Sub-Units: Proposal Four


Watch the webinar recording for Sub-Units and their Relationship to One Another.

We encourage you to use the PowerPoint presented at the webinar and the Structure Modernization Discussion Guide to help facilitate conversations in your networks.  

Implement state-wide action plans through task forces rather than chapters:

  • Convert all chapters to task forces (i.e., not IRS entities)
  • State council presents annual action plan for debate and vote at state conference
  • Task forces implement the action plan at grassroots level
  • State officers manage finances, bookkeeping & regulatory compliance

Posting Instructions

1. If you want to share your thoughts on a proposal (remember these are just concepts, the actual language will be developed later), write your reply in the text box bellow the words Leave Reply, and in the box “Enter your comment here…”


2. If you want to respond to a comment that another NOW member has left regarding a proposal, click the small blue link that says “Reply” underneath said comment. It is very important that you click this reply button and not start another comment so that the conversation is easily followed and clear!

3. You MUST put your full name and chapter affiliation before every comment you leave. If a comment does not have a name and chapter affiliation it will not be approved. This is to ensure that only NOW members are commenting.

4. Remember be respectful and friendly! All NOW members want to work to improve the organization and it takes collaboration and patience on our part as a grassroots organization to make sure that all of our members voices are heard – even those with whom we may disagree with.

5. Be creative and don’t be afraid to say what you think! It is vital that you share your opinions — in order to create the best proposals possible we need to know what all of the members think! This site is for YOU to have your voices heard.


25 thoughts on “Sub-Units: Proposal Four

  1. Elaine Togneri – Pasco County NOW

    As a Chapter President, I enjoy the fact that we have autonomy. We manage our own money, meetings, actions. I like getting action kits from National, but if I have no one volunteering for a particular action, I don’t want to be forced to participate. I understand the difficulty and expense in communicating individually with each member because some do not have email or access to the Internet. We currently do snailmail to those members. If our National finances do not allow that, our states and chapters must communicate to those members. I have not seen a lot of interest in following these discussions other than from those who it will affect directly, i.e. Chapter Presidents.


    • Matt Shapiro, NOW-NJ, Northern NJ NOW

      You;re certainly right about chapter autonomy. But as far as informing every single member about this entire open-ended bylaws revision process, that is National’s responsibility. This is the National Board’s proposal and the bylaws require the Board to inform every member. To leave it up to individual chapters to inform their members about this (email or snail mail) just won’t work. Some might, to a degree. Most will not. That’s why it’s the Board’s responsibility.

      The entire structure of NOW is up for grabs because that is what the National Board decided to do. No one forced the Board to take this drastic step. Many of us feel it’s not even allowed, because the proposed changes are not known ahead of time. But once they decided to go this “revision” route, they certainly had an obligation to notify every single member of exactly what is going to happen at the conference, whether the member has email or internet access or neither. The Board has certainly not met that responsibility.


  2. By managing finances, does that mean the state will send out and pay for a meeting notice? Chapters now have to live within their own budget. And it seems that a treasurer for the state would have to take on excessive chapter billing and check writing duties for mailings and such. Treasurers are hard to find anyway.
    I just can’t picture how managing finances would work.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. According to the opening statement on this site’s home page, those present at the 2014 conference voted to have a STRATEGY conference in 2015. It was the national board that subsequently decided to make it a by-laws convention.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I am also on the Board of Northern New Jersey NOW. But unlike Bonnie and Matt, I am relatively new to it. I did not participate actively in NOW for many years because of its reputation.

    I have enjoyed being more active in NOW particularly because I got to see how active it can be and now diverse. These proposed By Law changes are a real slap in the face for someone like me. Bonnie and Matt have said it much better than I can but if NOW wants to insure that people won’t join or want to be associated with it, then this is the way to do it. Take away all local autonomy and make it only what National wants.

    I couldn’t be more disappointed.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. How about live-streaming the by-laws convention with a call-in number for those without internet access? It’s only fair to take questions & comments from members not in attendance.
    The bulk of our members in Missouri belong to a chapter that is completely incommunicado with the state council. There is no evidence of meetings or actions or accountability with their rebates. I share this to make the point again that not every state/region will find the same proposals workable.
    I disagree that not all the members know about the webinars. If the states are doing their jobs, it’s in their newsletters.


