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TVQ Essay: The Past President's Pie Party

by Linda S. Schmidt (copyright 1999)

Why is that some quilting guilds' meetings flow well, people are happy and enthusiastic, and at others, a handful of people seem to be doing all the work and no one seems happy? Having been an impartial observer at many quilt guild meetings as a traveling speaker I have observed many guilds, sat through their meetings, listened to the members and Boards at dinners, and networked with many Program Chairs and Presidents. All of this has just reinforced what I have learned through being President of my own guild - that there are some secrets to running a quilt guild that EVERY guild should know in order to keep that guild a viable, valuable, thriving support group for like-minded quilting fabriholics. 

My guild (the Amador Valley Quilters who meet in Pleasanton, California) began with a handful members on February 14, 1982, and has grown to be a strong, enthusiastic, well-connected guild with a current membership of 375. This guild makes and gives away hundreds of community quilts each year, is taking down oral histories as fast as the tapes can spin, has world-class speakers and workshops on a monthly basis, 10-15 friendship groups going at all times, a major quilt show every two years and a guild retreat on the opposite years, and is a lasting source of inspiration, friendship and support for its members. Why is it that this guild always has volunteers for projects, self-sustaining committees, a cohesive sense of community, and draws members from a 100-mile radius when there are several other guilds in the area more geographically convenient? What is it that keeps guilds like this thriving, while some guilds splinter and fall apart? Most of what I've learned on the subject came from becoming President of the Amador Valley Quilters, and it happened like this: It all started with an innocuous little remark - "Oh, aren't you going to run for Guild President? I really think you'd make a great President." Spread with the VERY best butter, the trap was set.  Later, the Nomination Committee's call wasn't too much of a surprise - "Well, I'll think about it. . . Okay, I'll do it - after all, what's the worst case scenario? Impeachment?" And so I was elected President of the Guild. My first and lasting reaction to this was "Oh, my Lord. Here's another fine mess I've gotten myself into." But help was on the way. 

At our Guild there is a very old and very wise tradition, the Past President's Pie Party. All of the former Presidents that are still in town gather around a table at the  local pie shop and pass on what they learned during their tenure to the new President, and the rest of them mail theirs from their new homes. I still have the notes that were given to me - some were scrawled on napkins and bits of old envelopes, some were on handwritten on yellow legal pads and folded a couple of dozen times, and one was formally numbered and typed. They helped keep me sane. Most of this advice - which I now pass on to you with the blessings of all quiltmakers everywhere - is directed specifically at the President of the Guild, but  some of it is applicable to all the Guild. 

The very first, most important lesson they passed on was this: This Guild is a community of caring, loving human beings who share a common interest, and the  most important  thing is to remember we are there for each other, in sickness and in health; through fire and trouble, the good times and the bad times. When you have a Guild Roster, you have the phone numbers of 375 friends who will help you, no questions asked, in time of need.  

The second thing is, lesson number one not withstanding, Never commit Guild funds and/or time to anything that has not been discussed at the Board meeting and voted upon by the Board. That means that if Suzy Quiltmaker thinks it would be good fun to have a studio tour, you say - "Why don't you come to the Board and present that idea?" And when Suzy does come, she's quite liable to hear - "Why,  Suzy, what a wonderful idea. Why don't you plan it, bring it back to the Board for approval, get people to help you, get your expenses approved, and make sure it gets published in the Newsletter? How lucky for us you are willing to volunteer your time this way!" the President must, of course, speak VERY quickly and not allow Suzy to get a word in edgewise until it's too late, but it's worth it to know that if someone wants something to be done, THAT is the person who will wind up doing it. Also, since the topic came up for discussion before the Board, funds won't be wasted because  there are 20 people at that Board meeting, watching to make sure that money isn't being spent on a whim. 

The third thing is: If you need volunteers for something, ALWAYS get a few shills in the audience. That means that if you need five volunteers for something, you contact at least three by phone and get their agreement to raise their hands right away when you ask for volunteers, so that more people will volunteer readily instead of waiting in pained silence for five volunteers. (I was the speaker at a Guild once when the silence became so painful I almost volunteered, and I lived 400 miles away!) This works especially well if you mention that the job or committee meeting involves hot fudge sundaes. Everybody volunteers for things that involve dessert, and that way your guild gets a reputation for being a guild that always has enough people to help, and EVERYBODY works. 

