Branch Collaborations Task Force - 2018 Progress Update

Several years ago, a Mountaineers task force examined opportunities for Branches to work together most effectively to advance our mission. Many people across the organization have put the task force's recommendations into action. We're pleased to share a progress update on this work.
Lorna Corrigan Lorna Corrigan
Board President
January 05, 2019

In 2015, the Board of Directors chartered the Branch Collaborations Task Force to identify challenges and opportunities for our branches and volunteers in working with one another, with staff, and with the Board of Directors. The task force conducted extensive member interviews and concluded its work with a report to the board. In response to that report, the board committed to enhancing its support of our branches and to providing periodic progress updates to our membership. 

Since that time we have seen follow-up action by many volunteer leaders across the organization and by staff. Here’s an update on our progress.

Summary of Report

Specifically, the Task Force's objectives were to:

  1. Understand how roles, relationships, and communications are working for branch leaders, volunteers, staff, and the board.
  2. Gain insight into complaints and frustrations.
  3. Hear from interviewees what our success factors are.
  4. Recommend improvements in roles, relationships, and communication methods in order to improve the overall satisfaction of our members.

Where things were going well

The Task Force conducted extensive research to determine both the things that were going well and identify areas for improvement. Highlighted areas of success included:

  • When we engage all stakeholders early in planning process, we get good results.
  • We have passionate and energized volunteers who want to and can contribute. Their engagement in significant Mountaineers projects has produced such accomplishments as the remodel of the Tacoma Program Center.
  • Our branches, through volunteers, are the “front line” for delivery of our adult courses and activities – the core of The Mountaineers.
  • The Mountaineers staff is a highly professional and dedicated group which partners in meaningful and essential ways with the volunteers.

Where we saw PROBLEMS AND OPPORTUNITIES

A number of themes emerged from the Task Force's research, identifying areas that could be improved:

  • About 50% of the members interviewed felt that Mountaineers staff and board leadership were giving less attention and priority to the core adult programs than the interviewees felt was appropriate.
  • A majority of the members interviewed felt that they were not consulted early enough in substantive decisions of organization leadership to have a meaningful say. They also felt that the Managing Committee (a committee consisting of Branch Chairs or Branch Representatives) was a critical point of intersection for them, but that its potential had not been realized.
  • Volunteers sometimes contribute to their own marginalization by not reviewing available information or not responding to requests for input.
  • Better processes are needed for responses to member questions and requests in order to improve trust and respectful cooperation by staff and members.
  • Insufficient orientation and training are provided given the high turn-over of volunteers, volunteer leadership, board members, and staff.
  • Opportunities for growth and development are a high priority for volunteers, but are not currently sufficient.
  • Communications need to be well-considered. Many volunteers felt buried by the volume of emails, with the result that important communications sometimes got missed.

Task Force Recommendations

  1. Identify ways to strengthen the voice of and respect for the critical role that branches play in Mountaineers leadership structure.
  2. Set the Managing Committee up to succeed. Amend the Mountaineers bylaws to establish a new director position of Vice President of Branches (distinct from the Vice President of the Board), who will chair the Managing Committee and have a seat on the Executive Committee. Task that committee with proposing revisions to its charter to update its functions and importance.
  3. Engage the branches and volunteers early in decisions having significant import for them. Task the Managing Committee with gathering early branch input and communicating it to leadership. Make participation processes clear.
  4. Ensure that the strategic plan assigns high priority to core adult programs and provides for adequate resource allocation.
  5. Increase the role of branches and the weight given to that input in financial decisions that impact branch operations.
  6. Design and implement an orientation program for volunteers, staff, and board members that covers their respective roles and responsibilities and governance policies generally. Make a chart of roles and responsibilities available to all in the organization. Provide an array of training opportunities for volunteers and leaders at all levels.
  7. Provide written policies for addressing member complaints and designate the Managing Committee as the first point of contact for complaints or issues regarding branch operations.
  8. Build and nurture a strong sense of belonging to a “one-organization” culture with a common mission.
  9. Encourage more cross-branch and branch-staff activities for the purpose of coordinating the same tasks and activities, like creating common activity standards.
  10. Explore new and creative ways to reduce overload and increase our responsiveness and efficiency in “getting things done”.
  11. Communicate expectancy of respectful communications between all constituencies of the organization: volunteers, staff, and leadership at all levels.
  12. Strengthen the connection and responsiveness between the board of directors and volunteers/branch leadership, such as through a standard agenda item at board meetings for a report from the Vice President of Branches. Charter the Managing Committee as a primary vetting point for issues/decisions that affect branch operations. Effectively communicate to members the role and responsibility of the board of directors and its members.
  13. Develop a plan to follow up on the work of the Branch Collaborations Task Force as set forth in its report. Publish an abridged version of this report on The Mountaineers website and share with the interviewees for the report. Educate the new Executive Director on the Task Force findings and conclusions and on the work to be done.

PROGRESS REPORT

The themes identified and recommendations made by the task force have informed our priorities and investments, and even our recently completed strategic plan revision, Vision 2022. At the same time our branches, the board of directors, and our staff have taken significant steps. We have:

  • Invested in website upgrades that have improved member/use experiences
  • Amended our bylaws to create the board of director position of Vice President of Branches and have filled that board position
  • Created and re-chartered the Branch Leadership Committee (formerly the Managing Committee)
  • Improved finance committee operations and communication with the branches
  • Established the Progressive Climbing Education Initiative as a pilot step in improving outdoor education programs for The Mountaineers, including the volunteer experience in outdoor education programs
  • Launched the Alpine Ambassadors program to provide climb leaders opportunities to advance their technical skills and to foster stronger community across branches;
  • Restructured the Volunteer Development Manager staff position, and created the Volunteer Collaborations Manager and Volunteer Services Representative roles to devote more time to branch and staff operations and collaboration
  • Established a Governance Committee with responsibility for improved role definition and board education and policy review
  • Designed the strategic planning process to include grassroots member participation
  • Updated and added to our organizational policies

The insights and recommendations of the Branch Collaborations Task Force have driven significant progress towards the “One Mountaineers” mindset and culture that truly make us a stronger organization. While there are still hills and mountains to be climbed, we are proud of our progress and look forward to continued improvement.