As the title foreshadows, I recently made the decision to not renew my membership in the Greenville Track Club for reasons I will discuss below. The reminder email came just days following what turned out to be a pivotal email conversation that I had with one of the board members.
As many members of the Greenville running community (many of whom are also members of the Greenville Track Club) may know, the board of the GTC made the decision to create an official page and close down all discussion on the group page. Before I go any further, I want to clarify that the decision to create an official page was not what made me leave the GTC. Frankly, I think it’s a brilliant idea. The problem for me lay with the decision to shutter the group page entirely. Compounding that problem was the way that my concerns were treated by GTC decision makers.
Before I go too much further down that road, I need to set the stage.
I have been a member of the GTC since about six months after I started running. I wanted to be part of the running community in my area. Not only that, I also wanted to do all that I could to make GTC races the best they could possibly be. While I haven’t been able to volunteer as much as I would like, I participated in every race that I could and talked up the races to everyone I knew. Things started happening over the past couple years that started to make me wonder about the GTC. The biggest contributor to that was the GTC’s social media approach or conspicuous lack of approach. The pages for the individual races either did not exist, held information from previous years or were infrequently updated. Case in point, the Paris Mountain Road Race last year had an official page with information from 2014, a Facebook page with information from 2013 and a registration page (not the first link when doing a Google search of the race name) that gave 2015 information. On top of that, the information given about the 2015 edition had conflicting start times. The registration page stated 7am but the course map stated 7:30am.
After several snafus like the above, I started to consider offering my services to help manage the various social media outlets if I could figure out who to contact. My reasons were two-fold. One, in this era, social media is king. It is nearly impossible to build a race (or event) without active, competent social media engagement. GTC seemed to be dropping the ball. Two, I am extremely active on social media. It is my medium of choice. I am far more comfortable with online interactions than in-person interactions. I know that I am not alone in this. I actively participated in the group and enjoyed seeing and interacting with the posts of others.
Back to the issue at hand.
Early this month, I navigated to the group page and was surprised to see a pinned post stating that discussion would migrate from the group page to the official page. My lack of an email notification of the post may just have been a Facebook quirk but I still was surprised to see that post from January 21. I also was not given the impression from that post that discussion would cease entirely from the group page. That may also have been my own misinterpretation. However, that point was not made explicitly clear in that post.
I was a bit perturbed contented to deal with the changes. I knew it would take some time to figure out. However, if I had realized then that all discussion would cease on Wednesday February 17, I would have started to make my voice heard as soon as I saw that first post. (The pessimist in me wonders if it would have done any good.)
Then came the notification that all discussion would cease on the group page on Wednesday February 17. I immediately commented. “Is there a reason that we’re moving from the group format to the official page? One of the main reasons I enjoy interaction on the group is that I receive notifications of all the posts in the page including posts from group members. That doesn’t appear to be a feature of the official page. (I may be wrong though.) how will this foster communication amongst group members?”
I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I thought that was a fairly legitimate question with absolutely no blame or motivations assigned to the decision makers. I really wanted to know if the GTC had anything designed to continue the interaction between group members in addition to making sure that people know what was coming officially from the track club. Spoiler: I still have yet to receive a clear answer to that question and I doubt that I ever will.
Instead of answers, I received the following: one confirmation that the only notification possible to receive from the page are posts made by admins, one discussion with a GTC member who thought the change was a great idea that would foster more interactive conversations but had no answer as to why it had to be either/or, one explanation of how Facebook pages work, and one other member who has enjoyed group pages for the sense of community it brings to the members.
After this frustration played out, I contacted, via Facebook message, the GTC board member who had posted the notification of group closure. I love working with her and know that she has only the best intentions. This is what I said to her: “Question for you…is there a reason that the official page has been created and the group page is being taken down? I asked that question on the group page and have gotten no answer. Also, is there someone I can contact to protest this decision and/or at least delay the decision to close down the group until discussion with the group members can be held?”