    • Matt Shapiro, Northern NJ NOW and NOW-NJ

      The fact is that most members have not been informed about the webinars. The webinars are being conducted by National with regard to a National By Laws Convention. It is National’s responsibility to inform the members, not the states, and National has not done that. If a state happens to have publicized the webinars, more power to them. But it certainly is not their job. If a state were conducting webinars with regard to state by laws changes, then it would be their responsibility.

      Live-streaming the by laws convention is certainly a good idea, as is allowing telephone access. But that doesn’t change the lack of universal notice, it doesn’t change the lack of full prior information about what is to be proposed for those who do get notice, and it doesn’t change the basic violation of our by laws’ letter and spirit that the convention represents.

      I do take your point about differences among states and regions. I think there are a number of ways that a state like Missouri could deal with the chapter you describe without changing National by laws.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Matt Shapiro — Northern New Jersey NOW Board Member, NOW-NJ Board Member

    I’ve refrained from commenting on this “radical” proposal here because it just makes me so angry that important leaders (who are otherwise quite capable and dedicated) would want to undo the democratic, grassroots nature of NOW. I guess I was afraid I would just “lose it” and go over the top with a rant. Well, maybe I’ll do just that.

    As a 35 year member of NOW, I am outraged at this assault on the key structural element that has made NOW a true grassroots organization, different from all other feminist organizations — our independent, autonomous chapters. NOW was built on the strength of local chapters throughout the country, with National being accountable to the chapters, not vice versa. The By Laws reflect this autonomy. That’s why they would have to be changed in order to accomplish this destruction of the chapters.

    The geographical task forces that would replace independent chapters would be controlled by the whims of State Councils, both in what they can do, and what funds they can obtain. They would have no independence. An annual plan would be adopted by whoever showed up at an annual state conference that would somehow foresee all possible actions that might be needed at the local level. Ridiculous. Of course, this could be modified to make it more flexible, but it’s the entire concept that is horrible, not the particular details.

    Without independent chapters with their own funding able to act without any constraint other than not doing anything that contradicts national NOW policy (and that means philosophic positions, not procedural requirements that actually contradict the autonomy by law), NOW will become like every other centralized, top-down group. There are plenty of those. We don’t need another.

    The biggest excuse given for doing away with our grassroots chapters is paperwork. Aside from what national NOW requires there is only one piece of paperwork that is now required of chapters — a (very) short form 990 tax return. It is much easier to fill out than the annual report required by national. Certainly easier than the additional reports that national is now adding to burden chapters. If national wants to reduce the paperwork required of chapters, they can just stop requiring most of it. That does not require a by law change.

    The example given of where this concept “works” on an informal basis is a small state that has only one chapter which is essentially identical to the state chapter. Why have two sets of paperwork requirements for the beleaguered state & chapter. After all, they’re only keeping the “local” chapter for the delegates. Again, the solution is not to eliminate the chapter, but rather to eliminate any national paperwork required of the local, since it’s the same as the state in reality. No By Law change needed. Yes, they’ll still do a postcard tax return. Big deal. The autonomy and funding of all the chapters is certainly worth that.

    So what is this really all about, aside from centralized control and no more democracy? Answer: MONEY.

    What will happen when there are no chapters and all members become “at large.” Well, the state chapters will get all the rebate money that would have gone to the chapters that were eliminated. States may well need more money because of the challenges of right wing state legislatures and governors. But do they really need ALL the money that went to local chapters?

    Who will decide this? You might think there’s nothing to decide. The state chapter just gets all the local money. But we have not yet seen the other shoe drop. I hope I’m wrong, but I expect that when we get to the next webinar on “money and members,” the idea proposed last year that the (smaller, less representative) National NOW Board should have the power to decide the “apportionment” of the dues (meaning the percentage of the dues that gets rebated to the states) will be resurrected. And, if such a by law change comes to pass, the National Board, after due consideration, might well decide that the states are now flush with all that formerly local chapter cash, and they don’t really need so much.

