I’m not sure that a long and involved Annual General Meeting is the best place to break the news that membership costs are going up. After several hours in the British Association of Dramatherapists AGM/GM last weekend I know several people who were wishing they had gone to the alternative workshop instead. And some who were reconsidering their membership. But as someone who had previously sat on the other side of the Exec Committee table I did feel like it was an important meeting, even though the alternative workshop looked tempting even to me.
With a lot of busy members who don’t always read the emails they are sent (or the electronic minutes of previous meetings – I hereby confess), the AGM is one time when the varied work of the association and sub groups focusing on particular areas of employment or interest is recognised and communicated to the membership. Seeing people appealing for help and hearing about relevant work being done hopefully encouraged others to get involved, even in a minor way.
Calculating the benefits of a professional organisation by adding up what you get out of it perhaps misses the point. I could add up the value of the journal and newsletters, other communications and conference opportunities but this is missing the big picture. As a member of a relatively small profession I can see that we need people promoting our skills and specialism to a national audience. The regulatory board the HCPC also costs money but they don’t really care about dramatherapy so long as we are practising ethically.
If we costed up the hours spent by the Chair, Vice Chair, and other members of exec committee and other committees representing us, sitting in tedious but important meetings for us, maintaining websites and other online communications for us, forming a charitable wing, liaising with training courses and numerous other bodies; it would add up to a great deal more than the token honoraria that are offered to a few of these hard working volunteers. So whether it’s our financial contributions or donated time, I guess I think the association needs us, whether or not we think we need them.
I’m not sure how well this translates to other membership organisations. I guess most voluntary organisations could not exist without the fantastic efforts of volunteers. I joined my relevant union when I started work in higher education and I know they also rely on membership involvement. Much of the work within churches is also done on a voluntary basis but this isn’t all they are about. I think it’s good to get involved with helping out but this can also be a distraction from what is most important, like Martha in the Bible story.
I watched some of a series of short videos from LICC recently called ‘Life on the Frontline’. Helpfully the clip I most like is on their website here. Neil Hudson talks about how instead of overwhelming new church members with opportunities to serve, important though they are, we would do better to see where people already are, and how we can support them to thrive and witness to others in their everyday jobs, family situations and social circles. In my first few months at my current church I was invited to get involved in many things. At one event I think I was invited to set up, sing, serve coffee and supervise the bouncy castle which did feel a bit excessive. Thankfully I’m fairly good at saying ‘No’ when I need to, and people did understand.
I guess there needs to be a balance between inviting people to contribute and seeing what they need, and actually there is an ongoing series of consultation events by the British Association of Dramatherapists to ensure that the needs and views of the membership and non members are actively considered. Some of the recent developments have been mentoring schemes and advice for those setting up in private practice which I would have found useful back when I was trying to get established as a dramatherapist.
My current work has shifted somewhat away from that now, and in some ways I don’t need to keep up my membership. But I want to keep hold of that side of my identity – I do miss being a dramatherapist but I’m fortunate in my current employment that my salary means I can cover the fees fairly easily. Which I know is not the case for many new or only partially employed dramatherapists, even though they really need the support of a high profile organisation. I do understand the reasons why many people let their membership lapse, but I think they are missing out. And I think the organisation misses them too.