Jon Gruebele Regional Vice Chair Local Group Newsletter Articles from 2019
December 2019 – American Mensa’s $1.7m Net Asset Deficit
If you’ve been reading my columns, you know I have a keen interest in American Mensa’s financial situation. I’ve consistently supported a budget that generates a net surplus and avoids dues increases.
Members often ask about our net asset deficit. At the end of the last fiscal year, we had $1,742,921 more in liabilities than we had assets to offset them. Most of this deficit stems directly the Inpharmatica trademark protection lawsuit filed late 2007. Some has accrued since 2015.
We didn’t borrow the $1.7m deficit from a bank; we borrowed it from ourselves – specifically from the 3- and 5-year member dues fund. Theoretically, if American Mensa ceased operation today, we wouldn’t have enough money to pay back everything everyone was owed. Fortunately, nobody anticipates we’ll be going out of business, so that’s a moot point.
Our real challenge is that absent a deficit, we could have more money invested. Earning a modest 5% return on $1.7m would net an extra $87,000 every year. That could be used to implement one of our many high priority projects or reduce annual dues by a couple of dollars.
Some have advocated we should immediately erase this deficit. One obvious “solution” is to drastically raise dues, at least for the short term. Unfortunately, that’s counterproductive as members fail to renew at the higher rates, potentially offsetting much of the anticipated revenue increase. Following the 13% dues increase in 2017, membership dropped nearly 6% by 2019.
Another approach is to dramatically cut expenses. To reduce $1.7m in costs in one year, we’d have to cut expenses by over 36%. We’d probably have to lay off many staff members, reduce Local Group support, no longer provide print copies of the Bulletin, and make other unpalatable choices. These service reductions would lead to member dissatisfaction, fewer renewals, and reduced revenues. There are always ways to gain efficiencies and reduce costs, but a 36% cut would not do so in a way our members would appreciate.
Fortunately, every year we have a net budget surplus we’ll reduce the deficit. If we do it long enough, it’ll go away. We can maintain surpluses by providing a great member experience, keeping dues under control, and diligently managing our expenses. This year’s budget anticipates a modest $43,000 surplus, enough to retire 2.5% of the deficit. That’s not a lot, but it’s a start.
As a final note, please don’t forget to register for one of the two great events in Region 4 the weekend of January 24-26, 2020:
Don’t miss the early registration rates.
November 2019 – Board of Directors (AMC) Update
We held American Mensa’s Board of Directors’ September meeting in Arlington, TX, near our national office. The first of two days was spent on strategy planning; the second day was our quarterly board meeting.
Our current strategic plan was for years 2016 through 2020. It has served us well but it’s due for a refresh. As Chair of AMC’s Strategic Planning Committee, I helped facilitate along with our Executive Director Trevor Mitchell and Chair LaRae Bakerink. We spent a full day covering our current status; examining our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT); visioning our future; prioritizing; and providing direction to the Finance Committee as they begin reviewing budget priorities for our upcoming fiscal year.
One particularly interesting idea was provided to me by a Region 4 member who noted she qualified for membership via her ACT test. She wondered if Mensa could contact people who score well to extend membership offers. Of course, ACT tests taken after September 1989 aren’t accepted, but other tests (GMAT, LSAT) are – and companies are often happy to sell targeted contact information. Whether there will be room in the budget for that remains to be seen, but it’s a great example of how members’ good ideas can make a difference. I really appreciate the member who passed that idea along – thank you!
As you might expect, key strategic concerns continue to revolve around membership, providing good value for your dues, and fiscal responsibility. At this writing, we are still in our early stages of formalizing the new five-year plan. I’ll be sure to keep you updated as details emerge.
At the AMC meeting, we started with some appointments. Of note, Brian Reeves was named as Advocate. That position can assist members with the National Hearings process. The Event Safety Task Force was dismissed with thanks, and a new Member Safety Subcommittee was established in its place. Our History Committee will be chaired by Howard Prince.
We received status reports from Frost, our investment management firm, and our executive director. Several motions were made and passed, mostly for clarification. Our investment policy was also updated. Our current financial asset allocation is a reasonably conservative 1-20% in cash equivalents, 60-90% fixed income, and 10-40% in equities. As before, we retain all contributions to the Life Membership Fund’s principal in perpetuity. Only investment returns are available to help support operations and life member costs.
Depending on when you read this, Chicago’s HalloweeM may already be over, but it’s not too late to sign up for A Gathering of Gamers (AGOG) January 24-26, 2020 at the ‘WeeM hotel in Wheeling. Central Indiana Mensa’s Winter Time Fun Regional Gathering is that same weekend and we’d love to see you there.
