The Pollinator Stewardship Council
Bee Clubs Are Broken By Ignoring The Value Of The By Laws
by Michele Colopy
Organizations can be revitalized, and re-made into better organizations when “bad things happen.” Rules are developed to curb behavior(s) that led to inappropriate use of club funds, unethical influence in voting on club business, or Board members benefitting financially from club activities. By Laws are developed and amended to ensure “everyone plays well on the playground.”
State Councils of Nonprofits and national nonprofits with affiliate (state and local) groups, created Standards of Excellence to guide and improve the function, organization, and controls of and within nonprofits. These Standards of Excellence also help prospective donors determine the best place to make their contribution. Standards of Excellence for nonprofits is a tool to guide groups to “play well on the playground.”
Organizations involve first and foremost people gathering together for a single purpose. However, organizations, nonprofit or not, can be quickly broken or destroyed by those same people.
In the previous Bee Culture issues I presented the basics of starting a nonprofit. The most difficult part of starting a nonprofit are developing the By Laws/Constitution/Articles of Incorporation. Certainly, you can get standard documents to utilize, but your group needs to seek information from other bee clubs as to what works for them, what were their problems, and how did they resolve them. The governing documents of the bee club are not written once and forgotten. They need regular attention.
Bee Clubs are broken by ignoring the value of the By Laws, by not updating them, and by not having a diverse group of the membership reviewing and revising them. Review of the By Laws should not be left to the Board of Directors. The Board has an inherent bias in changes that will constrain its authority. Certainly, some Board members need to be part of the process of By Laws review, but sometimes Board members are the reason the By Laws are being reviewed and revised. The most important aspect of a nonprofit organization, or a bee club is the bee club comes first, not personal agendas, not personal profit. The bee club is the “entity” all of the members and the Board must protect, strengthen, and help to ensure its longevity.
How can a bee club be broken?
#1-Not understanding the bee club’s liabilities. While lawsuits against nonprofits are rare, and the courts have rarely found against the nonprofit, the liabilities and risks inherent in groups is still high. Board members, and the membership are at risk of legal actions against them for injuries at meetings, field days, and special events (conferences). The personal assets of Board members and the membership need to be protected. Bee clubs must understand the need to protect themselves, and the bee club, and secure insurance. Talk with a local insurance carrier and discuss the activities of your club. Insurance coverage will vary based on the club’s activities and assets. Even if you hold a field day at a member’s bee yard, the club insurance will protect the beekeeper and the attending membership at “club sanctioned activities.” Be a responsible Board, obtain at least three quotes for insurance coverage for property and liability insurance, and Director’s and Officer’s Insurance (D & O Insurance) to protect the Board, the membership, and your bee club. Some State beekeeping associations may offer discounted insurance coverage to clubs which are members or affiliates of the State Beekeeping Association. Insurance is just a cost of being a responsible bee club.
#2-Personal agendas in contradiction to the mission, and the needs of the membership. For example:
Leaders promoting only their bee management practices, which may not necessarily be “best” management practices, violating the mission of the bee club, which typically states a broad definition of “education of beekeeping and beekeepers.”
Leaders who feel their level of beekeeping is better than others either in experience, number of hives, revenue earned, natural beekeeping, in-hive treatments, or wintering success are not being good leaders representing all beekeepers. Commercial, sideliner, and backyard beekeeping is not better or worse than the other. When beekeepers divide themselves at the local level, those practices spiral out of control dividing beekeepers in communities, within their state, and across the nation. The differences in beekeeping are the demands beekeepers place upon their honey bees, which affect the management practices for our bees. All beekeepers have the same concerns affecting their bees: pesticides, pests, pathogens, and poor forage. Commercial, sideliner, and backyard beekeepers all must manage their bees relative to pesticides, pests, pathogens, and poor forage. We are all beekeepers, working to improve beekeeping, and the health of our bees.
New club leaders do not want to act like former Egyptian Pharaohs, who tried to eliminate the history of previous Pharaohs. Quality leadership takes the past successes of leaders and builds upon them for the good of the club, and supports the mission of the club. It is the bee club and its mission that must be catered to, not individual agendas, not personal issues. All organizations, not just bee clubs have these issues, but good Board management, recruitment, and development will alleviate problems before “they are elected.” Beekeeping has a history of personal agendas impacting beekeeping starting with H.A. King and Rev. Langstroth in the 1860s. Board development and recruitment is key to successful, progressive, responsible leadership of organizations.
#3-Individuals “hogging” the same leadership positions for 10 or more consecutive years. This limits new ideas, and growth of the club. Eventually the club becomes that tenured leaders club, instead of a club of, for, and by the members. We must continually seek and train new leaders in our bee clubs. This involves getting to know your fellow bee club members. A great conversation starter with a club member is “how are your bees?” As beekeeping grows, clubs are gaining beekeepers with diverse skills in law, bookkeeping, medicine, website development, and various other skills. Clubs need to reach out to those members, and get them involved in their club. In this way clubs begin to train new leaders for the club. Current leaders should actively seek and work with members so they can train their replacement. Those are responsible leaders. Volunteers do not always “volunteer;” they have to know they will be welcomed, and their skills are wanted. An announcement at the club meeting is an announcement, it is not “asking an individual.” Talk to your fellow club members, what do they do, how can they help, and ask them personally to help with the club. As the Vice President of a State Bee Assn. recently stated, “People do not care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
#4-Board members using the membership as a singular customer base to sell bees and bee equipment. If no other companies, or beekeepers are allowed to sell to club members, this is a conflict of interest for that Board member, and it is unethical.
