Wednesday, October 13

Management and Ownership and Nonprofit Corporations

NOTE: Don't read this unless you are a member of the League of American Bicyclists.

This year, I joined the League of American Bicyclists. I wrote about why in my post, here. The Bike League is a nonprofit corporation. Like many moderate to larger nonprofit corporations, the Bike League depends on volunteers for many of the jobs that need to be done, but also on employees that professionally manage and run major program elements. As in many other nonprofit corporations, ownership is vested in people that we call “members.” In most cases, the members are not the same persons that are employed by the corporation. This creates conflict and the Bike League is no different than many other nonprofit corporations in this regard.

One of the manifestations of the conflict is that management direction rarely aligns with all the membership. In the case of the Bike League, one ongoing conflict is over the relative corporate effort that should go into, for example, “bike friendly” versus legal battles versus bike education. Such conflicts are made more intractable by the overwhelming level of commitment and enthusiasm that the various parties bring.

I find one element of this disturbing in the case of the Bike League. It is an element I once found equally disturbing in the Jaguar Clubs of North America. That element consists of the level of power and discretion delegated by the owners (the members) to the management (the employees). Clearly and naturally, the employees tend to want to obtain greater freedom and latitude to make decisions they feel are best for the corporation without amateurs meddling. The owners, on the other hand, may be split between those that endorse the management direction and those that prefer another approach. The element that is disturbing is the maintenance of checks and balances through an elected board of directors; charged with overall corporate governance and keeping an eye on management in the interests of the owners (the members). Appointed directors dilute the influence and control that the owners (members) possess. A requirement for “approval” for someone to run for a director position also dilutes the influence and control the owners possess. Bylaws that do not provide for a means for the owners to directly change things dilute the influence and control the owners possess.

Why is this disturbing? Well, it’s very simple. Ultimately, a nonprofit must be a reflection of its owners. If, through excessive dilution of the ownership element of membership, the nonprofit no longer reflects its members, why should a member belong? And, as I noted before, in the case of LAB, "I Got Nowhere Else to Go!"

THAT is why I support a petition to allow Damon, Brooking, and Spencer to run for LAB directorship. Allowed to run, they will attract support (or not), to the degree that they reflect the voting membership of LAB. If they are NOT allowed to run, we’ll simply not know. I've corresponded with Khal Spencer and he's certainly worthy of consideration. I've not talked to the other two, but signing the petition merely gets them on the ballot as candidates. If you're a member and simply want to sign the petition, go here (make sure you have your membership number handy). If you want to read Khal's take on things, go here. OR simply email me and ask more, or tell me why I'm foolishly naive.


Khal said...

Thank you, Steve.

Chuck Davis said...


A very well articulated rationale for supporting the petition initiative as well outlining how non profits might ideally operate and the difficulty in meeting its members expectations

I am member of LAB and signed the petition, if LAB is not about it's members, what is it about?

I used to maintain three (3)memberships in the Oklahoma's so called advocacy non profit; as an individual, as a shoppe owner, and as a club membership for the shoppe's small sponsored club and team

The Oklahoma group's leadership had no interest in it's member's interests and manifested all of the negatives alluded to and while it might have ostensibly been a place to go to, it was not a place to hang around which is reflected in its member base

Khal said...

Thank you, Chuck. Nice bike in your blog picture. Is that a Triumph?

Ed W said...

Steve, I would never accuse you of being foolishly naive. Far from it. You've summarized the ambivalence that many of us have had regarding the League, its leadership, and its members. In my case, as you know, I declined to renew my membership, yet I'm still active in trying in effort to gain a foothold for Khal, Eli, and John on the board. There's a chance - albeit a slim one - that LAB can be changed to better reflect the membership. If that happens, I'll happily renew.

The group dynamics you've described are typical of nearly any group of motivated enthusiasts. There's the larger membership, and there's usually a small group of people who do the actual work. An even smaller group stands on the sidelines and complains incessantly without offering any assistance. I'm fervently hoping that the effort to reform LAB doesn't devolve into that. Otherwise, we'll be just another bunch of angry, addled old men.

Eli Damon said...

Hi Steve. If anyone (including you) has any questions for me, they should feel free to ask, or read about my goals for the League at . Thanks for the plug.

Chuck Davis said...


Close butt no cigar, a 1971 BSA B50SS (500cc single "thumper"), Triumph had a similar a year or so later, TR50 maybe

Pic is probably from summer of 72, came to Tulsa from Maine to U Tulsa Law, got a job with Legal Aid and stayed, that BSA got my now aging butt to Hartford CT in 33 hrs once kcab then

Now retired with a small cluttered bicycle shoppe, still do a bit of essentially pro bono legal work, successfully rep'd couple cyclists last summer caught in a stop sign run on as part of a large local group ride (not pro bono, got a case of beer for efforts!)

Disclaimer: Don't have any more tie dyed tee's, still need a haircut, those jeans wood be a bit tight today

Khal said...

It looked like a classic British thumper, but couldn't tell which from the size of the picture. A good friend of mine back in college had a BSA 500 as well. Thanks!

Chuck Davis said...

Many stories emanated from that old "nail"

Lucas electrics get a deserved bad rap from their refrigerator division and warm beer but Amal carburetors ain't entirely guilt free

Why don't British fire trucks have Amal carbs on their engines?

Who wants to put out a petrol fueled buring fire truck on the way to a fire!

Khal said...

God, that photo brings back memories. Somewhere there is a picture of me, circa 1975, sitting on my Honda 450 in front of the old flat my girlfriend and I shared in college. We had a happy little group that rode lots around Rochester, N.Y. Three of us had Hondas, one Moto Guzzi, one Yamaha, and two BSAS (friend Billl had the 500 and friend Geoff with his 650). Long ago and far away....

Chuck Davis said...

To close this work week on a serious note, and harking back to Steve's analysis of the dynamics of non profits, a scan of a not for profits bylaws and how they work can show what a organization is really about

As to Khal's silly Honda, my BSA wuz hard to beat for when it came to oil leaking as his "Limey" bike owning acquaintances probably flaunted, even the M Guzzi rider got it!

Khal said...

For readers who are unfamiliar, the old argument about "real" motorcycles vs "Japanese" motorcycles from the sixties and seventies (except those of us still razzing each other about it) is a little analogous to paint 'n path vs. vehicular cycling...

I think the CB 450 was the first bike put out in Japan that actually could challenge the big British twins, at least zero to sixty. At the "ton" mark (i.e., 100 mph; see Maynard Hershon) mine wheezed pretty badly.

My dad, who had not had a bike for about a decade when we were kids, bought the first model year 450 and rode it a while and then got serious again and bought a BMW R60. On a student budget, I scrimped and saved to get a used '69 CB450 from a friend's dad and rode the wheels off of that thing for about eight years.

Not much to do with bicycle politics I realize, but actually more fun to talk about.

Khal said...

To also close on a serious note, though, two things. One, our brothers in the motorcycle fraternity have been dealing with the hassles of bad roads and inept drivers almost as long as we in the human power version have. Like us, they live closer to the edge. Also like us, they have strived to put in place a strong rider educational system because for ALL of us, we are our own first line of defense and have to take control of our safety.

Secondly, if you never read it, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is about a lot more then Zen or Motorcycle Maintenance. It has a fascinating discussion of the scientific method, and an equally fascinating discussion of self-discovery and getting back to one's roots after losing one's self--in Pirsig's case, literally losing his mind to electroshock therapy back decades ago when that was popular. I highly recommend it.

Steve A said...

Myself, being a pragmatic sort,
I read "Proficient Motorcycling."

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