October 2019 – Member Experience
We all pay our Mensa dues because we get something back in exchange. Some folks just read the Bulletin and the Local Group newsletter. Some want the membership card – maybe something to put on the résumé. Others enjoy events where they find interesting speakers, food, and friends. While they may not be your cup of tea, social media attract many members.
Regardless of your motivation for paying dues – or buying a lifetime membership – some percentage of our membership lapses every year. Some will never come back; others rejoin months or years later. Those gone forever have done the math and decided their member experience isn’t worth the price.
I agree our dues are very aggressive. As I don’t see the Board voting for a reduction any time soon, we can always up our game by improving the member experience. Our Local Group leadership work hard on this, although sometimes inertia dictates that this month’s events are a close copy of last month’s events.
At this year’s Annual Gathering (AG) in Phoenix, I attended two sessions where members expressed ideas about improvements. Here were a few: have a bigger variety of events, use social media more, create a Mensa app, encourage more membership diversity, every year have each Local Group Board member create an event that doesn’t only involve food, do an escape room, have more Mensa Cares (community volunteering) events, promote the Foundation and events we do have (CultureQuest®, Mind Games®), maker space events, create a “genius in the workplace” series of talks on things such as how to handle your boss when you’re smart, connect better with members who don’t pay attention to e-mail, fix the national web site and add a decent search function, communicate better, and of course bacon.
Some of these are easier to do; others are likely to improve member experiences more. The trick is to do the easy/big effect ideas first and leave the others for another day. By the time you read this, I’ll have helped facilitate our September AMC meeting where we’ll define our 2021-2025 strategic goals. We’ll also create a list of shorter-term projects to tackle.
Of course, National projects can only help so much. Most members experience Mensa at the local level. What are your ideas for improvements? More importantly, can you help volunteer to make them happen? If so, talk to someone on your local board. Their names and contact information are listed in this newsletter. When I coordinated local events as a LocSec, I found some events worked well and others were total busts. Don’t give up. Success means simply repeating the good events and finding new ideas to replace the bad ones.
September 2019 – Report from Phoenix
It’s always a bit odd writing articles far in advance of their publication. This September column was written in July. For me, the Annual Gathering (AG) was only a few weeks ago. By the time you read this, fall will be on its way. Many will be thinking about attending ‘WeeM, A Gathering of Gamers (AGOG), and Central Indiana’s January RG. Will we see you there?
The AG was terrific as always. Is there any better way to spend the 4th of July than with 1600+ fellow Mensa members? Yes, Phoenix was hot, but that was easily solved by not leaving the hotel – unless walking across the street for dinner. Speakers included Adam Savage from MythBusters, one of the last surviving Navaho code talkers, and a Hiroshima survivor. As usual, I couldn’t get away without buying at least one book from a presenter.
While much of my AG was spent in various business meetings, I did get to attend the Mensa Foundation’s Colloquium on Privacy. This event helps raise funds for the Foundation and is highly informative. We were also very proud of Jared Foote from Northeast Indiana Mensa. He won the Mr. Mensa contest and raised around $17,000 for the Foundation.
The American Mensa Board of Directors (AMC) met during the AG. Meeting results including an audio recording are available on-line. Actions taken include:
The audited financial report was also accepted and later discussed at the Annual Business Meeting.
Beyond that, I presented a Leadership Development Workshop on “Being Assertive in Dealing with Problem Members” using some content provided by Heather Booton (thanks Heather!). I also hosted the Region 4 Meet-and-Greet and attended two separate events on how members feel we should improve Mensa. Thanks to everyone who attended and contributed their ideas.
August 2019 – Growing our Membership
Oops! I may have confused some people in reporting our membership numbers in my column last month. I’m very sorry. I had data from our 2017-2018 fiscal year, which ended down nearly 5% over the prior year at 52,365 members. For the 2018-2019 fiscal year ending March 31st, we dropped another 411 members to 51,953, or about 0.8%. While many factors contributed to that decline, some was likely related to the 13% dues increase in 2017.
Overall, we’re down a little over 10% from our peak membership of nearly 58,000 in 2009-2010. While alarming, other organizations such as Rotary, Masons, Shriners, Elks, JCI and others have experienced more dramatic declines. Hopefully that’s sufficient motivation to do better.
Membership growth happens by:
To succeed, we need both.
Among other things, here’s what we’ve done to attract new members in Region 4:
Nationally, we do things such as advertise, partner with companies including Hasbro, generate buzz on social media, and continue our deal with American Airlines to include a Mensa puzzle and occasional ads in their in-flight magazine.
