Since May of this year, I have been a director-at-large of the San Diego Computer Society. I volunteered at the recommendation of a friend, who was retiring from an equivalent position on the board. At the time, I had no idea what I was getting into.
The named officers—president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer—are all members of the San Diego PC Users Group. Four out of the five current directors, of which I am counted, are members of the Kernel Panic Linux User Group.
This is the first time I’ve participated in a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization, so I don’t know how a typical group works. This one is contentious. I don’t know the motivation behind the typical volunteer board member of the San Diego Computer Society, but I now know that a cantankerous, argumentative disposition is a requirement for the job. It’s impossible, it seems, to hold a discussion without a formal, lengthy, and largely unnecessary motion first being introduced, then argued about. At one point during the board meeting last night, we were referred to as the San Diego Debate Society. I can only hope that made it into the minutes.
One member delivered an emotionally heated monologue to his fellow members. He was quite passionate, almost livid, in the belief that the organization is shrinking. He insisted that it should be growing, and he wanted to do whatever it would take to bring more groups into the fold. That got me thinking. What in fact is the purpose of the San Diego Computer Society?
The best anyone could come up with in the way of services in return for dues paid were the provision of a meeting location for the so-called special interest groups (SIGs) and liability insurance for the same. These days I would be surprised if a group couldn’t find a location to meet. Many companies are willing to provide space to employees’ groups, and free wifi is available at Panera Bread—though it’s not a convenient location for presentations. My experience with the modern technical user group has been informal gatherings instead of officially sanctioned events. In these situations, what use is liability insurance?
If asked today, I couldn’t provide an answer to any of my queries. I term as director lasts two years. In that time, I hope to find those answers.
I recently oversaw the dissolution of a failed Web-based start up company. We made the mistake of forming a board of directors. This led to more bickering than actual work. When we were launching our venture, I attempted to avoid the formation of a board, in favor of a more loosely organized company. Unfortunately, we were left to learn our lessons the hard way. Perhaps that’s just the way people are. In my experience, any time more than one person is handed any amount of power in an organization, strife will inevitably follow.