Disaffiliating from NAS - Some Considerations

by Jim Britell, Conservation Chair, Kalmiopsis Audubon Society

Some Audubon chapters have decided to abandon NAS affiliation because the National board seems intent on undermining volunteer based chapters and more concerned with accumulating assets than doing conservation. Six points for chapters to consider in making this step. Are the Chapter elected representatives to the national board doing their job? Posted to an Audubon list 08/00.

Some Audubon chapters have been discussing the possibility of disaffiliating from NAS and forming a new national Chapter organization over profound disagreements with the national board on several issues that some believe threaten the survivability and viability of chapters.

Clearly some chapters have reached the point where they think it is past time for chapters to abandon NAS affiliation because of the poor leadership of a board which seems more concerned with growing financially than doing conservation. And which is on a path which will undermine and displace volunteer based chapters with centrally directed and centrally paid state and local organizations.

A couple of points.

  1. There is no compelling reason for NAS to deliberately reduce the dues share or otherwise reduce the funds for its chapters. Audubon has NO financial crisis or current financial problem whatsoever that requires any cutbacks or belt tightening. Last year NAS had one of the largest increases in contributions in its history, and one of the largest year to year % income increases for any national enviro organization and is now sitting on enormous assets. Moreover,

  2. If NAS has a formal plan to finance and build 1000 new refuges and state offices then it also must also expect to be able to raise many hundreds of millions of $ in the near future to accomplish this. So it cannot anticipate any belt tightening or financial problems in the foreseeable future either.

  3. The reason why chapters should think about disaffiliating - if they do, should not be over a few dollars one way or another of annual dues share. It should be because NAS seems also poised to back away from activism and toward a non-activist TNC type approach to environmentalism. Since chapters still require a national Audubon presence in the national conservation community a new organization will be required to perform that function.

  4. If chapters pull out of NAS it will not be chapters that will be leaving NAS - chapters will only be acknowledging the fact that the leaders of NAS have disaffiliated from us - we will only be reacting and responding to that fact.

  5. No matter what additional dysfunctional decisions NAS makes, probably initially no more than 20% of the chapters on this list will agree to take steps to form a new organization. This is because most people and chapters are naturally cautious and loathe to actually stand up to authority figures. So we should identify chapters that think we should explore this further and explore the legal, by-laws and incorporation issues involved in such a step.

  6. Some of the more outspoken chapter reps should go to NAS board meetings and represent our concerns directly and then report back to us on how these concerns were received. I am much concerned that the sentiments expressed here will NOT be forcefully represented to the board. The chapters need a spokesman from this list at all board meetings from now on.

If in self defense, some of us may want to proceed to create a new affiliation among ourselves - or with Massachusetts Audubon or with Defenders of wildlife. But not just because of mere money issues. Rather we want to retain Audubon "family values" in the face of a national board that rejects them and views our reputation simply as an asset to be monetized.

I think the time has come for the elected board reps to speak up on the substance of the chapter concerns. They are the ones (and the only ones)who have been actually sitting with the top staff of Audubon and personally know them and so are in the best position to tell us if chapters have anything to fear from the NAS direction and approach. Do they trust this board, should we fear being turned into a mini-TNC?

The responsibility of our chapter-elected board members is to not only convey chapter concerns to the board, but - as important -to convey TO the chapters their concerns ABOUT the board. They are our eyes and ears. We cannot all be there at board meetings - we elect them to go in our stead. I am much concerned that we have not had any reassurances from our elected board members that all is well and Flicker is a trustworthy and honorable man whose plans will be good for us.

Now that all our concerns are out on the table in these many hundreds of emails, the time has come for the elected board members to tell us if we can be assured that State offices will never undermine chapter autonomy or take the side of developers or bad guys against chapters. If we need to plan to disaffiliate from NAS they need to tell us. And it is more than just a mere dues share problem. I would feel we may need to disaffiliate even if NAS INCREASED the dues share.

Chapter board members have a fiduciary relation to chapters and our assets just like a trust officer of a bank might protect the assets of minor children. Here is an actual quote from a manual for bank examiners. I call on our elected members to read it and reflect if they are fully discharging their responsibilities to us.

Quote From a Manual for Bank Examiners

"It is, of course disagreeable to take another person by the throat: But if a person undertakes to act as a trustee, he must face the necessity of doing disagreeable things when they become necessary in order to keep the estate intact. A trustee is not entitled to purchase a quiet life at the expense of the estate, or to act as good natured men sometimes do in their own affairs, in letting things slide and losing money, rather than create ill feelings."

©2000 Jim Britell
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