a far more subdued role. This is due, I think, to the way geography defines a group: one joins Mensa and finds that one is automatically a member of the group that embraces one's zipcode. While there may be some affinity for the folks living nearby, that is not always the case. Local groups feel they must work hard to find mutual interests for their members, who ironically often aren't that close to each other.
At the national level, individual groups become "visible" only when they are potential hosts for a national event (AG, Colloquium, Mind Games®, etc.) or when they have a crisis. While plaudits are given to a group for a nice newsletter or having the highest percentage of early renewals, this type of recognition does not confer any clout to the group (e.g. all members get reduced dues or an award certificate). A group is not inherently important, and most have little name recognition.
If all groups were eliminated, American Mensa could continue to operate quite well I think. People living in a certain area could continue to meet. Those with similar interests would still have a way of getting in touch with fellow enthusiasts. The biggest change would be the lack of a "local" newsletter - perhaps it would be replaced by a regional one, and/or maybe planned activities would be posted to a central site where searches could be done by interest, date, location, etc. One big plus might be the elimination of the political wars that wreak havoc in groups; another would be the end of the "Volunteer Vacuum" - no more pleas to step forward to be on a committee or to run for local office.
I don't see a "groupless" American Mensa as anarchy. It would mirror many clubs whose members are spread over a wide geographic area (Trekkies, Civil/Revolutionary War renacters, Burning Man, etc.). Many have annual conventions and/or regional get togethers. Some may produce newsletters or other periodic communications. By reducing the organisational framework to a skeleton, the club is freer to move in whatever way its members wish.
One way to begin to implement this idea is to dissolve "borderline" groups: the ones where the newsletter just barely gets published four times a year; elections haven't been held in years; one person has several roles: e.g. editor and president and membership officer. These groups would not be subsumed into neighbouring ones, but their members would be able to be in contact with the surrounding groups and the whole country.
Why not try it? What do we have to lose?
In the American Mensa body, the Local Groups are the blood. Without the LGs, AM would be no more durable than a cut flower. LGs attract and foster future leaders and dedicated volunteers. The beloved newsletters all take root and flower from the LGs. Important articles often originate in them that would be thought twice about before submitting to a single national publication. The LGs give voice to so many who otherwise feel they are without outlets of expression. LGs foster pride in service and participation. New members have good opportunity to see how, with some effort, they can gain their own voices to express not only in print; but, directly to their intelligent peers at various gatherings, provided by LGs. Asking if LGs are important seems ludicrous. What would any of us be without LGs? We would pay dues to some far off organization, receiving one national publication, probably with little of real interest; and, of course, no interaction or socializing. The invention of the LGs was truly genius at work. May they ever LIVE!
What steps would you take to implement your vision of local groups?
First, and foremost, is to increase membership. It is non-pareil.
Second, I encourage participation in money-raising events; and, make it fun.
Third, working with MERF should be encouraged to all active members; as well as partial initial activity of new members to study its goals.
Fourth, I work to encourage members who were formerly active, or who have not been active, to come join in with nice, intelligent people to make a difference in their own lives.
While I have many more ideas, the above encompasses much of "the Big Picture". These principles are ingrained in me. Thank You for reading this.
Soon, our leaders will choose how to distribute a massive amount of money. Some will favor higher funding for local groups; some, increased funding for programs. Though these are worthwhile endeavors, growth is our primary need. Growth is the key to our future. We can have local activities in more cities, and better funded programs through increased membership, without a counterproductive dues increase.
We must first agree to commit our resources to this project; then decide how to do it. It will take the good will and the hard work of a lot of Mensans to change national policy, but change we must.
I don't have all the answers. I'm counting on a lot of help from a lot of you. We have only 1% of 6 million potential members. I am unsatisfied; I know we can do better; I long to see more vibrant local groups. We must have a proactive membership quest.
I'm not just asking for your vote; I'm asking for your help.
