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Membership - The Hot Potato

Jun 26, 2009 04:40 PM
by MKR


Membership - The Hot Potato

There is a saying - tail wagging the dog; being sidetracked from serious
issues. That is what is happening to the membership recruitment and
retention issue outside India. In India, over the years, the membership
count has been gradually growing, and is currently the largest section. The
Indian membership became a very significant factor in the hotly contested
last year's election. After the election, there were unsubstantiated
allegations about the Indian Section election procedures and the section
challenged the allegers to substantiate the allegations.

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Annie Besant, most savvy organizer and leader, knew the significance of the
large Indian membership and advised George Arundale to get to know the
Indian membership and get their support from their hearts. She knew of the
critical role the Indian membership plays in the life of TS. Such a large
number of members in the Indian section cannot be ignored by the rest of the
members when any key issues come up. Also, they vote as block and any
attempt to make members break away from the block will not work since most
members belong to lodges and there is a very close camaraderie and cohesion
within the lodges. I am speaking from personal experience since I lived in
India for several decades.

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Anyone looking at the recent historical data, can see that the membership
outside India is going down or at least stagnant for years. For example in
two of the countries, no new lodge was chartered for over 50 years. This is
not a happy picture.

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We see a lot of noise being made about various organizational issues and
members witnessed the shocking ultra secret attempt to seize control of the
presidency by disenfranchising members world wide and GC members take over
the power to appoint the president. And many seeing the timing of the move,
and the players behind the move, cannot but see it as an end-run by the
losing group to seize control of the presidency. Due to the good luck of TS
and its members, and with the help of theos-talk, the move was discovered
and broadcast to shocked membership because it was so closely held secret
that even long-time members and workers at Adyar and other national
headquarters were in the dark and had to learn about it from theos-talk, the
independent theosophical maillist.

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Many sectional heads travelled all the way to India in December for the GC
meeting, the expenses paid by TS, and not a single mention was made about
the poor membership situation and what to do with it. It is such a hot
potato that leadership did not want to talk about it. While it should be the
first priority item, it appears that it is a non priority item in the minds
of many leaders, which indeed is a pity.

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Everyone is aware that in most sections outside India, the retention is poor
and the turnover is very high. We have not seen any analysis of the reasons
for this phenomenon. Unless you know why it is happening, all academic
theorizing and tinkering with rules is not going to help fix the problem.
There is one other phenomenon that came to my attention. It is the
resignation of long-time members. Anyone leaving after being around TS for
10, 20, 30 years, should raise red flags and I think it is the duty of the
leaders to investigate and find a fix for it. I do not think this is
happening. The continued lack of transparency makes it almost impossible to
find out what is going on.

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Two instance came to my attention. One was the departure of a long time
theosophist in the USA. The other was the resignation of a member in NZ who
has been around theosophy for over 30 years. I think there should be some
very serious issues that turn off members with such a long connection to TS.
Unless these instances are looked into and quick actions taken to address
the underlying problem or problems, how do you expect membership to grow. I
wish instead of spending time about intricacies of rules and regulations, it
would do a lot of good to TS if the membership retention issue is urgently
addressed. Since Internet provides historical info about TS, it is going
affect the decisions of prospective members since they would be wondering
about what is going on in TS. Is it a sinking organization and members are
jumping off?

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MKR

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Visit www.theosophy.net and enjoy the activities there.


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