Unfortunately, we struggle with word-of-mouth referrals, traditionally one of the most effective marketing tools. Many members are reluctant to even mention they belong to Mensa. Some don’t even tell family members they belong. That’s one reason why the vouchers for free testing we’ve offered over the last few years haven’t been as successful as hoped.
As someone who’s been open about my membership from the time I’ve joined, I have a secret for you. People are pretty darn perceptive. They may not know you’re in the top 2%, but they already know you’re smart. Chances are they won’t be that surprised if you show up to work with a Mensa coffee mug. Yes, you’ll probably be in for a bit of ribbing the next time you make a mistake. That can also be an opportunity to confess that those in the top 2% are neither all-knowing nor perfect, and by the way they seem smart too, so why not take the test?
If anyone has any ideas on how to better promote Mensa, please let me know. I’ll have some thoughts on retaining existing members in a future column.
July 2019 – Random Factoids
Over Memorial Day weekend, Regional Gatherings in Houston (SynRG) and San Diego (uRGe) held a long-distance trivia contest. Several questions related to Mensa. The next time you find yourself in such a situation, here’s some stuff you can use to show off your knowledge:
June 2019 – Why do People Complain About Mensa?
I once worked with a vice president at a Fortune 500 company. He was an interesting guy, having worked his way up from an hourly job. This gave him perspective, a good deal of common sense, and a salty vocabulary.
Once we surveyed everyone in the company about a program in his organization’s area of responsibility. While people had some positive things to say, a lot of it was pretty darn negative. I presented the unvarnished findings to him and his leadership team.
Many leaders would have simply shot the messenger. Instead, he took an unexpected approach. He smiled, thanked me for the input, and explained that he welcomed negative feedback.
He noted that complaints come from people who care. They want something to change, to be better. People who have checked out may whine to themselves or their colleagues, but they’ve given up on leadership ever doing anything to improve.
He went on to talk about his visits to various facilities. Before he arrived, management would clean up the premises and do their best to hide any issues. Nobody wants to look bad in front of the big boss. They’d then proudly show him their latest pet project. He would of course suggest improvements. This made nobody happy. He was criticizing their best work! He also couldn’t help them fix anything, since they were doing their best to hide their problems.
He flipped the script. He told his facilities that he didn’t want to see their best projects when he visited; instead, he wanted to see their biggest “pile of crap”. This assured him the facility leadership recognized they had issues. He could help them solve their challenges with his experience, policy changes, or additional resources. This approach was way more productive.
I learned a lot from him. Among other things, his approach helps me appreciate Mensa. If you’re at all active on social media, it seems there isn’t anything anyone can do that doesn’t attract criticism. All that, however, comes from people who still care about Mensa – often very deeply – and want us to be better. I may not always agree on either the problem or the suggested solution, but I can learn from everyone’s viewpoints.
So, if you’ve complained lately, thank you. I appreciate your thoughts. Feel free to point out our biggest “pile of crap”. It’s even better if you can suggest a practical way to fix it. As an RVC, I’m not a “big boss”; I’m just one of 15 votes on the Board of Directors (AMC). I can’t make things happen as quickly as I’d like. I can, however, champion good ideas and work to make them reality.
Why do people complain about Mensa? Because they care. Keep those ideas coming – please!
May 2019 – Budgets, Electronic Admission Testing, and Hearings
No doubt you’re still being inundated with notifications about Mensa’s National and International elections. I would again encourage you to vote, and especially to support the first bylaws amendment proposal to update Regional Hearings. Today these are almost never used, are very difficult to request, and are relatively toothless. We want to enhance our regional problem-solving capabilities, and your vote in favor would be appreciated.
At our March 2nd Board of Directors (AMC) meeting, we approved a budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year starting April 1st. Central New Jersey Mensa graciously hosted the meeting during their Snowball Regional Gathering, giving members an opportunity to attend both the AMC and Event Safety Task Force meetings.
We approved a budget that plans to complete the year with a modest surplus, helping to improve our net negative asset position. It also delivers the AMC’s top strategic priorities by increasing funding for marketing and allowing development of electronic admissions testing.
Some prospective members have challenges finding nearby testing or may feel uncomfortable in a group setting. The potential solution is to partner with a company that offers nationwide testing facilities. Hopefully a prospect will find testing much closer to their home and can conveniently schedule an appointment whenever the facility is open. It’s important to note we have no plans to eliminate proctors. An electronic testing offering would be in addition to our usual proctored tests and would likely come at some additional cost. While the plans are still in development, we hope to begin offering this option late this year or early next year.
