The Grass Is Greener Where the Grassroots Are

The National Association of Home Builders Fall Board of Directors’ Meeting late last month may well go down as one of the most tumultuous directors’ meetings in recent NAHB history. The meetings also may prove to be the start of a very productive reorganization of the trade association. Past the midpoint of the four-hour board of directors’ meeting, the national directors voted by approximately three to one to turn down a proposed increase in dues for the NAHB Remodelers. That is good news in these times, but the best news about the vote was its solidarity; only about one in 20 builder/contractor members of NAHB is a member of the NAHB Remodelers.

The organization is called the National Association of Home Builders because it originally was made up of companies who built homes of all kinds–those who built from the bottom up and those who make changes and additions. Then builders started to specialize. Some built a lot of small houses; some did fewer numbers but bigger houses or apartments; and some did houses, apartments and remodeling. It really didn’t make sense to change the association name every time a significant number of members started specializing. Instead, it became important to make sure information for each of the building specialties was up to date and thorough, so the small-volume builders, custom builders, commercial builders, remodelers and professional women in building organized within NAHB, making the association completely representative of the home builder regardless of the product.

As all good builders know, job cost and industry data are vital to a healthy business. NAHB always has maintained industry records, such as builder permits, how many houses of each size were built, mortgage costs and the like, for economic forecasters. Houses were easy to count. But what about remodeling? Back when, some municipalities didn’t require permits for remodeling, so there was a black hole when it came to data. After polling its members and being surprised at the number who did some or a lot of remodeling, NAHB sought job-cost and industry data for remodeling that was comparable to housing. It hasn’t been easy but, today, NAHB is a treasure house of information about the remodeling industry. In today’s marketplace, probably more than half, or nearly 30,000, of NAHB’s builder/contractor members are doing remodeling. That’s a lot of remodelers, but we’re still not planning to change the name.

Non-NAHB members sometimes mistake members’ conversations about remodeler disgruntlement (good word, huh?) as disloyalty to the association. Far from it. Every group has spats, and this summer we had a huge one. Economic pressure, a decrease in leads and membership, confusing information from Congress and the White House caused frustration. Add these aggravations with a desire to remain cutting edge in communication and program offerings and a disagreement ensued. NAHB hired a consultant–I would say a high-priced one but that would be redundant. You know what consultants are for: They listen to what you think you want to do and come up with a properly documented, expensive rationale supporting your thesis, so you can do what you wanted all along and blame it on the consultant if it doesn’t work.

In my perspective, NAHB’s consultant said our meetings were too large, had too many directors and committees and councils with too many volunteers taking time away from their businesses to tend to NAHB’s work. The consultant also advised the top dogs at NAHB (the chairman of the board and chief executive officer/president) that remodelers were underrepresented and something should be done about that. Inasmuch as consultants are expensive, NAHB did what all good bureaucracies do: It appointed a Task Force (my emphasis) to make recommendations for change, create efficiency, lower costs and make everyone happier. Apparently copies of the task force’s recommendations blew off the hood of someone’s pickup and found their way to some of the NAHB grassroots. The pages were put back in the wrong order and no one noticed–no one, that is, who knows where the really good work happens at NAHB.

The very thing that makes NAHB and NAHB Remodelers the truly remarkable organizations they are lies in the volunteers who give up their time to keep the buggy on the path. The volunteers are the grassroots of our association who have, for years, provided the leadership that keeps NAHB as free of internally damaging politics as it is. It’s not perfect but it is effective enough to keep making us want to give up time and money to look after each other’s rear ends.

Our consultant didn’t see where the driving force comes from. He or she (you don’t know with consultants) didn’t look under the rocks. Maybe he/she thought the force was just our capable staff who will tell you what a disaster it would be to lose the grassroots. Grassroots show up a little in social media but the really green grassroots are the face-to-face ones that happen at these and other meetings.

Once all those green grassrooters got together–yes, face to face–we, the directors, went through the Task Force’s report and decided we didn’t want to be quite as efficient, small, underrepresented and digital as the Task Force thought. Mind you, we want to stay on the cutting edge but with our hand on the handle--not the blade. Good things can come from controversy, and the start of good things happened last month. The volunteers met, voiced their opinions and sent the Task Force back to listen to the grassroots a little more closely. The result will be a more representative reorganization, one that represents all of its members well. After all, the grass is really greener over here where our “roots” are, while you’re here...

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