One of the things I support is the concept of a Local Secretaries Council. Steps towards this include waiving the AG registration fees for Local Secretaries, dedicating space and time at the AG for a meeting of the Local Secretaries, and alloting time on the AMC agenda for a report on the concerns raised at the Local Secretaries meeting. No one is in a better position to communicate the concerns of a local group than the members of that group.
From my perspective the role of local groups within Mensa is simply that they are Mensa. The only reason for any bureaucratic organ or position to exists outside of the local groups is to provide support for the care and feeding of the local groups. People join Mensa to meet other people and to do interesting things. Meeting people and doing things happens in local groups. I doubt anyone ever joined Mensa just to be an administrator. Yes, local groups are important. But the word "important" in the question does not convey the degree to which local groups are important to Mensa. Please allow me to explain by way of a negative analogy.
One could ask if the wheels on a car are important? Yes, they are. Is the engine important? Yes. Are the brakes important? Yes. All of these parts are important. However, those questions miss the point. The purpose of the car is not an excuse to assemble parts it is to travel somewhere. Together, the parts make up the car. However, the parts are not the car.
Local groups do not come together to form Mensa. The local groups are Mensa. Every local group, in and of itself, is Mensa. Everything else in Mensa is important only to the degree that it supports the smooth functioning of the local groups.
Other organizations and clubs often have a specific concept, activity, or central organizing principle at their hearts. A bird watching club is focused upon watching birds. A car club revolves around cars. However, both the birds and cars will be there whether or not people are watching them in an organized fashion, or otherwise. Neither the birds nor the cars care that there is a club. Mensa is different. We have no single organizing principle save the entrance requirement. Therefore, there is no Mensa if not for the membership. If nobody is thinking about Mensa, then Mensa does not exist. The members are Mensa and the members are found in the local groups.
My vision of local groups is that they are the nexus of the majority of all Mensa activity. Obviously, all local activities happen within a local group. In addition, RG's are planned and executed by local groups. Finally, local print and electronic publications are the primary method of communications with members. Therefore, the primary focus of Mensa as a national organization should be to provide financial, administrative and moral support to the local groups.
However, there are clearly a number of functions that only a national-level office can perform. These are important functions. Nevertheless, in my vision, I see the role of the national office as primarily supportive of local groups and activities as opposed to being proscriptive.
In summary, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". I want to be RVC so I can protect local groups from those who wish to implement their vision of local groups.
Local groups are American Mensa. Together with SIGs, local groups provide the activities in which the members of Mensa participate. The publications and programs of the local groups and SIGs provide the benefit that keeps members renewing their membership. The local group testing programs facilitate membership growth.
During my term as SIGs Officer, I worked to protect SIGs from unreasonable and unjustified outside interference. As a member of the Risk Management Committee, I recognize that there are very valid concerns about risk. However, risk management must practical. A potential liability of $100 does not justify sweeping authoritarian controls. There are those whose vision of SIGs is one where there is significant central control. The SIG related ASIEs passed during my term as SIGs Officer guarantee the autonomy of the SIGs.
The true issue is how can we help local groups? The Leadership Development Workshops are a wonderful vehicle to share with the members and officers of local groups, the wealth of knowledge and experience available through Mensa. LDWs are funded, but don't seem to happen often enough.
The National Office has a wealth of information, but the local group officers must know for what to ask. As proctor coordinator of my local group, I receive a Prospect Report each month that identifies all who contacted the National Office requesting information about joining Mensa. I now have almost 500 prospects to whom I send a reminder email each month with the dates, times and locations of the Mensa Admissions Tests. I was shocked to discover that a friend, who is the Proctor Coordinator for her local group, does not receive the Proctor report. The LocSec/President of the local group must instruct the National Office to send that report to the Proctor Coordinator. There is a wealth of information. The challenge is to get it to those who need it.
IF I WERE LOCAL GROUP CZAR
Local Groups (LG) are the body, mind, and soul of American Mensa. They are supported amply by the National Office (NO) and the American Mensa Committee (AMC).
