Saturday, June 19, 2010

AGM results and some thoughts on "governance"

A total of thirteen members attended our branch AGM yesterday, so we were comfortably quorate and everyone standing for re-election to the committee got in. However, thirteen people out of a branch membership of roughly 300 people is really not all that great, and a total membership of 300 isn't ultimately going to be enough to sustain services to 4,000-odd people long-term. Add in the wider population who expect us to be able to help with wildlife casualties, injured strays and so on, and it's just impossibly top-heavy.

The RSPCA is a very democratic charity—if you want to get rid of me, you can vote me out—but it depends on people being willing to participate, put in some work to achieve our goals and accept that majority decisions must be final. The idea of working within a structure of rules puts some people off because they think it's "bureaucratic" but without rules to decide who can make decisions and when a decision has been made the result would be chaos and nothing would ever get settled.

To participate in the decision-making processes of the RSPCA the first requirement is to become a member. Anyone with a genuine desire to help animals may join, although application from someone who wanted to use their membership for an ulterior purpose might be rejected (for example someone who joined in order to reverse the Society's policies against battery farming would have their application refused).

Three months after joining a member is entitled to receive voting papers for National Society elections and to attend their local branch AGM and vote in the election of the branch committee. They are also entitled to stand for election to their branch committee, but are not eligible to stand for election to the National Society's ruling council until they have been members for at least five years.

Branch elections do sometimes result in policy changes (although a lot of the time just getting enough people elected to form a committee is a struggle). Thirty years ago this branch did no rehoming at all, and this was only changed when a group of new people were elected to the committee. What happened wasn't exactly like a parliamentary election as members of both the old group and the new group were elected at the AGM (creating a much larger committee than before), but the new group formed a majority and put through the policy change. This kind of sudden shift is comparatively unusual and most of the time committees gain just a few new individuals each year.

This poses a problem in itself because new members are essential if committees aren't to wind up composed entirely of octogenarians, but being the only person who doesn't understand what's going on can make newly elected members feel the rest are forming a clique to exclude them. If you join a branch, be patient, and don't expect to understand everything immediately. Branches are complicated organisations, handling substantial amounts of money and requiring a lot of sustained work to keep them going. If you join in and help with existing activities you'll find it all gradually falls into place (and you'll have a wonderful command of acronyms—NCC, IET, RTA, RHQ—just like everyone else!)

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