Founded over 50 years ago on the banks of the Au Sable River near Grayling, Michigan, the 16 fishermen who gathered at the home of George Griffith were united by their love of trout fishing, and by their growing disgust with the state’s practice of stocking its waters with “cookie cutter trout”—catchable-sized hatchery fish. Convinced that Michigan’s trout streams could turn out a far superior fish if left to their own devices, the anglers formed a new organization: Trout, Unlimited (the comma was dropped a few years later).
From the beginning, TU was guided by the principle that if we “take care of the fish, then the fishing will take care of itself.” And that principle was grounded in science. “One of our most important objectives is to develop programs and recommendations based on the very best information and thinking available,” said TU’s first president, Dr. Casey E. Westell Jr., “In all matters of trout management, we want to know that we are substantially correct, both morally and biologically.”
Effectively Managing Conflict in Your TU Chapter or Council
You joined TU to help save the fish or to learn to be a better angler and instead you’re dealing with conflict and unhappy volunteers. What now? Please recognize, first, that you are not alone -- all volunteer organizations have conflict; and, second, that good things can (and often do) arise from conflict that is effectively managed. The purpose of this document is to help volunteer leaders reduce the likelihood that conflict will occur within their TU chapter or council and, when it does occur, to manage it effectively. Don’t wait until conflict arrives. Use this document and handy checklist as the basis for a board discussion about managing conflict. Prepare your organization now so you can keep the peace and stay focused on saving fish and having fun.
What is conflict and what causes it?
Conflict is a difference of opinion, disagreement or clash of styles between people who are competing over perceived or actual incompatible goals or resources. Sometimes the desired resources or outcomes truly are mutually exclusive or incompatible. Many times they are only perceived as incompatible, when there may actually be a way to satisfy both parties. Differing perceptions are the root of many conflicts.
Conditions that are likely to create conflict are found in virtually every non-profit organization, including TU. Conditions for conflict may include limited funds; limited time; innovative ideas; change; varied professional backgrounds and approaches; different management styles; vague roles and responsibilities; passionate people; and shared responsibilities (e.g., leadership, decision-making, and implementation). Conflict need not be destructive. Handled effectively, differences can result in new and better ideas and projects, as well as a stronger sense of “team” for having weathered the storm together. When that happens, future conflicts are more likely to also be handled constructively. Conflict side-stepped or not handled in a thoughtful manner can have devastating results. At minimum, such situations chew up valuable volunteer (and, sometimes, staff) time, burn out existing volunteer leaders, and discourage new leaders from stepping forward. More serious and “public” conflicts can stop current members from becoming more active, stop new members from joining, and destroy long-term friendships. Especially virulent situations can lead to complete dysfunction or even “implosion” of the chapter or council itself, and damage the reputation of the organization in the eyes of fisheries agencies, other conservation or fishing group leaders or elected officials. It can take years for an organization to recover from such extensive damage.
Reduce the Likelihood of Conflict
Experience with TU chapters and councils across the nation indicates that many conflicts are the result of differing perceptions or expectations about how something should be (or is being) done. Many such conflicts could be avoided by improving communication in ways that will help get people “on the same page.” Following are some fairly simple, tried-and-true steps for reducing the likelihood for conflict.
Fundraising is one of the core functions of both chapters and councils. Volunteer leaders are finding it more important than ever to raise funds for work on their home waters. TU staff is trying to meet this demand for funding by providing increased fundraising support and funding alternatives for the entire organization’s important work. TU also has development professionals who, on a very limited basis, can assist chapters in identifying local grants.
Many chapters and councils raise money by hosting a fundraising banquet or special event. These events usually involve an auction and/or raffle of fishing tackle and other products. Holding a banquet or special event is one way your chapter can recruit new members, receive recognition for its work, and raise money for its operations. TU provides a list of resources to help chapters purchase auction/raffle items at discounted prices. Items from this list are available for order online in the Fundraising Program at any time of year.
It's important to remember raffles can raise important legal issues. Councils and chapters need to be aware of those issues to avoid legal problems. Always check with your state's secretary of state and attorney general to make sure the raffle that your chapter is planning complies with your state's laws and with any applicable local laws. Moreover, do not sell raffle tickets to someone outside of your state either through the mail or over the Internet. Doing so may violate federal law and the laws of some states. It is better to take the time to check your state's law before conducting a raffle than to run into problems later.
