Changing an Organization from Within?

This is a follow-up post to the one I did on members not joining the VFW and the American Legion.  I’ve been checking out the comments on the article (perhaps unwise).  One of the things that struck me was the sneering attitude of some of the posters that it was the vet’s fault for not trying harder or not trying to fix the organization from within.  One attacked a woman because she tried to fix it it from within, couldn’t, and walked away.

They made it sounds like it was a simple fix when it really wasn’t.

I was part of a regional writing organization for about 10 years.  Washington DC is not known for its creative side, so the organization had a non-fiction focus.  I joined it knowing that and went to the first writer’s conference.  The conference had an awesome Agent Fiction Roundtable where everyone asked questions.  People attending asked for more fiction topics, me included.

It seemed reasonable, since the organization always struggled to recruit members and adding fiction was a way to get more writers.  So, for the next one, the conference committee complied.

One small problem:  The non-fiction writers came up with the workshop topics, and they picked low-hanging fruit.  You know the kind of topics — if you ran a quick search on the internet, you could find out all you needed in about five minutes.  The topic choices kind of said that they didn’t think fiction writers ever made any money and why bother spending time on them.

I volunteered that year for the Agent Pitch Session and ran the room for the entire day.  I used my military experience, and the agents thought it was best run one they’d attended (so much so that when I returned years after, they knew who I was).  I volunteered because it would make the agents less scary and intimidating to me and I could practice informal pitches with them without any pressure.  Everyone always asks “What are you writing?” and when they did that, I wasn’t thinking about selling it.

The committee got good comments from the agents on the pitch sessions — I made them really look good.

I suggested several times that they should schedule the conference further out.  They were waiting until about 2-3 months out and then deciding on a date and throwing it together.  That killed any long term promotional efforts like being in the three writing magazines, and it also killed scheduling for any big name writers they might get.   They did want new members, didn’t they?

Eventually they asked me for some fiction topics for the conference workshops.  Ah ha!  I created a list of 50 or so items they could choose from, which included topics about social media and promotion, plus ones about writing, all hot topics at the time.  Some of them involved getting a police officer or a librarian to do a session, and, of course, they would also do some promotion for their appearance.

The committee went with more of the low-hanging fruit topics.  Even the situation with the agents was worse; we seemed to only be getting fiction agents purely by accident, and a lot of the fiction writers who wanted to do pitch sessions were frustrated by this.

At some point during this, the organization went into bankruptcy.  They tried creating a new LLC and starting a conference.  That committee wanted me on the committee. I turned it down because I knew they weren’t going to use anything I came up with.

The LLC also folded up.  Another group from the organization formed a new LLC and they got a new conference up.  I ran the pitch session, but things had changed for me.  I was planning to go indie, so meeting agents didn’t do much for me.  Not that it would have helped.  I could have counted the fiction agents there on one hand and had way too many fingers left over.

When the organization came back the following year to ask me to do the pitch sessions,  I turned it down.  It was going to consume an entire day of my time, time I could spend on my writing instead, and there was no longer any benefit to me.

Saying one should change the organization from within is far different from actually being able to, especially if they don’t want to change.  Sometimes the best choice is to walk away.