There is a dynamic and constant dialogue between the AMC, NO, and LG regarding both ongoing and episodic activities, including substantive actions passed by motion as well as those intended, all by way of secured online files. LG officers are invited parties to all AMC meetings via secure website resources.
Of paramount importance is the education of every LG officer and/or leader in the science and fine art of volunteerism, which is taught, mentored, and practiced diligently at the level of felicity and cooperation.
All transitions of power are begun at the outset of each office through an established orientation procedure carried out online at the national website. It is a self-paced orientation that brings each officer, whether prospective, newly inducted, or tenured, through all the basic history, policy and procedure, and relevant job description data.
Upon candidacy for a position, each prospective or reinstated officer is required to document one's personal goals and objectives for the position for the term sought, as well as one's goals and objectives for the membership served, the leadership position engaged, and the celebration planned.
Each officer is so sufficiently informed of one's responsibilities and rights, and so amply supported by predecessors and assistants, as to be capable of pledging to Get more out of the job than I put into it, thus establishing the institution of job satisfaction as a prime objective for seeking office.
Orientation is supplemented by ongoing inservice that's carried out via an officers' mentorship program, wherein as a prerequisite for the job, each officer agrees to support one's successor for a minimum of one-fourth the length of the term or six months, which ever is more.
Each officer or prospective officer has the benefit, by way of archived exit reports, of their predecessor's goals and objectives, successes and failures, and recommendations and caveats.
Matters such as reimbursement of expenses, deadlines, chain of command, grievance, and so forth are clearly spelled out before misunderstandings or disputes arise so that individuals can be aware of the assets and liabilities of their position before emotional engagement overtakes the circumstances.
The united forces of leadership of a combined LG revolution have prevailed upon the AMC to make InterLoc become an unencumbered, monthly version of its present self, replete with not only the vibrant and didactic reporting and discussion of it current audience but also a tool of education in a thorough and ongoing genuine leadership development through the study of leaders and leadership theory, a quarterly workbook on relevant issues and practices, and the sprinkled embellishment of facts and fiction through humor, art, and other forms of mental stimulation so as to more effectively address the broad range of learning styles present in leaders of genius.
American Mensa is a society of LGs, by LGs, and for LGs.
As Regional Vice Chair, in addition to the local group and individual member assistance the position mandates, I would attempt coordination with adjacent regions to develop multiregional gatherings and other projects. Also, I would foster interaction with the larger community outside Mensa in matters beneficial to the community and to Mensa.
In our constitution, under The Nature of Mensa, it reads that: Mensa provides a forum for intellectual exchange among members. Its activities include the exchange of ideas by lectures, discussions, journals, special-interest groups, and local, regional, national, and international gatherings...
When we *join* something, it is with the purpose of coming together with something else. When we joined Mensa, we expected to interact in some way with those things listed in The Nature of Mensa. Alot of what I see listed there is active, not passive. Planes can take us to an Annual Gathering or MindGames or Colloquium. Local Groups offer each and every member the opportunity to join something with alot less time, effort and money.
Are they important?
I cant imagine anyone saying no to this, but Im sure someone could come up with some other way to do it. I see Local Groups as the lifeblood of the organization.
What steps would you take to implement your vision of local groups?
The Local Groups work just fine, not perfectly all the time, but what does?
American Mensa has alot of dos and donts and we sure do love the English language, just look at all of our Actions Still in Effect. Yes, that was flip, but it still comes down to one thing, trying to keep Mensa the way we like it. That means preserving what we have, making some going forward changes and trying to give everyone enough to make them want to become or stay a member.
As an RVC I would contact each Local Group and set a regular monthly date to talk on the telephone with the LocSec and other officers. Ive got a great single-fee telephone calling plan and I have the time and the desire to do it. With that kind of exchange, I think the Local Groups would be well served and Id be better informed.
Implement *my vision*, its *our* vision. Let each Local Group implement their own vision and Ill do my best to support their efforts. As an RVC, I believe it would be my duty to serve the best interests of American Mensa and that means each and every member, especially those of Region 9.