Embrace-A-Stream (EAS) is the flagship grant program for funding TU's grassroots conservation efforts. Since its inception in 1975, EAS has funded over 980 individual projects for a total of more than $4 million in direct cash grants. Local TU chapters and councils contributed an additional $13 million in cash and in-kind services to EAS funded projects for a total investment of more than $17 million. In 2011, EAS funded 25 projects in 15 states, with an average grant award of $5,000. Chapters and councils are asked to submit proposals for conservation projects that best dress the needs of native and wild trout following TU's protect, reconnect, restore and sustain conservation model.
Building Strong Chapters and Councils
The key to an effective and viable organization, in the long run, is that organization’s ability to regularly attract and activate new members, volunteers and leaders. However, among the top challenges expressed by current volunteers are:
- Not having enough “active members;” and
- Trouble attracting new volunteer leaders.
The following is a collection of ideas on how chapters can recruit more members, involve those members as volunteers and foster new leaders who will carry the organization into the future.
What Attracts People To TU:
People become a member of TU for a variety of reasons, but the most common can be broken down into the following three categories:
Conservation: They have conservation interests. The majority of TU members join because they are concerned about rivers and aquatic ecosystems that they have connected with through fishing. They have a vested interest in the health and viability of their “home waters”. Many members have expressed that they want to give something back to the resource that they enjoy and ensure that they pass on a healthy resource to their children.
Fishing: They like to fish or want to learn to fish and being a member of TU opens doors to opportunities and information. For many TU members, conservation concerns have largely stemmed from an initial interest in fishing as a sport and a love of the outdoors. By attracting people to the sport, you can then educate them on the need for conservation.
Friends: They want to make friends with shared interests or join to be with current friends. Often members have been encouraged by a friend to become involved. Friendship is a powerful motivator, and by keeping activities and events fun, you create an organization that casts a broader net when it comes to membership involvement.
Caveat: For healthy group diversity, you must plan ways to encourage involvement at EVERY level (members, volunteers, leaders). Be open to different points of view and ways of doing things. At your next TU meeting or activity, look around. How many participants are women? How many people are under the age of 30? How many members are non-white? If your chapter suffers from an obvious lack of diversity or you are simply looking for new ways to bring in more members, you may want to start purposely reaching out to these large segments of the population – if not, your group may be missing the boat.
The steelhead and salmon runs of northern California are legendary. However, these runs are now a fraction of their former numbers. Drought, development, dams, and water diversions have all contributed to reducing populations and angling opportunities, especially in coastal streams north of San Francisco -- a region often referred to as the Lost Coast. Yet good fish habitat remains here, and some rivers continue to offer premier angling opportunities for wild steelhead. A coalition of sportsmen groups, conservation organizations, business and property owners, fisheries scientists, tribes, and community members along the Lost Coast has come together around a landmark proposal: to protect and restore the last, best wild steelhead and salmon habitat on public lands in Trinity, Humboldt, Del Norte, and Mendocino counties. The clean, cold water that flows from these lands and the sporting assets they provide are a key part of California’s unique outdoor heritage. Join us in this movement today, to protect and improve the best of what’s left for Lost Coast steelhead and salmon.
Pescadero Creek is one of the last, best wild steelhead strongholds on California’s Central Coast and is likely the best chance for recovering coho south of San Francisco. TU and conservation partners have worked for years to improve streamflows and habitat conditions in this watershed. TU’s work has focused on collaborative projects with willing agricultural landowners in the lower watershed that will improve water security for farming and boost streamflows in the dry season when steelhead need it most. The BJ Burns/Bianchi Flowers farm project illustrated here is a fine example of how this kind of partnership can benefit both fish and people.
Trout Unlimited Teens are a group of teens working to learn more about conservation, volunteer for TU, and bring other teens into trout unlimited and conservation. Join us! Go to www.tu.org/teensjoin to get a membership or www.tu.org/kidsjoin if you are 12 or under.
Kirk Deeter discusses how not to spook fish when using your false cast.
Kirk Deeter talks about keeping your thumb in your peripheral vision to improve casting.