Back in November, Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest garden tour in the U.S., holed up for the better chunk of a day in Buffalo’s Saturn Club with a meeting facilitator, with the intent of forging a path ahead for the organization.
We meet once a month, as a committee of about 20-25 people, from February to October. We get so busy talking about ordering tee shirts, bus routes, parties for the gardeners, PR, sponsorships, headquarters coordination, money counting procedures, budgeting, treasurer reports, Beautification Grants, garden signs, database management, and more mundane topics. Much decision-making is done in subcommittee groups that happen in between these monthly meetings.
Rarely do we actually talk about gardening – we’ve morphed into a tourism event bent on promoting gardening on the Westside of Buffalo, and promoting Buffalo’s gardens outside of the city. Rarely (if ever) do we take the time to figure out where the group is heading, and if it’s a direction in which everyone agrees. Hence, some concentrated time to think about the group’s future was needed. A couple committee members had mentioned this to me after Garden Walk this past year. As president of the group, and having been very involved with a past employer’s Continuous Improvement Program, I knew it was not just a meeting, but a process that we’d be undergoing.
I don’t think it was the meeting we all thought it was going to be, but it was worth every minute.
Our meeting facilitator does this for non-profit groups as a way to give back to the community. She has been consulting us for no charge (even got us into the Saturn Club at no charge!). She, herself, runs a non-profit services provider for children with disabilities. She’s also a lawyer, and headed her neighborhood association for years. She had told me ahead of time to not have preconceived agenda for our meeting – let it go in the direction the group takes it.
There are specific exercises she took us through – a timeline of significant events of the organization from its inception, a SWOT analysis (Strengths / Weaknesses / Opportunities / Threats), listing of the characteristics & values of the organization, and what the group’s goals are – short and long-term.
We could have come up with the list on our own, but I cannot emphasize enough the value of an outside facilitator – one not familiar with the group’s inner workings – to make sure everyone’s heard from (that wants to be heard), and to keep things open, honest and keep the meeting going at a good clip. We had also invite a handful of Garden Walk gardeners and a couple “outsiders” familiar with the local gardening community, but not part of Garden Walk.
I believe, the long and short of it is, we’ll find that Garden Walk Buffalo has gone through tremendous growth as an organization, its image nationally, and its clout locally. There’s consternation about having grown too fast, in varying directions (getting away from its original purpose), way more emphasis on finances, having a formal board (as opposed to the larger event committee), leadership succession, and the responsibilities that come with becoming a 501c3 non-profit.
Our facilitator has compiled the information she pulled from us and will be going over all of it with us later this month. She’ll be sharing with us some recommendations and suggestions going forward to handle only the items we’ve prioritized with her.
She assures us that everything we’re going through is normal, and a textbook example of what groups go through when going from a neighborhood group to a 501c3 non-profit. And that there is nothing that were doing that is wrong, or wrong-headed, and all can be resolved easily enough. And that growth / change is difficult while you’re going through it, but in retrospect helps set a course for the group’s viability in the future.
Our first meeting of the year is Monday, February 7, at the Richmond Summer Senior Center in Buffalo, at 7 p.m. If you’d like to be part of a successful event that is growing, improving the neighborhoods of Buffalo, and helping change Buffalo’s image nationally, please join us! New members and energy are always welcome. We’re energized, enthused, and try to have meetings done in an hour. No food, but once in a while, Joe makes great goodies!