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The topics discussed here grow out of the bread-and-butter issues that confront my consulting and software clients on a daily basis. We'll talk about prosaic stuff like Membership Management, Meetings and Events Management and Fundraising, broader ideas like security and software project management, and the social, cultural, and organizational issues that impact IT decision-making.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A new chapter.

The other day a friend dropped by the office to talk to us about how we manage chapters in our software. For example, he wondered if we assumed that the national organization did the dues billing, and distributed revenue to the chapters? Or the reverse: that chapters collect the dues and send it upstream to headquarters? The conversation led me to think about the forces that make organizational policies so often unwieldy and complex.

We've learned that there is no general pattern that governs the relationship between an organization and its chapters. These relationships are not structured by logic but through the working out of real conflicts of interest and mission between national, state, and local bodies. And these conflicts are resolved differently in every case. The challenge for IT is to model the internal reality for the specific organization.

Chapters are interesting because they are a very clear-cut example of what goes on in the definition of almost any organizational policy - a process of compromise between interest groups within the org. Streamlining inefficient or irrational policies is so much harder than one would expect because the differences between groups are so rarely spelled out. In the case of chapters, it is just easier to see these interest collisions.

It works like this. Not surprisingly, chapters want as much independence from the national as possible. And specifically, financial independence. But at the same time, they would like as much service from the parent org as they can wrangle. So the more successfully independent the chapters become, the harder administrative life is in Washington or New York.

For example a national conservation group we work with manages all the dues billing for its chapters and state divisions. These very autonomous chapters and divisions each create their own membership structures and dues levels. Thus the membership database mus t be able to store three membership types for each member: one each for National, State, and Chapter levels. And they must allow a person to hold multiple chapter and division memberships. All of these dues amounts must be reflected on each member's renewal notices. It's clearly an enormously complex system for the national to maintain. But this approach works in the interest of the chapters - and the chapters have the upper hand in this case.

So when the policies you are trying to model seem resistant to simplification, remember you are dealing with real conflicts, not just procedural craziness.

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Comments on "A new chapter."


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (July 2, 2008 at 9:27 PM) : 

Nice blog, is a well organize cool blog you got :-)

greetings from Kansas!


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