By William C. Franklin, CMC, AAC
Like a bell curve, leadership in new chapters of professional organizations rises, then wanes. Adopting certain structural steps will keep a chapter strong, delivering long-term value to members.
Over the four and a half decades that I have worked in this industry, I've observed one constant: The industry puts greater demands on all of us every day. We are busy people with work and life's general requirements. Most of us no longer have the benefit of volunteering weekly or daily hours to our favorite professional organization.
The life cycle of most American Culinary Federation chapters is somewhat predictable and can be applied against a simple bell curve. The curve could cover 10, 20 or 30 years. The beginning of the bell curve represents the energetic chartering group in their mid-20s and 30s. They work hard to get the chapter established and grow the membership, sometimes into the hundreds. This group seems to be the energy and catalyst that sustains all programs and events while moving the chapter forward.
As this core group of founders age, both physically and in their careers, they tend to lose the energy and creativity needed to sustain everything vital to a vibrant chapter. The largest mistake is that they fail to develop the next generation of leaders to continue the legacy. As the bell curve starts its predictable downturn to the chapter's ultimate demise, I often see those same leaders, now frustrated, wondering why the area’s culinarians won't support the local chapter like in the good old days.
So what do you do? First, founding members have to realize and develop any new chapter on the premise that you are in it for the future of the craft. If you are in it for only what you can get out of it, then the bell curve will certainly apply. You have to apply the same principles that made you successful in your career: That is, start early, share the load and develop people!
The Board of Directors
Look for diversity and strength in the members you ask to lead your organization. All may not be culinarians, or even current members of your organization. You need people who want to develop your apprenticeship and certification programs. You need people who know how to create exciting educational programs. Those are your basics.
Electing Your Board Leadership
Take a look at the length of time a person is asked to lead the board of directors. You want his or her full commitment and creativity while serving. Sometimes that means asking for a shorter length of service. Structure your board so that an average commitment is variable in years, but no longer than a total of four. Example: board member one year; president-elect one year; president one year; chairman of the board one year. Total commitment to the chapter could be from one to four years. Breaking it down makes it doable and leaves most leaders wanting to do more and serve in other ways.
Establish Progressive Boards
In most chapters, the president serves either by default or by choice. (I believe the latter.) We all know chapters where the leadership has been the same for decades. Good or bad, this is not developing future chapter leaders.
The board (not the general membership) should elect a vice president-elect, as well as a president. Terms are only for a one-year duration. At the end of each year, the president-elect will automatically assume the presidency, and the board elects from within its ranks the new president-elect. Now you have a progressive board and needed succession in place that will give your chapter stability with forced long-term vision. The general membership elects only interested persons to the board.
The progressive board takes on the responsibility of tutoring every future president and establishes a legacy for the future. The past president becomes the chairman of the board for an additional year and is one of your greatest advocates.
Reaching Out to More Volunteers
Encourage the board of directors to be only the board liaison to the committee chairs that they personally seek out and recommend to the board. That chairperson then should be encouraged to form his or her committee from quality people within the local community, member or not! This way, you give a greater number the chance to be positively engaged in the chapter.
Calendars and Agendas
Progressive boards have their calendars of events and programs set by the time any president takes his or her seat. This way, the success of the chapter is driven by the makeup of the board, not so much by the personality, strengths or weaknesses of any one president
Please consider rethinking the agenda for your general membership meeting. Always remember why the member wants to attend. Take a look at what you are currently doing and consider again the two primary reasons why people belong: a) networking opportunities and b) education.
End Note: Fundraising
Whether it is for money, product and/or services in kind, fundraising should be accomplished in support of functional and operational requirements for both your short- and long-term chapter goals. In other words, you take care of the chapter before you give of your collective time, talent and resources to anyone else. Remember, you are a business first. Even nonprofits have to project cash flow. The better we do it with long-term planning, the more stable we become.
William C. Franklin is corporate chef of Nestlé Professional, Centennial, Colo., and vice president of ACF’s Western Region.