Scrabble TRICKSTER? No! Never!
March 23, 2011 2:07 AM   Subscribe

How do I help an organization that is in over its head when I am losing respect for the people (ok, one person in particular!) who run it?

I'm a member of a lovely organization. We are an organization of competitive Scrabble players.* Many of my friends are Scrabble players, and I love playing Scrabble so much that I agreed to help run our little Scrabble club. That was my first mistake.

My problem is two-fold: the organization is, uh, failing on several important fronts, particularly that they do not have a budget or track their expenses in any coherent way (ie, they don't know how many members are paying their weekly Scrabble fee, or how much we spent or made on tournaments last year. Unsurprisingly, we rarely have much money in the bank.). I suspect this is an "unknown unknown" issue- when I brought up a budget, one member, Archibald, said a budget was impossible because our expenses weren't fixed. Archibald tells other members that he is doing "careful budget analysis," but can't produce it.

Ah, Archibald! Archibald is my second problem. He is a senior member who helped found the organization. Yay, Archibald, for your drive and ambition! Archibald is now (in my not-so-nice opinion) in over his head in terms of running the organization. Unfortunately, he is also extremely, ahem, vocal about sharing his opinions. For instance, Archibald has told me to stop bringing up money and just track the stock of Scrabble boards because he has everything under control. Also, what good would a budget do? We still wouldn't have much money! He's sure of it!

You can see from my tone that damn, son, I do not have one ounce of patience for Archibald. So here is my three part question:

1. Is there any way to help the organization see that the things they see as not-so-important (money, etc) are actually important?
2. How do I deal with Archibald without resorting to Archibald-like tactics (meanness, cursing, temper tantrums)?
3. Should I resign from the running of things tomorrow, using the resignation letter I got up at 3 am to write, and go back to being just a bad-ass Scrabble player?
4. Will I regret resigning forever and feel that a bully won and that I didn't have the stones to stick around and help an organization that I desperately love but that has nevertheless been causing me sick amounts of grief (see: getting up at 3 am to type angry resignation letter)?**

*We are not competitive Scrabble players.
**I understand you can't really answer 4.
posted by Snarl Furillo to Human Relations (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Had a vaguely similar situation that ended up with the main power flipping out and banning me. Honestly, I'm kind of happy not having to deal with it anymore.

Here's what I learned from my mistakes and subsequent banishment - maybe it will help. You can play king of the hill with this guy if you like, but someone who is a true master of the mountain range will realize that there are plenty of mountains and arguing so bitterly over just one is kind of silly.

Get back to what you enjoyed about the group, and forget the rest. Archibald clearly feels ownership of the club and that is what makes him feel important, even if he doesn't have the foresight to do things in better, more accurate ways. Is it so bad to let him have that? The club has existed for a while, presumably. Maybe crappy record keeping won't be the end of everything.

It sucks to feel like you're "losing", and it sucks that things won't be handled better. But I'd suggest putting the suggestion forward nicely to Archibald (privately) that you're happy to help, and then let it go. Let him come to the master. From my experience, if you keep pushing, it ends up being super awkward and nobody has much fun.
posted by griselda at 2:28 AM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

set up a recurring payments account at amazon and give everybody some breathing room. taking money out of this account is how you start tracking a budget and expenses. maybe someone else will have an opinion on setting up a group bank account. everybody will see the value of this when you have catered bbq or something at the end of the season. archibald sounds like he has founder's syndrome.
posted by rhizome at 2:31 AM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This sounds a lot like one of those 'How can I help my alcoholic boyfriend?' questions. Accordingly, the answer to question one is no; you can't help this organization that doesn't want your help. You'll have to win other members' support to get anywhere with this.

To question two, remaining unruffled in the face of someone else's meanness and tantrums is extremely effective if you can manage it; if Archibald can't intimidate you, he's got nothin'. You can also discuss your concerns with other members when Archie is not around.

I would try applying my above thoughts on one and two before proceeding with three.

Rather than answering question four directly, I want to come at it sideways. Why is this so important to you? What is really at stake? If the organization ran out of money or scrabble boards, what would happen? Is irreparable collapse really possible? Do you suspect and resent that some members aren't paying their dues? What is the big deal here?
posted by jon1270 at 2:33 AM on March 23, 2011

When you say that you agreed to help run things, was this at the request of other members? If so, can you enlist their support in being more assertive with Archibald?

