"I started thinking, there must be a better way..."

Allow me to introduce myself... My name is Mark Voorsanger, and I've been an enthusiastic Toastmaster ever since I first visited Tamalpais Toastmasters (club #3530) in December of 1997.  I believed then as I do now that Toastmasters is the best educational opportunity available anywhere!  Soon, I was working hard toward attaining my CTM award.  But little did I know at the time how much my satisfaction with Toastmasters had to do with the efforts of our club officers, particularly our VP of Education (VPE).

Soon, my enthusiasm marked me as an obvious candidate for the board.  By mid 1998, I was elected VP of Public Relations, and in January of 1999, I became our club's President.  As I took the helm with a fresh group of officers, the club was healthy, and I was thrilled at the opportunity to help maintain our level of excellence.

After about two months, however, I started to become aware of problems.  We were experiencing difficulties with scheduling.  Schedules were getting distributed late and with errors, and the results were clearly hurting us.  For instance, in our club, people were reluctant to sign up for the tougher roles, like Toastmaster and Speaker.  For whatever reasons, our members needed some gentle pushing.  So after circulating a sign-up sheet, our policy was (and still is) to assign people to the remaining vacant roles.  This policy had worked just fine until now.  But when schedules arrived late, members received insufficient notice of their responsibilities.  Even those who had signed up would sometimes forget about their commitments without a schedule to remind them.  As a result, meetings suffered.  Speakers would cancel without finding replacements, roles would be left unfilled, and toastmasters were left scrambling to organize meetings. 

It was also clear that our VPE was having difficulty keeping track of each member's availability and the sign-up sheets... and understandably so.  We had one member, for example, who couldn't attend any meeting on the third Monday of the month.  There were the usual requests for time-off, when members were taking vacation or otherwise committed.  And, of course, there were the sign-up sheets to adhere to.  Routinely, the schedule failed to reflect these requests accurately, or even at all.  Equally bad, there were times when people were completely overlooked for weeks without being assigned to a single important role.  Pretty soon, we were having trouble retaining our most valuable asset: our members.  Something had to change.

In March of 1999, when things were really starting to fall apart, I received that fateful call from our club's VPE.   She was completely exasperated with her duties as scheduler, and I believe her exact words to me were, "Either I quit as VP of Education, or I quit this club!"  She was drowning in the responsibilities of the office… and I could understand why.  Members were getting increasingly frustrated and disillusioned, and she was taking the heat.  It was only then that I fully understood how critical scheduling is to the health of a Toastmasters Club.

Since club morale was low, I was reluctant to pressure anyone into taking over as VPE.  And quite frankly, I was less than confident that the situation would improve with someone else managing the schedule, myself included.  That's when I started thinking, there must be a better way... and Bang!  It hit me.  We needed a computer program to help manage our club's scheduling needs, and I was just the person to build it.  As it turns out, I've been programming computer software for over 20 years, and felt that creating such a computer program would be a snap.  Ok, my estimates were somewhat naive, but I applied myself to the task nonetheless.

Within a few weeks of dedicated work, I had created a crude, but functional tool for scheduling.  Of course, at that time, only I could figure out how to use the software -- it was cumbersome and fragile -- but it did the trick.  I was able to crank out the schedules on time, and as a result, I began to notice that our meetings were improving.  We had fewer last-minute cancellations, Toastmasters were feeling more confident about the agenda, and our membership seemed more satisfied with the club in general.  Our club was becoming, once again, healthy and vibrant!  Chalk one up for effective scheduling.  Soon, I was nominated to serve a second term in office.  What made me even more gratified was that I could accept the nomination with enthusiasm.  Only a few months earlier, I would not have imagined it possible.

As I reflected on my experiences that summer, it occurred to me that other Toastmasters clubs could benefit from our club's scheduling software.  I decided to ask around.  The first District 57 Toastmasters Leadership Institute was held that summer, where incoming officers are trained and other Toastmasters-related topics are discussed.  It was the perfect venue for my research.  I attended the training session for VP of Education, and asked as many past presidents and VPEs as I could about their clubs' experiences.  My findings were not surprising. Club officers wanted and needed help with scheduling.

I became committed to advancing the design of our software so that any club could use it.  I approached my business partners, and we agreed to collaborate to make this a viable product, and named it ClubScheduler.  We added more sophisticated scheduling algorithms, added features to handle "time-off requests" and "sign-up sheets", and went about generalizing the product to address the varying needs of different clubs.

Today, ClubScheduler is available and awaiting the opportunity to transform other Toastmasters clubs around the world.  I expect that you'll find ClubScheduler every bit as transformative as we have.  And if you do, please tell others about it.  Our hope is that Toastmasters clubs everywhere will enjoy the improved membership satisfaction that comes from using ClubScheduler.


Mark Voorsanger, CTM, VPE & Past President
Tamalpais Toastmasters, Club #3530


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