    They might even, in a truly radical shift, decide that states will get zero, unless they apply to national and prove what they need and how it fits into national’s overall plan adopted by whoever can afford to show up at an annual national conference thousands of miles away.

    I’m not saying all of that will necessarily happen, but today, our By Laws prevent it from happening. They protect our democracy. Tomorrow, those By Laws may well become “flexible” enough to allow all of it.

    By the way, although I will not specifically comment in the Proposal 3 thread, I consider the “less radical” changes in proposal three to be a stalking horse for proposal four. A slower death to chapter democracy. There is absolutely no need for it. Any chapter that wants to dissolve can do so, and the existing practices with regard to cashing rebate checks actually causes that to effectively happen with completely inactive chapters.

    Finally, I have to reiterate my objection (raised during the first webinar) to this entire By Laws Convention process, because it certainly circumvents, and, in my opinion, violates the much more democratic method of amending the By Laws that is, in fact, required by our current By Laws.

    Our current By Laws REQUIRE that EVERY MEMBER of NOW be informed in writing of any proposed By Law change at least 60 days in advance of the annual conference. While this does not assure that everyone will participate in the decision making — not by a long shot — at least it does give every member the opportunity to try and exert some influence over By Law changes that could totally change what NOW is.

    Not so with this By Laws “Convention.” The By Laws changes to be discussed at this Convention will not be known until they are actually proposed AT THE CONVENTION — not one day before. And only the members who can afford to travel to this convention will get to see and vote on them.

    But, you might say, the WEBINARS are “open” to all members.

    Answer: The webinars are sparsely attended by a tiny fraction of the NOW membership (maybe on-tenth of one percent). That’s because very few members, instead of ALL members, were notified about their existence, much less their content. The webinars and their content have been barely advertised. National should have informed every single member all about these webinars and the extremely significant changes they are discussing. THEY DID NOT.

    Answer: The webinar subjects are only concepts, not specific proposed by law changes. It say just that right at the top. You won’t get to see any of the actual proposed changes unless and until you physically go to the By Laws Convention.

    This process is the antithesis of democracy.

    The EXCUSE for this is Roberts Rules. Not our own By Laws, which require complete specific notification of exact language to every member, and DO NOT provide for the possibility of a completely open-ended, relatively secret By Laws Convention, but Roberts Rules.

    Why would Roberts Rules (which do allow for this kind of thing) apply? When do Roberts Rules “take over.” In my opinion, Roberts Rules only apply when our own By Laws do not deal with a particular subject. In this instance, our By Laws have an entire section that deals with how the By Laws are to be amended, They are anything but silent on the subject of By Laws amendments. They specifically require the EXACT WORDING of proposed By Laws changes to be sent to every member in writing at least 60 days before the Annual Conference where they are to be voted on.

    The clear intent of our By Laws is that every member be fully informed of every word in all proposed By Laws amendments far enough in advance so that they have a real opportunity to participate and to know exactly what’s being proposed. This By Laws Convention flies in the face of that intent, and of the democratic tradition of NOW.

    The fact that a majority of those present at last year’s Conference voted to set up this By Laws Convention changes nothing. It still violates our By Laws in letter and spirit. That vote merely avoided dealing with the very controversial By Laws amendments that had been proposed last year, which could well have overwhelmed the conference. So, instead, those present were convinced that this “restructuring” could be handled a lot more easily in a By Laws convention, where no one would know in advance exactly what was being proposed or how revolutionary some of those proposals are, and those who were really interested could attend it and decide for the rest of us.

    Even if it were legal, and my 43 years of experience as an activist and leader of substantial organizations at every level (not national) says it’s not legal, IT IS STILL WRONG.

    This process is undemocratic, the By Laws Convention is undemocratic, and many of the “conceptual” proposals being put forth (like #4 here) will end the grassroots democracy that made NOW the best, the pre-eminent feminist organization.

