The bylaws of this, and many other national organizations, require a credentialed parliamentarian, and they specify the minimum credential they are willing to accept. Members of my 50 year old Unit have eschewed this credentialing process and continue merrily along as Primary Members. One of us actually took the test many years ago, but when the organization lost her exam and told her to retake it, she told them to fuggedaboudit.
In order to become a Primary Member, we had to study 300 questions that "could" appear on our exam. 100 would be chosen from that 300, and we needed to be able to pass with a 70% score, at the minimum. I passed with 100%. If they had tested me on all 300, I still would have gotten 100%. The reason being, my Unit had helped me understand the questions. So, it wasn't a matter of just memorizing, which I simply can't do with any level of reliability. I had to actually know and understand these questions. The "why" is key to being effective as a parliamentarian.
But something I have learned over these past years is that when an organization needs the help of a parliamentarian, many times what they really need is help with organizational development, and that is an entire field which confers PhDs at its highest level. Luckily, a lot of us have a pretty solid understanding of how an organization should function for optimum results, so we can guide a group to reach this, while also teaching them the parliamentary processes that help them keep the group functioning well.
But here is where the rub comes in. Just because a person has all those parliamentary letters after his/her name does not guarantee that they are giving a group the best advice. Members of my Unit all have war stories about organizations that had been totally messed up by parliamentarians who could spout arcane passages from Robert's while leading a group to completely violate their own bylaws. These same Unit members have gone in and cleared up incredibly messy situations in which boards have become completely dysfunctional and unable to conduct business, and they all agree on one thing: sometimes those credentialed people get too comfortable and they get sloppy. Maybe that rule about politicians and diapers needing to be changed should include professional parliamentarians!
Anyway, my current project involves a key problem that is so utterly universal as to make me want to cry. They approved a bylaw to move to the one-member-one-vote model because like a lot of national organizations, conventions were becoming increasingly poorly attended. (We'll save the issue of plummeting membership numbers for another time.) However, in so doing, they did not codify how they would manage certain aspects of that.
For example, if they wished to amend a bylaw, at a convention the delegates would debate the issue and then vote. This is the central theory behind any deliberative assembly from Congress on down to a Brownie troop. But if you have no convention of delegates, how do the members debate the issue? How do they weigh in on the pros and cons of the proposed changes? Who decides which amendments make it to the ballot and by what process?
To my utter astonishment (not) the credentialed parliamentarian did not give the group their marching orders on establishing the process in their standing rules! So everyone is confused, they've made some mistakes in handling issues and to make matters worse, the organization's "professional mosquitoes" are stinging and undermining and doing all the things that they do. (If you belong to ANY group, you have them and you know what I'm talking about. If they get mad and quit, there will be another to take that vacant place, with a nice, fresh, and very sharp barb.) One of their biggest weapons is deciding that I, the temp, am "unqualified."
You know what? You try that test and then get back to me on that one. A Primary Member has demonstrated knowledge, and any one of us who has logged hours of community service in this knows what we are doing. The difference is, we don't do this as a way of making a living and because we aren't credentialed, no one has to pay us an arm and a leg for our good advice or guidance.
And that's where it is at this point. I have to counsel them that the argument over my qualifications is a petty distraction designed to keep them off balance and off task. I am guiding them to creating processes that make everything flow smoothly. They will be able to deal with members fairly and evenly, with no preferential treatment for the mosquitoes. Of course, you know that will not go over well, and that business of being "unqualified" will come into play. The sad part of it is that the members with whom I have had the pleasure of working really are grateful for the common sense approach that takes their collective humanity into consideration. The challenges ahead include getting that Board to understand that they owe it to the organization to represent the membership as a whole, not just the mosquitoes, and that when they blab board business, they ring bells that cannot be unrung.
Sooner or later, they will understand that yes, from time to time, a parliamentarian, including me, will advise them to bend or break a rule because if they do not, the organization might end up facing a far more serious situation down the road. And, hopefully, some of them will understand that until they institute processes for dealing with certain of the organization's functions, they will have standing water that breeds mosquitoes. If you want to rid yourself of them, you have to be vigilant about removing the breeding ground.
Boundaries are our friends.
So, if your group needs help, and your paid professional parliamentarian has given you the kind of advice that keeps him or her on your payroll past the expiration date, don't be afraid to call in a lowly Primary Member. We'll help you see your organization through a new lens and it might give you the perspective you need to make the changes that will render your group healthy, and hopefully growing and changing with the times. When we get it cleaned up, then you can call in a professional, and hopefully you will have saved your organization a ton of money because you won't have to pay them to do what we do, most of the time for free.
In the meantime, as The Reverend Dr. Timothy Ashton once advised me, "Puh-rocess, puh-rocess, puh-rocess."