Sunday, August 22, 2010

Why don't people come to meetings?

RSPCA Clwyd and Colwyn wonders why it's so difficult to get branch members to attend their AGM or other meetings. It seems to me that it's the same underlying set of problems that make RSPCA week less successful than it might be, and which I blogged about last year.
  1. Individuals may genuinely believe the RSPCA doesn't have a pressing need for their support because we have enormous numbers of other members.
  2. Most branch committees are run by very few, over-worked individuals. This means the people organising anything are generally also trying to do other things. Volunteers and new members may get the impression that things are disorganised and badly-run, and they may feel unappreciated if we don't answer calls immediately or if they want to do specific things (like walking dogs) and we want them to do different (and more boring) things (like fundraising or taking part in business meetings).
  3. There's a knock-on effect from (2) when people who think we're inefficient actually do volunteer to join in and are very enthusiastic but want to start changing things immediately. Because we're already operating very close to the edge of not coping, what we need is people who are willing to help with existing jobs, not make more work, even if their intentions are good.
  4. There seems to be a fatal tendency for people who are really keen on helping animals to set up new groups rather than supporting existing ones, particularly if the local RSPCA isn't doing something that they think it ought to be.
  5. And, partly as a knock-on effect from (4), there seems to be a general disenchantment with the kind of local democracy that the RSPCA embodies, which depends on groups of people working together with set rules and majority decisions. In many ways there's a frustrating sense that internally we've won all the battles that are being waged by activists in Australia and the US but we just can't recruit the ongoing practical support we need to keep up the momentum and eventually we're simply going to run ourselves into the ground. It's interesting to contrast the 2010 no-kill conference with the ICAWC conference organised by the Dogs Trust, or with the RSPCA's  Animal Welfare Conferences for members. The viewpoint of the no-kill conference is very much of activists looking in whereas we're inside running the services and trying to keep afloat. Inevitably we spend an awful lot of time worrying about finances, simply because we're on a treadmill of recurring bills (kenneling, vets, rates, rent...) and the need to keep generating income to pay them.

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