The National Hearings Committee recently completed two separate proceedings. A summary of the decisions can be found here: https://www.us.mensa.org/lead/amc/meeting-reports/ by selecting the “2019-03-02 – Woodbridge, NJ” meeting and clicking on “Hearings Committee”. One of these hearings resulted in a recommendation to expel a member. This required concurrence by the AMC to be effective, and we did approve the recommendation.
Finally, I’d like to remind everyone of Central Indiana Mensa’s Outdoor Mensa Gathering (OMG) May 17-19 in Versailles State Park. Bring a sleeping bag and towels for a wonderful weekend with friends old and new.
Oh, and please don’t forget to vote!
April 2019 – Elections and my Economics Professor
I once had an economics professor who proudly proclaimed to his class that he never voted. This evoked quite a ruckus. He opined that it’s extremely rare for elections to be decided by a single vote, so his wouldn’t make any difference. What, we asked, would happen if everybody felt the same way and nobody voted? “Well,” he said, “then I’d go vote.”
That’s about where Mensa elections are. In our last election, well under 10% of members voted. One contest was decided by just 3 votes. Internationally, participation is even lower.
As I am unopposed this year, I have already been declared elected. Thank you very much for your support! I am honored to serve another term as your Regional Vice Chair (RVC). There are, however, three candidates vying for Chair and two for Second Vice Chair. Mensa International has several contested positions. All are worthy of your consideration.
I’d also urge you to look carefully at the proposed bylaws changes. Two merit special attention. The first updates the way American Mensa handles Regional Hearings. These are called to consider charges of acts inimical to Mensa. Today a Regional Hearing is very difficult for an injured party to request, and sanctions are limited. They are therefore almost never used. The proposed amendment streamlines the process and implements a new avenue of appeal.
One statement opposing this amendment will make several misinformed claims. It says the proposal was developed in “secret”. As last month’s column showed, that’s just not true. The wording was widely circulated on our official Facebook groups and on Mensa Connect, and member responses caused us to update the proposal. It was advertised in the AMC meeting agenda, and I put a link to it in the Region 4 Facebook Group asking for comments.
This “con” statement will also claim it somehow precludes Ombudsman involvement. I fail to see how. Members should try to resolve problems themselves before escalating. RVCs worth their salt will insist on Ombudsman involvement if appropriate. The statement will claim we’ll be sued. Given that we live in a litigious society, that is a risk. I would, however, rather take that chance than keep members in our organization who may continue causing issues. Moral of that story: Please look beyond the rhetoric and decide appropriately.
A proposal on the International ballot would change the terms of office from two to three years. It would reduce election expense and improve efficiency because office holders would have to suffer through fewer learning curves. If it passes, I would expect American Mensa to consider synching our terms of office with International.
Please honor the volunteers wanting to work for you by taking a few minutes to vote in the election starting April 15th. Thank you!
March 2019 – Secret Squirrels
We sometimes hear concerns that American Mensa decisions are made via secret e-mails, hidden from the membership until it’s too late to object.
Reality isn’t like that. Transparency is incredibly important. Many great ideas come from listening to others. Mensa members have a wealth of experience and knowledge. If they don’t know what’s going on, they can’t contribute.
Mensa’s Board of Directors (AMC) does many things to keep members informed. Mensa’s web site has tons of information under “Lead”. This includes upcoming AMC agendas, recordings of meetings, detailed budgets, financial results, audit reports, policy documents, and much more. Even more is in our publicly available IRS forms 990.
Sometimes we go well beyond that. Prompted by reported incidents at the Annual Gathering, the AMC formed an “Event Safety Task Force” of which I am a member. While Ombudsmen and other avenues can often help resolve disputes, sometimes that isn’t enough. One thing we reviewed was Regional Hearings, used to sanction members who commit acts inimical to Mensa. Today, Regional Hearings are difficult for injured parties to initiate, sanctions are limited, and they are almost never invoked.
The AMC approved putting a bylaws amendment to revise Regional Hearings on the upcoming election ballot. How was that initiated? We started with an in-person Task Force meeting before a regular board meeting. That team then used electronic communications to craft a proposal. Were these visible to the membership? Not yet, because crafting a strawman proposal is just the first step and done most efficiently with a small team. Big groups are much better at reviewing something concrete than wordsmithing something new.
What’s important is what we did next. We posted that draft proposal to many member forums, asking for feedback. That included the official Mensa Facebook groups, Hospitality and Firehouse. We also posted it to several Mensa Connect groups.