#5- Stealing club funds. You probably thought stealing from the club’s bank account would be the #1 way to break a club, it is not. Funds can be recovered. Theft can be prosecuted. Stealing money from organizations does happen. When a level of trust builds up with a Treasurer of five or 10 years, members stop examining or questioning the accounting, until it is too late. A quality, responsible Treasurer will welcome annual audits, and reviews and monitoring of the budget and the financial records. The club funds belong to the members, and the Treasurer and the Board must protect that trust, and the funds.
The bank account for the bee club should be opened in its own Employer Identification Number (EIN). EINs are free, and easy to obtain (www.irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/Apply-for-an-Employer-Identification-Number-%28EIN%29-Online). If a bank account is opened using a member’s Social Security number (SSN) the club risks losing those funds to tax liens, garnishments, etc. associated with that member’s SSN.
Bee club funds should never be kept in the private, personal bank account of a Board member. A Board member that offers to do this in order to save the club the cost of bank fees is setting themselves up for club fund issues, as are the club members who agree to such an arrangement. There are inherent costs to running an organization. Get a separate bank account for the bee club.
#6- Immediate family members serving on a Board at the same time. This leads to packed votes on the Board, or worse yet, it will bring a bad relationship into the middle of the Board for “everyone to enjoy.” Family members serving together on a Board places the other Board members in a tenuous position of voting against someone’s spouse: no one wants to be in that position.
#7- Hiring immediate family members as an employee to work for the bee club. Nepotism causes problems in any business, even those businesses owned by family members. Bee Clubs should not subject their fellow Board members, and the club to family issues, to voting to hire or to fire a fellow Board members’ son, daughter, spouse, or brother-in-law “in need of a job.” Contract work by immediate family members may be different. If a beekeeper contracts with the club to teach the beginning beekeeping class, and her husband sits on the Board, he must recuse himself from the vote, and the discussion of the contract, and the final Board vote. Additionally, the conflict of interest must be acknowledged in the Board minutes, and that Board member should not “supervise” their spouse for the bee club’s beekeeping class. This is short term, contracted work, for which the Board also received bids from other interested, qualified individuals, who proposed to perform the limited work. For transparency and fairness, and to show the club members the Board is responsible with the funds, three bids for contract work, and for large purchases should be submitted to the Board for review, and that the costs adhere to the budget.
#8- No one new wants to be a leader. The lack of new leaders can be the result of poor leadership. If the leadership ignores the needs of the members, discounts news ideas, disparages a different way of accomplishing a task or project, those leaders are driving away future leaders. Bee clubs will only survive through the introduction of new ideas, new members, and new leaders. It is the responsibility of the club leadership to actively seek new leaders, and train their successors. If the same leaders continue doing the same thing year in and year out, they will burnout.
#9- The club leader is retiring, and he/she wants the club to fail or end with them as the final leader. Leadership that has been stagnant often is the result of personal agendas driving away members, and only attracting individuals who want little from their club except cookies and coffee once a month. Some bee clubs, just like any organization, may be destined to fade and cease when the leader chooses to end their tenure with their club: and it should!
#10- Leaders stating no one wants to volunteer. Good leaders reach out to others, value others, and seek the support of others. A bee club is a group effort. If leaders are professional, responsible, fair, and working to support the mission of the bee club, others will see that and want to volunteer. People want to come to a club for the camaraderie, and the shared experience with others who all care for the same thing: honey bees. Members will feel better if they are asked to do something. Learn which members love to bake, those who only have time to set-up the meeting room, or haul the equipment for the field day, who loves Facebook, or creates websites. Tasks can be simple, and one-time only, but it starts the interaction, and the sense of value in the members. “Show me you care about me, and I will care about the club.”
Leading any nonprofit is work. With the right leaders, the support of members, and a singular focus on the mission of the bee club, we can work together to sustain, and grow beekeeping. If you are considering becoming a nonprofit, feel free to contact the Pollinator Stewardship Council. We assist our members with nonprofit development, helping you decide if you should or should not become a nonprofit. We also will be a fiscal agent for bee club members and pollinator partner members for your projects.
Standards for Excellence Institute http://standardsforexcellence.org/
National Council of Nonprofits- Principles and Practices https://www.councilofnonprofits.org/tools-resources/principles-and-practices
Compendium of Standards, Codes, and Principles of Nonprofit and Philanthropic Organizations https://www.independentsector.org/compendium_of_standards
Michele Colopy is the Program Director for the Pollinator Stewardship Council. She holds a Master’s degree in Arts Administration/Nonprofit Management from The University of Akron, and has created, revitalized and held leadership roles in nonprofit organizations for twenty years.