As climbers, conservationists and outdoor enthusiasts, we understand that no matter how tempting it might be in the moment, the fastest, easiest path is not always the best approach.
There are so many other factors to consider. Weather. Skill. Goals. Timing. Gear. Safety. Team.
But once those elements have been weighed, and a course has been chosen, you can commit to taking that road with confidence.
We present to you The Road Ahead with the confidence of knowing other nonprofits, like our East Coast counterpart The Appalachian Mountain Club, experienced similar growing pains, made bylaws changes and is once again thriving.
We are confident that within the framework of a 21st Century structure, the Mazamas will remain Oregon’s go-to resource for climbing and mountaineering. We are confident we will continue to inspire everyone – hikers, bikers, skiers, climbers, wanderers -- to love and protect the mountains for generations to come.
We must be hopeful and bold, just as our founders were as they stood atop the summit of Mt. Hood in 1894. That, is the Mazama legacy and, The Road Ahead.
It is merely the title we’ve given to the collaborative work the Mazamas must undertake to ensure a sustainable future.
This organization is synonymous with expert climbers, avid outdoors people, enthusiastic conservationists and topnotch mountaineering instruction. You’ll be hard-pressed to find an Oregonian who hasn’t at least heard of the Mazamas, and our reputation is highly favorable.
But times have indeed changed, and the Mazamas have not kept pace with this change. We’re not alone. Similar organizational constraints have hamstrung many organizations before us, like the Appalachian Mountain Club and the Portland Audubon.
Their past, like ours, is long and storied, But the future – for organizations who fail to update and address their organizational structure – is tenuous. The Appalachian Mountain Club and Portland Audubon are two examples of organizations that have turned things around. Our every hope and intention is that the purpose of The Mazamas outlined in Article II of our bylaws, will remain unchanged.
We have had extensive talks with former Audubon officials, and a Harvard Business Review case study from 1997 on the AMC is available for purchase on the HBR website.
Our bylaws mandate when and how meetings are held, so we lack the agility necessary to tackle issues efficiently and on our own timeline. They also dictate our board composition and a very short term duration, which limits its ability to make decisions. Quite often, board members are forced to exit just as they have just begun to take command and fully understand their roles. The bylaws also require ⅔ of our members to agree and cast their votes to carry out routine governance.
Although we became a nonprofit in 1946, we have never fully tapped the fundraising potential that affords us because our benefit is mainly to members. As a result, our bottomline has suffered.
Organizations like ours with voting members are complex and unstable. Managing opinions and the reality of a shared governance structure lengthens the decision-making process. We also are extremely dependent on member monetary contributions and volunteer time.
Whoo boy. Do we ever use, rely and value our volunteers. This organization absolutely couldn’t survive without them. They run our flagship program – BCEP – and even used to run the office.
But sometimes, it’s really hard to keep them engaged and passionate if we ask too much of them, or rely too heavily on their interests and expertise. An example. For 10 years , our Programs Committee was led by a husband and wife team. They bowed out in 2019, just before Covid, due to illness, and we’ve not found anyone to take up the mantle. That has meant a loss of programming, including the popular speaker series, which was free to the public and endeared us to the community. A similar fate befell our Outreach Committee, which also has no chair and is not active at the moment.
When queried, many of our volunteers tell us that they love, love the Mazamas, but the time they can devote to the organization is limited for a variety of reasons – from work, family and yes, even spending time outdoors with friends who will never become Mazamas because they have no intention of ever summiting a glaciated peak.
The very nature of volunteering also is changing. There was a generation of Mazamas that gave 20-40 years of service to this organization as committee members, climb and hike leaders, many filling all of those roles at once. They are gone now. More recently the average length of volunteer engagement with the Mazamas has dropped to about seven years.
There has been extensive research in this arena. One great book – “The New Breed:Understanding and Equipping the 21st Century Volunteer,” that details how our 20-, 30- and 40-something members likely want to serve for a set time and achieve a defined outcome rather than serve decades on the same committee, or in the same capacity.
We agree missteps have been made. Several years ago the ramp up of staff was aggressive and costly. But so were the plans to grow the organization, which didn’t necessarily pan out because of the limitations mentioned in previous questions.
Similarly our website goals were ambitious. Although conceived as 3 phases, only phase 1 was completed due to lack of funds. Phase 1 was a customized solution at climb leaders’ request to allow for 200+ account users to access a system and manage activities.
At the time of the scoping/build phase, leadership was in a growth mindset and wanted to build infrastructure in order to expand. The website was planned to have 1 FTE to manage the system, but we have never employed this person.
In fact, we’ve lost a lot of staff members in recent years. Those who remain or who have joined the organization, don’t wish to devote too much time and energy rehashing previous decisions and past mistakes. The goal is, of course, to learn from them and adjust the workload and expectations accordingly.
We have 3 employees at MMC ,plus an interim executive director who works 20 hours a week, a facilities manager and a lodge manager who are contract employees.
Whatever direction we steer toward, we might need to add one to three more people, including a full-time, permanent executive director. Those positions most likely would be a development coordinator and a full-time lodge manager.
We have, can and will continue to host fundraisers. That is certainly a way forward. But we already have an organization comprised of very generous members who give time and money. Constant fundraising for and among ourselves can create fatigue.We bet you all can think of at least one nonprofit that is always soliciting funds and you probably automatically delete their emails before even opening them.
We need to address that as our membership declines, our ability to raise money declines along with it. If we must depend on our current membership for our financial stability, then our membership needs to be prepared for higher membership dues, more expensive classes, and fewer discounts to access Mazamas' offerings.
It is only by diversifying our funding streams and bringing in new sources of revenue that we are not receiving today that we can hope to keep the prices we charge to access and participate with the Mazamas anywhere close to current levels.
Well, we must impress upon you that change is not up for negotiation. It is necessary. The organization will not survive on its present course.
But we also want you to know that we absolutely hear you. And we want to stress that the changes we are advocating for will not dramatically alter your Mazama experience. BCEP, ICS, Canyoneering, AYM, Rambling, Trail Trips, Outings, the Lodge, Conservation – everything you know and love about the Mazamas will continue, and those classes, activities and experiences, will remain volunteer-led and driven. The changes we are proposing and advocating for are legal in nature.
We seek to amend our bylaws. THIS IS WHERE YOU CHIME IN KALEEN. We should spell out what we’re proposing.