On being ... a life-long learner?

By Ingrid Sapona

Last year I joined the volunteer board of a small, international professional organization. When the position of treasurer was becoming vacant, I was asked if I’d take on the role because the treasurer must be Canadian. After speaking with the current treasurer (I’ll call her Angie – not her real name), I agreed to take on the role. The organization has a modest budget and, though I’ve never been a treasurer, I figured it wouldn’t be that hard and it might be good experience.

The first part of the handoff involved what should have been straightforward banking stuff: getting signing authority, getting a bank card, getting the credit card switched to my name, and so on. Given that you can bank by smart phone, it was surprising how much paperwork had to be done in person.

While we were sorting the banking stuff out, though I had officially been appointed treasurer, Angie continued doing the treasurer stuff (she was still on the board). One of the things the treasurer “looked after” was membership applications and renewals. This seemed to make sense since our main source of revenue is membership dues. Though I wasn’t sure what “looking after membership” entailed, I knew there was some system in place and I figured I’d be able to learn it.

Meanwhile, the organization’s website was being re-designed. The membership database, which runs on software the old website was designed on, was not being changed. The new website was simply going to link to the database. Angie had given me access to the database and explained why the system generates three e-mails that are sent to the treasurer (for each renewal) and why she sorted and kept track of each trio of e-mails. It was overwhelming, to say the least.

By the beginning of September, the banking was all in my name and Angie’s term on the board was coming to an end. At the same time, the new website was launched. Soon after, we started getting reports of members having trouble renewing. One of the odd things is that not every renewal is problematic – only some. While the tech people were trying to figure out what’s going on, Angie took care of the problem renewals by going into the database and manually renewing each separately. 

My first official act as treasurer was to pay the web designer’s invoice. I wrote the cheque and mailed it. I also sent him a quick e-mail saying the cheque was in the mail. Three weeks later the designer e-mailed me, saying he hadn’t received the cheque. I checked the bank account and confirmed the cheque hadn’t been cashed. I felt bad that the designer (a small business) hadn’t been paid, and I wondered whether I screwed up. Had I forgotten to send it? Or maybe I sent it to the wrong address? I didn’t think so, but… Talk about feeling you’ve started off on the wrong foot!  (The cheque arrived 30 days, to the day, after the date I mailed it! Unreal, I know.)

The next issue I had to deal with was the web renewal problems. Because many thought part of the problem is the instructions in the e-mail inviting people to renew, I figured I’d start by making that clearer. I logged in to the membership database software determined to find the message and make it clearer. Only problem was, I couldn’t find the message text in the database. I played around in the system for over two hours and simply couldn’t find it. It has to be there, but where, I don’t know. Talk about frustrating!

A few days later, I went to log in to the database and couldn’t. I tried all sorts of things – I changed passwords, changed browsers, re-booted – you name it! Nothing worked. When I contacted Angie, she came back with things I had already tried. By then I was ready to quit as treasurer. Indeed, one night I wrote an e-mail to the board resigning. The last line summed up my feelings pretty well: no sane person takes on a position to feel lost, helpless, and useless. I did send the e-mail, but to a good friend, not the board.

I wish I could say that writing that e-mail and sending it to my friend instead of the board was cathartic and that after that, things magically turned around, but they didn’t. But, writing it helped me realize something I didn’t know – that it’s very important to me to feel competent. And, if I don’t, I’m extraordinarily irritable and angry. I never knew that!

I don’t know about you, but I thought that when you get to a certain age, you pretty much know yourself. Guess not…  Mind you, that’s probably not such a bad thing. After all, don’t we all aspire to be life-long learners?

Oh, in case you’re wondering, I didn’t resign – that’s not my style. But, I’m not a masochist – or martyr – either. I mentioned my frustration to the president and the solution we came up with is that I’ll stay on and look after the traditional treasurer activities, but they’ve got to find someone else to look after the membership stuff!

© 2015 Ingrid Sapona


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