    I am so sad to be watching as this vitally important group is undone in the name of, I guess, efficiency.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Judi Polson, NOW-NYC: I share Matt’s concern that these webinars are so sparsely attended by such a tiny fraction of the NOW membership. I have the impression that National is relying on Chapter leadership to forward the e-mails, phone-tree style (similar to in Sub-Units, Proposal One). The sparse turnout, at the very least, discredits that proposal. In addition, the phone-tree model cuts out the at-large members. Surely there’s a list of the people who attended last year’s conference; at the very least, these individuals should be contacted. Snail-mail announcements (maybe printed on the envelope of the direct-mail solitications) might also help.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. But I am an at large member living in a state capital, & I am fully engaged. I am disappointed that we don’t have enough people for a chapter here nor engagement from other activists around the state.
    I am disappointed we don’t have more engagement on these discussions!
    This proposal sounds to me like a thankless job for the state officers, but I have ever had the compliance duties, so I cannot speak from experience. I know I would not volunteer for it, however. I think there would be a lot of infighting over financial distributions to task forces.


  8. Bonnie Shapiro, NNJ NOW

    I agree with everything you say, but I am now wondering how much better proposal 3 is. It is one thing for states and chapters to make “deals” to combine, it is another to work it into a policy of
    encouraging that to happen. I am thinking that that might be a slippery slope leading to ending up, ultimately, with proposal 4 in reality. I think that your idea of revitalizing chapters is the way to go and to avoid the slope and perhaps even more at large members with no interest in activism.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. At the risk of complicating things even further, it seems clear that different proposals will be preferred by different states. Populous states with large membership will be better served by one while largely rural states best served by another. I wonder if we can be flexible in that regard.


    • Well, this Proposal #4 sounds dreadful to me, and would certainly completely change NOW to a top-down organization resembling the many others that are financed by members , but driven by a few at the headquarters. No thanks! I think NOW needs to start focusing on building new chapters, and revitalizing those that already exist. While I understand that a financial crisis necessitated the three year National membership direct mail recruitment, the result has been an increase in at large members. I expect that many of these, while happy to help us financially with annual dues, are not interested in getting involved in policy and strategy at any level. The activists tend to be members of chapters. So we should be strengthening those chapters, not doing away with them or calling them task forces without the rights to receive rebates or vote on policies.

      Liked by 3 people

  10. Joanne Tosti-Vasey, Ni-Ta-Nee NOW (PA 0555) and Mid-Atlantic Regional Director:

    I am absolutely opposed to this idea. It is not grass roots. In some states there are chapters that are large enough that putting them in with the small chapters in the rest of the state would overwhelm the actions at the local level elsewhere in the state. It’s much like the concerns raised about large v. small states in the regional board discussion. Being mandatory also flies in the face of local grassroots efforts.

    It also reminds me of the concerns raised about the 6-region model for the National Board in that in larger geographic regions people who represent smaller towns and chapters will likely be shut out from the leadership process, experience and training.

    And if you don’t have chapters that can plan local actions because everything is controlled at the state level (or ends up with funds and programming essentially going only to the “task forces” with the largest/loudest voice that drowns out the smaller areas), you could miss new ideas and actions and programs that could trickle up from a small town/rural area where there are a few lionesses willing to roar.

    And on another topic, since I missed posting a comment on regional board makeup by 10 hours (dealing with a crisis here at home) – I’m adding it here.

    Proposal 1 on regional board:. I do not like the 6-region idea because as I said above, larger states would overwhelm the board. If you really feel that the size of the board is much to unwieldy with 9 regions and have to reduce the size of the board to 18, then here’s an alternative that wasn’t suggested:
    a. Keep the number of regions at 9.
    b. You could tweak the states included within each region so that the membership is region represents is more balanced if need be.
    c. Have two board members elected from each region, with the second seat being designated as a diversity seat that can be held by a self-identified person of color and/or person with a visible and/or invisible disability (the other group of feminists that is underrepresented within NOW).
    I think Susan Mottet’s alternative proposal posted on Feb 5 on that discussion board is coming from a similar place as me. I agree with most of her comments there.

    Proposal 2 on regional board: This is much better than proposal 1. Staggered 4 year terms for the governing board would also help with continuity. (1/4 roll-over each year). What is unclear to me is the term lengths for the large policy board – I think at least a two year minimum; three or four with staggering just like the governing board as well but am open to other ideas.