As far as the little details like keeping track of who paid their dues, that's easily remedied by having a simple sign-in sheet at each meeting. As people arrive, have them hand over their money and sign the sheet. As the transaction takes place, you initial their spot on the sheet to verify that they've paid.
posted by amyms at 2:45 AM on March 23, 2011

Maybe it's just because I am evil-minded, but is it possible Archibald doesn't want anyone nosing around the group finances is because he's skimming a little off the top for himself? Perhaps if you (privately) raised these concerns with some other group members you could build support for a transparent record keeping process? It's hard for me to imagine why anyone would be opposed to that.
posted by aiglet at 4:09 AM on March 23, 2011 [7 favorites]

You say the organization is failing, but the only example of their failure is a lack of a budget. If Archibald is the founder, his ouster will naturally form a rift within the organization, perhaps this rift will destroy the organization. Is this issue important enough to risk destroying the organization?

The questions I would think about:

1) Are people unhappy about the value they are getting for the money they are putting in?
2) Are you personally unhappy about the value you are getting from the organization for the money you are putting in?
3) If you were not in a leadership role, would there be any external indication to the average member that there is a lack of accurate accounting? (Events canceled because rental fees were not paid, no food at the open house that was supposed to have food, etc.)
4) Are you willing (or are you part of a group that is willing) to take over all the functions and services provided by Archibald?

My sense from your question is that this is not a particularly large group, and we are not talking about a particularly large amount of money. Is there a way you can step down from leadership and just enjoy the organization?
posted by hworth at 4:45 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do you have enough money in the bank to cover the expenses? Is tracking the expenses part of your job? If the club goes bankrupt, how much money would it take to start another one?

It seems like you're really overthinking this Scrabble club, and to me, it seems like more of a personality issue with Archibald than anything else. If you don't like him, just play Scrabble and don't be a part of the organization. Fun clubs can become much less fun by dealing with the politics of running them.
posted by xingcat at 5:17 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If people are still showing up, playing Scrabble (or whatever), and enjoying it, then the organization is not failing. It is succeeding! A group of people working and playing together regularly is a huge accomplishment and should not be underappreciated.

It might be worth it to remind yourself, the other participants, and even Mr. A about this. The money thing is important, and could definitely get in the way of everybody's fun if it got out of hand and/or led to someone having to go to court. It should be tracked and tamed so you all don't have to worry about it, especially Mr. A, if he's such a pillar of the group. Maybe someone who doesn't hate him could start nudging him around to this point of view.

Also, "making a budget" sounds like a list of restrictions. What you're really talking about, perhaps, is finding where you might need more resources; then you can have a little party as a group to come up with the easiest way to get the extra money you need -- but this is only going to happen if everybody is completely satisfied that all the money is being well spent.
posted by amtho at 6:02 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would simply withdraw from being part of the management team and enjoy the organization for what its purpose is, Scrabble. If someone asks why you withdrew, I would say something along the lines of, "I did not have time to do my job properly nor time to help get the books and records in proper order. Archibald has ownership of that anyway. I just want to enjoy the Scrabble with friends."
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:07 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Resign. If this org fails, found a new one with survivors of the old org, but without the "help" of Archibald.

You don't need the agita. When you quit, you just get to enjoy playing Scrabble again which is the reason you joined the organization in the first place.
posted by inturnaround at 7:13 AM on March 23, 2011

I am a member of an organization who had these type of problems. Eventually the people running it realized the organization was "growing up" and so they got a board of directors, and one employee to take care of the budget and taxes etc. It sounds like you are not quite at that level but there's no reason you couldn't look at holding elections for treasurer or having a board.
posted by bananafish at 8:04 AM on March 23, 2011

Resign. Play. Enjoy.

If you want to shake things up a bit, you can either publicly announce or privately confide a simple "The cornerstone of any successful organization is transparency and accountability in finances. This does not exist here, and until it does, I don't feel comfortable putting my reputation on the line."

Frankly, I avoid anyone and any situation where someone takes other peoples money and says "trust me" when asked to account for it. There is no excuse, period, full stop, that justifies that.
posted by kjs3 at 8:26 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

How much money are we talking about? Someone should be tracking the funds, otherwise it's pretty easy to have it disappear. When someone is involved with money from multiple sources and then doesn't have any idea where it is going there are two possibilities- incompetence (usually the case), theft (with the usual quotes of "I can't believe he/she would do such a thing".)

If I were you, I'd resign it's not worth the hassle. But you might want to call out his lack of accounting skills to other members, bullying is a typical tactic used to divert someone from poking around. I'm an internal auditor by trade and have seen stuff like this before. But it usually is just incompetence.
posted by JohntheContrarian at 9:50 AM on March 23, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the reality check, everyone. I'm going to resign.

And try to remember in future that my native anxiety tends to make Scrabble (and many Scrabble-like things and situations) more important than it actually is.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 11:31 AM on March 23, 2011

Response by poster: OMG I resigned and wow am I happy about it.

You guys are awesome.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:39 PM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Well sounds like you found your answer. In general, I think the best way to get the power to make a budget is to offer to "do the bookkeeping." Sounds like you might've tried that though.
posted by salvia at 7:27 PM on March 23, 2011

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