A few months ago at a fundraiser at the Apollo Theater in New York, President Barack Obama was on stage and decided to sing a line from Al Green’s classic 1972 hit “Let’s Stay Together.” The clip went viral, being seen by millions on YouTube and television. The president’s crooning was even turned into a ringtone for cell phones. But with all due respect to the leader of the free world, he would be well advised to keep his day job.
The song is actually one of my all-time favorites, partly for the melody and beat, but more importantly for the title and words. Although Al Green sang about a challenge facing a couple in a romantic relationship, I have been thinking lately about how the song can also apply to organizations and their supporters. In such relationships, supporters (or in ACA’s case, members) need to know that they can count on their organization to fulfill a certain need and that it will practice according to an accepted set of values. In turn, the organization has certain expectations of its members (to practice ethically, to cover some portion of the cost of services provided, etc.).
Throughout the past several months, discussions have been occurring within the association regarding some of the rules, policies and structure of our governance and how to ensure that all members have an opportunity to participate and be represented. Rather than simply looking at the number of representatives on the board or the intricacies of a voting procedure, I would ask, “What values should your professional membership organization embrace, adopt and practice?”
Don’t get me wrong, I can get into the “detail weeds” with the best of them (just ask the ACA staff). But before we get to the details, doesn’t it make sense to have the member-supporters of the organization let leadership know what is important to them? If, for example, ACA embraces dignity, diversity and inclusion, should we not look at each association goal or objective through a lens that helps us to support those values? This might also include applying a social justice lens to the actions we take on behalf of the profession if the membership embraces this value. Notice I did not say agenda because I believe stating our values is much more broad and encompassing than an agenda, which, frankly, can be created and promoted by a limited few. And how democratic is that?
This is an exciting time to be a part of ACA because of the issues facing our member-supporters, the services and benefits we can develop to enhance your role as counseling professionals and our ability to engage in positive, respectful dialogue that looks at the ongoing relationship between the organization and its 50,000 supporters. With so many challenges facing the profession and those whom you serve, let’s move forward to ensure that both the organization and its members know they are being mutually supported.
Or, as Al Green would say, let’s stay together.
Being together does not mean that all 50,000 member-supporters are going to agree on each and every policy, bylaw or procedure. Rather, let’s engage in a meaningful and respectful discussion resulting in collective agreement that our values are clear, our brand promise is supportive and our mission is empowering. From my perspective, reaching an understanding of these three major components (values, promise and mission) will speak volumes to our various constituencies about the identity of YOUR American Counseling Association.