The fourth thing is: The President is the conductor, not the choir. If someone calls the President up to complain about something, or propose something, the President tells the person - "My, I hadn't thought about that. Let me get back to you when I've had a chance to discuss it with the other members of the Board." And he/she does bring it up at the Board meeting. Probably whatever it was will either be resolved at the Board meeting, or the passage of time will deal with the problem. In the rare case where this doesn't happen, the President brings that item up before the General Meeting as a discussion item, and waits to see what happens. 

This happened in our Guild with the question of whether or not our guild show should be juried - a highly emotional issue. The Board didn't feel they could decide such a large question, so the general Membership discussed and voted on it, and the issue was resolved. The President is the presider, not the jury, and must remain neutral, not manipulating people to his/her point of view.  

Fifth: Always carry a clipboard. People are always going to be coming up to you with announcements and questions and things to remember, so write them down or somebody's feelings are going to be hurt, or something important will slip through the cracks. Remember, though, that the President's job is not to know the answers to all of the questions, it is to know who knows the answers to the questions.   Sixth: Keep your finger on the agenda. This is both so you don't skip anything vital during the meeting, and to remind yourself to GET ON WITH IT! People do not come to the Guild meeting just panting to hear the Secretary's Minutes or the Treasurer's reports; they are there to see the Program and join in the Sharing and the fellowship, not to deal with minutiae that could be handled by a subcommittee. Yes, the details are tedious; yes, you have to deal with them; but let the Board handle them so the General Meeting can be fun for EVERYBODY, including the Board. Our guild has about 375 members, about 250 of whom come to the General Meetings, and (at least during my tenure) the business part of the meeting (including the committee reports - and it was a Show year) NEVER lasted longer  than 22 minutes. I know, because Linda Ballou timed them with her stopwatch. 

Seventh, Delegate. There are committee people who have volunteered to do specific tasks - be the Hospitality for the Christmas Brunch or run the Quilt Show or get quilts ready for distribution to the needy - LET THEM DO THEIR JOBS. Don't try to do the jobs for them, and don't criticize them when they do them their own way. It may not be the way you would have done it, but now that someone, ANYone else has done it, praise whatever gods may be that you don't have to worry about it anymore.  

Eighth: In time of crisis, all of the Past Presidents are available to you, the current President, ready to help. In fact, the whole Guild is there to help. All of them are thanking their lucky stars THEY aren't President, and they think the President has such a hard job they're willing to help out in any way they can, just to be sure you don't throw in the towel. So call, ask, you'll be surprised at who will come out of the woodwork. It's especially nice if you call on a new member - it makes them feel part of the group, gets them into the swing of things, and that way they'll be sure to know some new people at the Guild meeting.  

All of this sounds fairly grim, but I assure you I dearly loved my year as President. Being President was a growth experience for me, one that temporarily metamorphasized this unorganized, impractical, dreamy, shy person into an organized, efficient, showman capable of typing up agendas, running meetings and leaping tall quilting frames at a single bound. It was a stretch, and I doubt I'll ever be quite the same again. But even though my Presidency is over, I'm still a member of the Guild, still active, and the memories of my year remain.  

When the fat lady sang and my job was over, when the new President was elected, it was my turn to come to the Past President's Pie Party as a contributor. It was just her luck that I write bad poetry in my spare time: 

Well Meaning Advice to the New President of Amador Valley

The Presidents from times gone by
From near and far, met for pie;
They wanted to sum up all they knew
About how to be president of AVQ.
They thought and they munched,
They talked and they crunched,
And this what they wanted to say
To help the new President on her way.

What must be remembered, right from the start
Is that AVQ is the Guild with heart.
If you keep this one great thought in mind
As the Guild grows larger, you're sure to find
Many ways to keep our friendships strong,
So that we all feel that we belong.
We love new members, that's for sure;
Give them jobs right away, so they'll feel secure.

As all well know, when money is spent
It must be with the full consent
Of the AVQ Board, and the same is true
Of committing Guild time; and I'm telling you
That the ghost of Doris (grandmother of twins)
Will come and haunt you, for your sins,
If you commit Guild funds or time
On things we ALL don't think are fine.

As President, you must be serene,
Impartial, efficient, supportive, a queen
Who is always receptive, always fair,
Who delegates duties and dresses with flair.
Make sure all the members are kept "in the know"
Of what's going on, who's running the show,
How they can help and who can help them
Become more involved in this great guild of friends.

Even though, now and then, things may go awry
Remember you have good friends standing by
To help in a crisis, to just lend an ear,
To be there for you, for this is YOUR year
As the Amador Valley Quilt Guild President
We're all here behind you, one hundred per cent.

That's our job as Guild members. That's what a Guild is all about. See you at the meeting.

(c) Copyright 1995-2012 by The Virtual Quilt Company. All rights reserved.


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