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Softening the Iron Grip of Club Elders and Founders
(Without Any Casualties)

By Del Albright, Blue Ribbon Ambassador and
Daniel R. Strà, Founder, JonFund 4X4 Club

Club event, bringing new blood into the group

Is your club/group held in the clutches of time by its club elders? Do you wish that you had more input, or that the club/group would change to keep up with the crises our sports face?

As a club elder, are you worried that letting go of things will cause the club to spiral downward or that if you let go of the power no one will step up and continue your good work? Are the young bloods not coming into your club of "oldies by goodies?"

Either situation can be remedied.


Many groups have problems related to a lack of distribution of the workload and responsibilities. There are those who do a lot (and are getting tired) and those who want to do more but aren’t being given things to do. Both situations lead to burn-out and membership decline.

For club elders it is important to realize that you cannot achieve every club goal without help. Maybe if you are the leader of a very small group it is possible, but when we begin talking about dozens or hundreds of people, trying to do it all on your own is more harmful to the group than good.  You, as well as the group will suffer.

This is not to say that all club elders and founders have an iron grip that needs softening.  On the contrary, they are the historical resource and solid foundation of many clubs.  But if you find yourself in this situation, we’d like to offer some ideas to help.

There are some solutions to the iron grip, from both sides; those caught in the grip; and those causing the squeeze.

Let’s first talk about it from the perspective of being the elders or founders causing the squeeze.

Look for ways to allow others to handle responsibilities. Try to become a manager of the human assets of your organization. Rather than give your volunteers step by step instructions about how to do something, teach them the objectives of their role, make yourself available to them and then stand back and watch how much they can impress you with their abilities.

Learn to express objectives and expectations that others can achieve for you, or for the common good. Be free with praise and encouragement. 

Ask yourself why you hang on so tight, and what you need to do to let go a bit.  Learn to pass on the great wealth of information and experiences you have by letting others achieve the shared goals of your group.  Learn to take pride in what the group achieves as a whole.

For example, let’s assume that someone in your group wants to handle membership, and you’ve been doing it for some time. You could demonstrate how you’ve done it but what about after that?  After that you would be wise to explain to that person the overreaching concepts that you use when doing it yourself. From there you could discuss how it all fits into the clubs big picture and then talk about where you would like to see it membership recruiting/retention go. Then give them leeway to make improvements and adjustments.

You should take pride in the fact that your *student* made things better and the club benefited as a whole.

Here is how these ideas might break down.

The way you do it now- “I like memberships to end at the same time each year to avoid always having to worry about renewals. No one joins for less than a year. I have tried to maintain a 75% retention rate”

The concepts that you use – “I have always tried to use good customer service concepts when dealing with membership. If they have a question I get back with an answer within a day.”

The way it fits into the big picture – “Membership is crucial to the club. Retaining members is a top priority.”

Where you would like to see it go – “I also think we need more in the way of club raffles, events and incentives. I also think that we should do more member outreach.”

The leeway and expectations you provide – “Until you’re comfortable with the way things go I would like to keep things status quo. I am hopeful that this will be less than a month. After that I want you to begin looking for ways to do this better than I ever did it. If you have new ideas, let’s discuss them to see how they fit in the big picture of the club.

This is a very basic example, but once you put it into practice you will find yourself having more confidence in what your “students” do. As soon as you trust their instincts you’ll be less worried about control and more optimistic about who will replace you one day.

If you want your work to endure then it should be your goal, as a club elder, to “develop” your replacements. There are people out there that can fill your shoes, and you should work hard to explain exactly what is involved in wearing those shoes in the first place.

What if you are caught in the iron grip?  What can you do? Start by looking for ways to break through it.  Show your interest in wanting to help without trying to take over.  Start with little projects and work your way up.  Keep in mind it’s the overall benefit to the club that we’re trying to achieve.

When given a job, make sure you fully understand its expectations.  Ask the job-giver questions until you *see* the job the way they see it. Keep asking questions until you know what’s expected, including time frames, reports, etc.  Then if you find something that needs fixing or adjusting, include the job-giver in the process. 

Very importantly, if you take on a job, be sure to get it done on time, the way it was presented to you, and within the expectations.  Give credit to those who helped you get started.  Show that you are part of the team trying to achieve something for the greater good of the club.

Finally, if you can’t break through the barrier, or if things aren’t changing to the good, then you have to step up and speak out! Address the issues openly with the group and express YOUR expectations of the group and how they’re not being achieved.

If the group cannot be swayed to see a different future, then you may have a tough choice to make about staying. But at least you will have given it your best shot!

More HELP for Clubs here
Being the Lead Goose or Head Horse -- Leadership Help & Tips

Del Albright, internationally published columnist, Environmental Affairs Coordinator for CA4WDC and BlueRibbon Coalition Ambassador can be contacted through BRC at 800.258.3742 or; or visit Del's Web Site at

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