I ended up being directed to one of the board members after being asked if I had thought about starting my own group. My response, in which I asked why I could not simply take over as admin of the already existing group and make clear that the group is not the official outlet of the GTC, was never addressed or answered.
At this point, foregoing membership renewal came onto the table for me. Despite my frustrations with the club through the five years of my membership, I put up with the things I didn’t like and tried to improve from within.
Then came my email interaction with one of the board members whose name I will not publish. (I use the pronoun “he” as generic, not to indicate gender.)
First, he asked if he could give me a call. I told him that my preferred method of communication is email. Not only am I better able to express myself in writing, all of the conversation is also in writing. The board member repeated his own preference for face-to-face conversation in every email that he sent.
The second email was where the bulk of the “explanation” came. He first gave me a run-down of the structure of the club and how its meetings are conducted. He then stated “I’m sorry if you don’t feel that we are representing the Greenville Track Club well.” This sort of non-apology sets my teeth on edge and made it difficult for me to maintain a non-confrontational tone in the email interaction. Third, he stated their goal was to “make the Greenville Track Club inviting and open to members and prospective members.” Fourth, he pointed out when the post about the changes was made. Fifth, he stated that one person had a few questions and many others thought the decision was a good one.
This “answer,” like many others I have received from the GTC, felt dismissive. It also reminded me of how my alma mater dealt with anyone who disagreed with them. Basically, they stated their reasoning, hoped that you would be okay with it and that was the end of it. At the end of the conversation you did not feel like you had been heard at all. I tried to shake my ingrained associations with this type of authoritarian behavior. To me, it seemed like all the answers that I received were in the vein of “this is our decision and that’s the way it’s going to be.”
I chose to respond to each line of his email. This post could be exceptionally long if I brought up every point that I made. Since it is already three pages long, I will try to be concise.
In my response, I tried to keep everything focused back on social media. I had no desire to learn about the structure of the club. I asked how changing from a group page to an official page would lessen the number of channels that the GTC had to manage. I made the point that an official page makes it much more difficult to communication between members. (Member to member interaction was never addressed in my entire effort to dig into this problem even though I stated from the outset that this is my primary concern.) I addressed the fact that the notification was just three weeks ago. For a third time in the same email, I stated that I really liked the group page and that my issue lay with the between member communication. I let him know that my opinion did not feel valued at all even though he stated that they value the opinions of all members. I finished my discussing why social media was so important to me.
His second response felt even more dismissive than the first. He copied my technique of leaving the original email in the discussion but added his second response in blue. He did not bother to address about half of what I discussed. He made sure to reiterate twice why he thought that talking was the better option before stating that the closed group format in which a prospective member had to ask to join, was intimidating to “someone who may be new to Greenville, or new to running.” I read that portion to my mom and she said, “someone new to Facebook, you mean.” My point exactly. He finished the email by stating that all his answers were heartfelt and that the “canned” appearance of them was due to … you guessed it … the email format.
By the time I got to the end of the email, I could not believe that my fundamental question, “why can the group page and the official page not be run concurrently?” still had not been answered.
Instead of prolonging the discussion, I asked my question one last time. This time I underlined and bolded it so that it could not be missed, or so I thought. I also let him know that I was considering not renewing my membership when it came up for renewal in the next few weeks.
In his third response, he stated that he had answered my question. He stated that having both the group and would be confusing to people because they might not get the right answer if they asked a question in the group. He then gave me the names of two other Greenville area running groups that I could post in if I wanted a group in which to contribute.
That sealed it. The only possible reason that I would renew my membership would be for the discounts on race registration. As much of a frugal weirdo as I am, that is not a good enough reason for me to support an organization that treats its members in this fashion.
I hate to do this but I am leaving the Greenville Track Club. I hope to rejoin in the future if these problems are fixed but for now, I am no longer a member of the GTC.