The Currency of Commitment

By Sue Lichtenfels, President

As we work toward achieving the council’s mission, we often challenge the beliefs of others. Sometimes though, it is necessary for us to take a step back and examine our own beliefs and the practices we support.

Two years ago, we in PCB voted on an amendment to drop the payment of dues as the mechanism for joining our organization. Proponents of keeping dues chiefly argued that payment of dues insures commitment to the organization. More recently, in response to the mere suggestion of ACB’s antiquated dues structure, a staffer responded that dues allow people to feel they have “skin in the game.” Essentially, that dues make people feel they are making a financial commitment to the organization. Based on my twelve years of involvement at the leadership level, I believe this is a flawed way of thinking that jeopardizes our organization.

Consider the many commitments you’ve made in your life. They may include marriage, raising children, employment, or faith. Commitments require that we pay them special attention and give them priority in our lives. For commitment, Google provides synonyms such as allegiance, dedication, devotion, faithfulness, attentiveness, loyalty and bond. Many of us have made PCB such a commitment in our lives. Our commitment is year-round, and more valuable to the organization than $5. An imposed annual contribution does not carry the significance of commitment.

According to Urban Dictionary, “commitment is what transforms the promise into reality.” Commitment means going beyond showing interest or offering token support such as paying dues. It is doing, to the best of one’s abilities, all he or she can to accomplish the goal or achieve the mission. The act of paying dues does not move PCB closer to its mission. Commitment to the council means volunteering to do things like working on projects, speaking up at public meetings, being a peer mentor, participating in discussion calls, attending council events, contacting legislators, leading teams and chapters, organizing outreach activities, supporting fundraising efforts, giving community presentations, etc. Commitment is engaging in transformative action, not making a simple business transaction.

While it would be nice to believe that with every dues payment comes commitment, the reality is quite different. People join for different reasons. Some may be fully committed to the council. But others may join for the newsletter, because someone twisted their arm, or just to make a gesture of support. If the council starts offering incentives to join, the true intention for paying dues will become even more muddled. Payment of dues does not guarantee a person’s commitment.

It’s important to remember the council is a volunteer-dependent organization. Its most valuable currency is the people who do the work, not the funds generated from dues. When the council goes around selling membership as commitment, it sends the opposite message. The psychological impact of paying dues is that people feel they have met their commitment to the organization, and they need not do more. So, while they may now have “skin in the game,” the organization is no closer to achieving its mission.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that the council struggles with engaging people. Beyond not volunteering, people are not actively participating. Because council leaders have fooled themselves into believing that every dues-paid individual has made a commitment to council activities, much time and resources have been wasted trying to capture this phantom commitment. . Engagement will become an even greater challenge as the council focuses on boosting membership numbers and dues revenue.

Setting a price on commitment brings with it some rather disturbing practices. When the council says commitment is worth $5, it completely devalues those who offer real commitment. Morale is depleted further when, at the end of the year, the council turns around and asks the people who have been doing and giving all year to “prove” their commitment by paying dues. On the other hand, by setting such low standards for commitment from others, the council reinforces societal attitudes that lowered expectations for the blind are okay. It’s a patronizing practice when the council allows them to think that their $5 payment satisfies their obligation to the organization.

Clearly payment of dues has nothing to do with commitment to the organization. Dues are insignificant to the payer and inconsequential to the organization’s mission. Payment of dues provides no mechanism for determining a person’s intention. By believing in this false assumption, we do damage to our organization and disrespect our most precious resource.

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