A Little of Your Time, Please
Professional societies, such as the HGS, rely on volunteers to manage and carry out much of the organization’s programs. These individuals truly represent the life blood of the society. Without the different committee members’ active participation, the various monthly technical meetings, training opportunities, and social/networking events would not occur. Of the more than 4000 members of HGS only a relatively few, probably about 100, are actively engaged. Thus, the majority of our membership has become dependent on a relatively small number of active members. Currently this model appears to be working, but one needs to look “under the hood” to see how long this can continue without new people joining the volunteer pool. When examining the “engine” we see a number of issues that may become problems down the road.
1. The HGS is suffering from the same demographic issues as the oil and gas industry, and the key “boomer” generation is beginning to retire in large numbers. There is a significant gap in the number of mid-career individuals, representing the general lack of hiring during the downturn of the 90s. Historically, geologists become most active in professional societies during their mid-career. The newer employees are spending much of their time learning the needed skills and, in some cases, growing their families.
2. Employer demands on time have increased, driven by the continuous demand for increased productivity in the “office.” Individuals are now tethered back to the office with their smartphone and laptop. For many it appears that there is an expectation of being on call 24/7. With such office demands, free time has become quite valuable and is often spent with friends and families rather than being involved with professional organizations. The drive toward increased productivity in the office has also in many cases resulted in companies no longer encouraging their employees to become involved, and occasionally even discouraging such activities.
3. The demand for HGS volunteers is increasing. In addition to the routine work of the Society, HGS will be hosting several major meetings over the next few years and providing volunteers for two AAPG meetings, including the 100th anniversary of ACE, and a GCAGS conference. Each of these events requires a significant demand on the limited volunteer pool which can result in the onset of volunteer burnout.
So yes, things are continuing to run, but the question remains: how long can we expect things to continue before the signs of wear and tear begin to show, unless there are some changes? I don’t have a simple answer as to when this will occur, just as I can’t tell you when peak oil will occur. However, similar to the extension of peak oil that has resulted from changes in technology, there are actions that can maintain the viability of HGS long into the future. The first action is to increase the volunteer pool. Members who have not been active now need to come forward and join a committee or stand for an office. The addition of 1 to 2% of our membership to the volunteer pool would relieve much of the stress and delay the anticipated burnout. Many of the HGS events have been handled by the same small groups for multiple years and the volunteers concerned deserve relief.
There are other actions that would involve structural changes as to how HGS functions and what it delivers. Some of these changes are currently being made by the HGS Board. We are reviewing the current committee structure and determining which committees and functions can be eliminated or merged. These changes would have only a minimal impact on the vast majority of the membership. Examples of two of these changes were the elimination of a printed membership directory and the elimination of the annual holiday party in its present form. The Board determined that in a digital world a static directory was no longer viable. It was understood that some members would still want a hard copy, so provisions are being made to publish the HGS directory on demand. This would shift the responsibility from a volunteer to the permanent office staff and provide a more up to date membership listing. The decision to cancel the holiday party was made after reviewing attendance and the cost to the society over the past several years. A very small portion of the membership, about 1.5% (60 people total including members and guests) generally attend. Alternate options are being considered.
Another proposed change will require amendment(s) to our bylaws. The HGS Board will be proposing to the membership changes in the manner which candidates are nominated for board positions. Instead of requiring the ballot to have two or more candidates for all positions, except for the editor-elect, positions on the ballot could be represented by a single candidate selected by the nominating committee. The proposal does not mandate a single candidate or a slate. We chose this path although a number of professional and other non-profit organizations present a slate to their membership for endorsement. The proposal provides both flexibility and a means to carry-out an election when more than one candidate cannot be secured without a significant amount of arm twisting. Historically, those that were not originally interested in serving tend to be members of the Board in name only and do not effectively serve the membership. This proposed approach toward increasing flexibility in the HGS election process is not without controversy. Some oppose such an amendment, citing a loss of democracy and a fear that this could lead to appointed boards. As a result of these concerns, we will provide time for discussion before the proposal is formally put before the membership. This discussion will take place on the HGS website, where open comments can be posted. We believe that this proposal will provide for a strong leadership team to be in-place for years to come. This will permit the organization to thrive and will also ensure that those that are interested in serving will have an opportunity to do so. More on this will be forthcoming. Please review this material and when the time comes — vote!
One last quick note: if you haven’t yet registered for the Applied Geoscience Conference “Interdisciplinary Micro to Macroscale Geomechanics” taking place November 4-5, please consider doing so. The program looks outstanding.
Until next month…