The proposal was included in the October 30th AMC meeting agenda. Before the meeting, I posted a link to the agenda in the Region 4 Facebook group. Based on member feedback, the proposal was modified and the AMC openly discussed it. Any member can read the meeting minutes or listen to the audio recording by going to the website’s Lead > Board of Directors (AMC) > Meeting Reports pages. Finally, we crafted a proposed “Pro” statement for the amendment. We posted that to those same member forums asking for feedback before submitting it for publication.
While we don’t do all this for every AMC decision, we took extra steps this time since it was particularly important. If you have ideas about how we can be even more open, please let me know. We try our best to let members know what’s happening, before it happens.
Thanks for reading!
February 2019 – ‘Tis the (Renewal and Election) Season, and a word about Gifted Youth
You’ve no doubt already been reminded to renew your membership. The good news is that dues have not increased. You can even save money by purchasing a multi-year or life membership. My investments haven’t always paid off, but my life membership sure has. I bought mine back when the dues were $45. I avoided all the ensuing dues increases – and those annual renewal notices.
You’ll also be getting notices about our biennial American Mensa national election. This is shaping up to be an interesting year with many qualified candidates competing for various offices. We’ll have several proposed referenda, and Mensa’s International Board of Directors is also holding their election. Voting begins mid-April, but you must be a member in good standing as of April 1, 2019 to participate. Memberships expire March 31st, so please renew early. You can choose whether to receive election materials on paper or electronically. Simply log on to http://us.mensa.org and navigate to “My Mensa” and then “My Communication Preferences”. Under “Elections”, select the option you want. While electronic voting is cheaper for the organization, the choice is yours.
While I won’t get into the nature / nurture debate, it sure seems that Mensa parents have really smart kids – not to mention grandkids, nieces, nephews, and other relatives. Providing the activities and learning they need to flourish can be a challenge. The larger Local Groups all have Gifted Youth Coordinators. They can provide resources and access to events, along with interaction with similarly gifted peers. If you know a child who could benefit from any of this, get in touch with your Local Group’s contact. If there is one, they’re usually listed among the other officers and volunteers somewhere towards the end of this newsletter.
Beyond Local Group resources, the Mensa Foundation’s website (https://www.mensafoundation.org) has a wealth of content for gifted youth. In addition to activities at the Annual Gathering, you can get access to:
Hopefully you’ll find something useful!
January 2019 – RGs, Board Decisions
Happy New Year to all!
Many years ago, I made a New Year’s resolution to not make any more New Year’s resolutions. That one has been a whole lot easier to keep than all the ones that went before. Before you join me in making a similar resolution, I’d like to suggest one last good one: sign up for one of the region’s upcoming Regional Gatherings! Chicago has A Gathering of Gamers (AGOG) and Central Indiana has W.T.F (Winter Time Fun), both January 25-27. Minnesota’s RG is February 22-24 and St. Louis is holding theirs April 5-7. We’d love to see you there!
On December 1st, the American Mensa Board of Directors (AMC) held one of our periodic meetings. Rather than travel to the meeting, we elected to save money and conduct it via web conference. While we’ve done teleconferences before, those have been for special meetings called for urgent topics and were therefore relatively short. This time it was one of our regularly scheduled meetings. Despite the lack of personal interaction available at an in-person meeting, the longer web conference worked reasonably well. I would expect us to try this again.
In this meeting, a motion was passed to clarify who may be excluded from various Mensa events. We have always held that when a social event is held in someone’s home, the host may include or exclude anyone they want. Various Local Groups have had different policies about social events held in public places such as a restaurant. This motion clarified that here too a host may include or exclude anyone they see fit. Balanced against this, regardless of where it is held, no member may be excluded from an “official”, board approved event such as a business meeting or election, unless they have been formally sanctioned.
There were also two motions passed regarding Annual Gatherings. One dealt with the need for “White Hat” volunteers to be mobile enough to quickly reach incidents and have smart phone technology so they can efficiently share information. Another motion clarified the AG responsibilities assigned to the National Office and volunteers.
Finally, I’d like to thank everyone who volunteered to help Mensa over the last year. Some volunteers spend countless hours as Local Group leaders or organizing a Regional Gathering. Others edit the newsletter, manage the website, proctor admission tests, or doing any of the many other jobs that need doing. Even if it was just working an hour in hospitality, it’s all important. Mensa couldn’t function without you. I really appreciate your help!
Feedback? Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, via phone or text at +1 309 693 1359. Region 4’s Facebook group is: https://www.facebook.com/groups/695847670490858.