November 23, 2019

EUSPBA emphasizes communication as it works to diversify mandate

In countless business studies, the happiness of employees depends significantly on how well and often the company’s leaders communicate. When workers don’t know what’s going on, they will often assume the worst: nothing’s happening.

Piping and drumming associations are no different. No matter how good an association might be at running competitions, if members feel they’re in the dark as to what else goes on dissatisfaction can quickly set in.

Even in age when there are more communications platforms and mediums than ever, many, if not most, piping and drumming associations are remarkably poor at communicating.

One exception is the Eastern United States Pipe Band Association, which for the last several years has taken the challenge to correct a recognized communications gap that was seen to exist with its members.

Since March 2018, after vice-president Jim Dillahey became president following the resignation of Dan Cole, the organization’s weekly newsletter has been proactively “pushed” by email to its 160 bands (comprising combined rosters of about 3,700 players in total), more than 1,400 registered solo members, and anyone else who’s interested in the association’s goings-on. Newsletter content ranges from executive committee updates, competition results, workshop announcements, and other matters that its branches and members-at-large want to share.

Jim Dillahey

A frequent concern of association members is not knowing what the objectives and strategy of its leadership really are.

One of the first things that President Jim Dillahey did when, as vice-president, he became EUSPBA president in March 2018 after the resignation of Dan Cole, was to publish a piece on what he hoped to achieve.

“I outlined what I would like to accomplish as president,” he said. “It’s pretty self-explanatory, and we are well on our way to accomplishing these goals.”

Part of the latest EUSPBA e-blast newsletter.

In addition to putting the association on a more positive financial footing by cleaning up excess spending and finding efficiencies in the operation, Dillahey reminded members that, “The EUSPBA mission statement states clearly that this association has a responsibility to do whatever we can to ‘assist individuals and bands in reaching, not only their highest competitive potential, but also raising the level of our art.’ Education, for me, has been a passion and vocation.”

Dillahey’s commitment to education and teaching throughout the association is a natural extension to his professional career as the full-time Director of Piping at The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina, since 2003. A piper with the Grade 1 City of Dunedin, he’s also served in the US Marine Corps, so he knows a few things about discipline and getting things done as a team.

He announced the launch of an education fund to extend the possibilities of the association beyond competition. The organization’s Executive Committee (Executive Secretary David Hall; Treasurer Jim Engle; Recording Secretary Matt Wood; and Stephanie Valley, Brendan O’Reilly and Tom Burnham, all Officer at Large) is filling the role of an Education Board, and the group is working to create and offer online teaching tools to reach all members of the expansive organization, which covers almost half of the entire United States.

And, in another unusual move, he invited all 12 of the association’s living past-presidents to join the initiative, so that the current administration and members could benefit from their experience and skills.

With the risk of declining membership, the new EUSPBA administration wanted to discover the reasons for pipers and drummers dropping out. His administration conducted a significant survey of lapsed members, and discovered that, indeed, communication – or the lack of it – was a significant factor. In addition, competition for many pipers and drummers was less and less important.

Dillahey recognizes that the spread of EUSPBA news and information beyond the association is a good thing: “We ask solo members and band reps to share that info with their bands and other pipers and drummers.”

“We are really trying to fundamentally change the role of the EUSPBA from an organization that primarily provides a competitive framework at sanctioned Highland games and festivals to an association that helps educate our members.”

Going beyond the usual and often one-dimensional role of an association as a contest-staging machine, Dillahey and the rest of the EUSPBA executive team are working to try new initiatives, to test new ground to build the association into a multi-dimensional operation.

“We are really trying to fundamentally change the role of the EUSPBA from an organization that primarily provides a competitive framework at sanctioned Highland games and festivals to an association that helps educate our members,” Dillahey said. “We always get asked, ‘What is the benefit of membership?’ and we are trying to provide more than just an avenue to compete.”

A major part of that strategy is simply keeping members apprised of what’s going on, of how their annual dues are being used and what their elected and appointed officials are up to. In two years the organization has gone from mainly expensive and infrequent snail-mail correspondence to a weekly proactive digital push approach, erring on the thought that more information is better.

“I feel that communication is a major pillar to our success and this has not been a strong suit in the past,” he added. “We have gotten incredible feedback on the weekly e-blasts, since the membership is much more involved.”

With the EUSPBA covering the largest geography of the world’s associations, and a membership base second in number only to the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association, the organization sees an opportunity to lead, rather than follow.

Dillahey summed it up: “The Executive Committee is determined to make the EUSPBA the premier pipe band association in the world, and I feel that we are on our way.”

How good is your association at communicating with members? Be sure to complete the pipes|drums Poll at the bottom of the front page.



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