    Proposal 3 on regional board: I like this the best. a) It allows for better representation than proposal 1; b) it results in a smaller board size than proposal 2. This seems to be an issue since size of the board is what I hear as the complaint about the current structure); and c) this looks like the best compromise between the proposals. But I’d still make a change to this plan as well. I would change the diversity requirement to include people with disabilities in this or any proposal. Finally, it is somewhat unclear to me as to how the governing board would be elected. I do not want this board to be appointed by the officers. I want the regional directors to be selected and voted upon by members within each region.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Theresa Bergen, Rockland County NOW NYS
    What is a State Council if there are not chapters? I know we are not doing language yet but I really don’t understand what this- State council presents annual action plan for debate and vote at state conference.-What is this Council composed of.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Not to repeat myself, but I am not in favor of giving up the “Chapter” concept, even with all the administrative paperwork that is being spoken about. There are ways to streamline that. I like the ability to think on our own, with the input of state and national agendas, but maintaining the local’s ability to make change. I don’t think making a huge radical shift will resolve the issues at hand. NOW in itself was and still is radical and I think by taking a look at the leadership and not at how the chapters function or don’t function is the resolution. Instead of creating huge change, why isn’t the way the leadership “leads” being looked at? The way the chapters function is a direct result of their leadership. If the chapters are successful and make change, it would be indicative that the chapter has strong leaders in it. If the chapter isn’t able to meet their chapter goals, whatever they may be or if they can even set goals, those chapters would be the ones state and national should be looking at and speaking to. Looking to help out. A phone call, email or a text for that matter isn’t that much to do in our busy days. I think it is a matter of how dedicated one is to the cause. I think I would be very concerned as to why chapters are closing.

    Additionally, I think with “strong leaders” comes the next generation of leaders. I believe that if we have strong leaders at a state and national level, that example “should” come back down to the chapter without taking away the local chapters ability to function at-will. I still definitely see a lack in leadership, “burn out” and personal agenda pushing; as is with many, many organizations. I would think that each chapter should implement a mentor program if they are looking to have others step up so they don’t experience burn out. Without that something like this, who do they expect to move into the position?

    I’d like to have more specific direction from national; not the blanket of issues we feel are important. What IS NOW doing in 2015? What are nationals expectations of the states and their chapters? Enough of my soapbox rally! LOL ~Kim

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Bonnie Shapiro, NNJ NOW

    Yes, in this proposal only the states would get the rebates and the states would make the decisions. I don’t see why there would be increased effectiveness that we can’t have now. Right now our chapter works with our State, plus we do our own thing with other local groups or without. Sometimes my chapter has more energy than the State and vice versa. I do not see how our effectiveness will be proven down the road just because we subordinate chapters to the State–in other words, take away the vaunted autonomy. I don’t understand why it is so clear to everyone that chapters and States do not communicate. I think part of the lack of effectiveness of NOW is that we no longer take the leadership role in what is happening. Most of the energy, unfortunately, is spent in fundraising and discussing changes in structure, while newer groups just decide to do something and raise money to do it.I do believe there would be a loss soy members, not because we are whining about not getting our way, but because we can just join the Feminist Majority if we want to be part of a great top down group.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. So would only the state get rebates in this model? At first blush, I rather like the idea of task forces submitting budgetary requests to the state for their activist projects. But our state is unusual, & I am beginning to understand how what sounds appealing to one state will antagonize members in another. I think we have to consider that a radical change may result in a loss of members who don’t get their way initially, but a gain in membership down the road once we prove increased effectiveness.


  15. I know this is a radical proposal and it probably wouldn’t/shouldn’t be passed as is. But I like how radical it is. I like that it is asking us to think about how we might do things completely differently. I would hope that people don’t only focus on what parts of this won’t work and also focus on what parts of this would be awesome and how we can bring that into whatever plan we end up adopting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bonnie Shapiro, NNJ NOW

      I am very much against this proposal. I believe it would lead to a top down organization. i do not see how it will attract new members or create leaders. I also do not like the entire vibe of the “sub-units” language, which sounds like something out of “1984.” My chapter celebrate 45 years of being a chapter this year, and it seems very harsh to say it does not matter what we are called.

      Liked by 1 person

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