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A Conversation That I Hope Never Happens

Listen, we need to talk about your budget for these upcoming chapter events.

-About what?  Didn’t I submit our business plan on time?

You did.  But we have a few modifications that need to be made.  Nothing drastic.

-Such as?

Well, for instance, you have an upcoming monthly chapter meeting, and you’re paying $5,000 plus expenses for the speaker.  Don’t you think that’s a bit wasteful?

-I’m not sure I understand you.  That’s her speaking fee.  She’s a very popular speaker, and in fact that’s a discount from her normal fee because we’re a nonprofit chapter.

I understand all that.  But we have a lot of other chapters that are getting their speakers for free.  Is it fair that you’re paying for yours when they’re being more careful with association dollars?

-I thought when we agreed to merge our finances and dissolve the chapter entity that this would be our money to spend as we wish.

If you read the OneFPA Network website closely, you’ll see that there is a distinction between “reserves” and “operating accounts.”  We basically decide which is which.  It says: “Operating accounts deal with the ongoing day-to-day operations of FPA communities. Reserves come under investment policy guidelines to ensure the current and future financial well-being of FPA and its communities.”

-So you’re telling me that you recharacterized what we thought was our operating account into reserves, and now you control how that money is spent?

Don’t get upset.  Of course it’s your money. But can’t you see that we have an obligation to the FPA to ensure that the money isn’t wasted?

-And you think bringing in a national-caliber speaker is wasting money?  It’s providing more value to our members.

Well, the Kansas City Chapter, which was the very first chapter to come out in favor of dissolving the local chapter entities, is doing just fine with free speakers.  In fact, they’ve actually switched to bringing in speakers who are willing to pay for the privilege of speaking to FPA members.  So they add to the overall FPA treasury pot with each speech.  That’s what we call team players.

-But our chapter meetings are always at least break-even—and then we make money to support a year’s worth of speakers at our annual meeting.  We’re a net revenue generator, when you account for the full year’s revenues.

I’m glad you brought up your annual meeting.  We noticed that you have a LOT of paid speakers there.  Are you aware of how many companies would be willing to pay you for those speaking slots?

-Of course.  They come to us all the time.  But that would ruin the experience for our members.  Don’t you understand that those paid speakers are proposing to give thinly-disguised sales pitches?

I beg to differ.  Our national conference breakout presentations include quite a number of speakers who paid for the privilege, and we still manage to attract two thousand attendees each year.  If people were turned off by sales pitches from the podium, don’t you think they’d stop coming to our national conference?

-I can’t speak for your national conference, but I know our chapter members, and they—

But you don’t have to have only paid speakers; there are plenty of people who would love the opportunity for additional exposure for their thoughts and ideas.  We call them emerging thought leaders.

-Do any of those “emerging thought leaders” have the drawing power of the national speakers we bring in every year?

Please calm down.  The chapter itself is what gives you the drawing power.  People have gotten a lot of value from past meetings.  Why shouldn’t they expect the same this year?  They trust you.

-We’d be betraying their trust if we do this.  Look, I’m willing to have people speak for free, and if you’ll notice, our breakout sessions are packed with panels featuring local professionals speaking on various topics—for FREE, notice—and we believe they do add value.  But we also believe in the value of having high-profile national speakers as part of the educational mix.  We make our annual revenues, which goes into the FPA’s kitty since we dissolved the chapter, by having a high turnout rate at the meetings.  And we depend on that to attract the exhibitors who pay more than half our total revenues.

I’m afraid we’re going to have to disagree there.  Our national conference manages to attract plenty of exhibitors, regardless of how much traffic they get in the exhibit hall.  Their job is to support the organization.

-I’M supporting the organization!  You’re telling me that we can’t continue to provide the value that we’ve always provided to our members!?

I think you’re characterizing it a little harshly.  A better way to say it is that we’re consolidating the best practices of the most profitable chapters for the benefit of all the chapters.  If you could follow the example of the Kansas City chapter, for example—

-I don’t know anything about what the Kansas City members want, but I think I know what’s happening here locally better than you.  And by the way, who authorized the national sales team to contact our local sponsors?

I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about.

-Two law firms and a real estate firm, who operate entirely in our region, received phone calls telling them that they needed to participate in national sponsorship if they wanted to continue their relationship with the chapter.

Oh, that.  That was specified in the original website that we put up when the whole OneFPA Network proposal went out.  I believe it reads that “All FPA communities have a role to play in sponsorships and partnerships. Specifically, as it relates to TNCs [which means chapters], they will work with the OneFPA Strategic Partnerships Committee on national sponsorships and have a key role with respect to local sponsorships. TNCs should have the freedom and authority to enhance local relationships while coordinating more nationally based relationships. The OneFPA Strategic Partnerships Committee will assess and recommend the most effective approach to the strategic partnerships and how the monies get distributed.”  So I’m confused why you would be so offended when the Strategic Partnerships Committee reaches out to your local sponsors.  You can read, can’t you?

-Those companies have no national footprint.  They’ve been loyal supporters of the chapter for years, but if they’re required to shell out marketing resources in areas where they don’t have a presence, we’re going to lose their support altogether.

I think you’re holding back on us here.  We’ve taken a close look at your chapter sponsorships, and it looks to our Strategic Partnership Committee like some of them—maybe ALL of them—are evading their  national support responsibilities and just consolidating their support on the local level.  I’m sure you can see why we can’t allow that.

-I actually don’t see that.

So we’re agreed then?  You’ll contact the expensive paid speaker at your local chapter meeting and say no thanks, and find somebody who can fill in just fine.  And you’ll drop those expensive keynote speakers at the national meeting, and change your website to reflect the new schedule.  From now on, we’ll handle your local sponsors from the national level.

-Do we have a choice in any of this?

This will bring you in line with the best fiscal practices of the other chapters, and you—and we—will be fulfilling our fiduciary duty to support the FPA.

-What about the members?

If they’re truly supportive of the FPA, they’ll gladly go along with it.

-And if they don’t?  If they stop coming to our meetings, what then?  Will they even want to be members any more?

You just take care of making those little changes, and let us worry about the big picture.  If we didn’t know what we were doing, would we have guided the FPA to a significant net membership loss since its inception 20 years ago?