Jon Gruebele Regional Vice Chair Local Group Newsletter Articles from 2020
December 2020 – Messages from the Dearly Departed – and Other Stuff
Lapsed Member Survey
At a recent Board of Directors (AMC) meeting, our Membership Officer Stephanie Thornton gave an update about members who haven’t renewed. It was enlightening and provided ideas about how to improve locally and nationally.
Overall, lapse rates for males and females were nearly identical. The highest lapse rates were for members 22-32 years old at 27%; conversely, for members older than 50, rates were under 10%. White members also lapsed infrequently (10%); all other groups were slightly higher at 12-13%.
Those who don’t renew aren’t necessarily gone forever. Many had lapsed previously, some several times. 54% reported they were either undecided about renewing or already planned to renew. It’s therefore important to continue reaching out and encouraging them to rejoin.
The top reasons cited for lapsing were COVID, personal finances, and lack of local group activities. 53% said: “Dues are too high for what I receive from my membership.” Interestingly, this was not quite as important (48%) to the younger members, even though they lapsed more frequently.
In verbatim comments from younger members, some cited lack of diversity, intolerance, and rude behavior both on-line and in person. At 42%, respondents identifying themselves as black were about twice as likely as others to cite lack of diversity as an issue. Given our membership demographics, we clearly have a long way to go to be more welcoming and inclusive.
Being a process improvement professional, I tend to dwell more on opportunities than past successes. Since nothing is ever perfect, there’s always opportunity to improve. If you have ideas, I’m all ears.
Regional Service Awards
We not only need to work on improving, but we also need to celebrate the wonderful things in American Mensa. Our dedicated volunteers are a big part of that.
At the virtual ‘WeeM-Away Regional Gathering (RG), it was my honor to mention the Regional Service Awards given to five volunteers who made significant contributions to Mensa. Most of them volunteer in several capacities. Some held Local Group offices. Others led National SIGs. Some have been a major force at RGs, spending time volunteering instead of playing. One raised a bunch of money for the Foundation. It’s people like this who make American Mensa so amazing. Please join me in congratulating Damian Christianson, Laura King, Barbara Kryvko, Rhonda Peek, and Susan Woodill for their many accomplishments!
Region 4 Facebook Group
At the end of my articles, I always include a link to our Region 4 Facebook Group. It’s mostly for announcements and discussion about regional and National matters. Links to agendas for upcoming AMC meetings are posted so members can provide feedback before decisions are made. Events open to members from other Local Groups are often highlighted here. Please join us!
November 2020 – Board of Directors (AMC) Update -- And Thank You!
On September 12th, we held our quarterly AMC meeting via videoconference. As has been the case recently, the meeting was live streamed for members to view. We also posted the four-hour video recording on-line.
As already reported, the AMC voted in July to remove Firehouse and Hospitality as “official” Facebook groups and to change their names. We established the Social Media Transition Task Force to recommend implementation details. During the September meeting, we approved the Task Force’s recommendation to transition these groups to Special Interest Groups (SIGs). I’d like to extend my heartfelt thanks to Region 4 members Laura King (Sangamon Valley), Barbara Kryvko (St. Louis), and Susan Woodill (Chicago) for their help in establishing the SIGs and ensuring a smooth transition. The switchover was made in late September.
We recently announced another way to take a Mensa Admission test. We’re partnering with Prometric, a company that provides testing for many different organizations. At the AMC meeting, we set the price of testing using Prometric at $99 and adjusted our budget accordingly.
This testing alternative won’t eliminate the need for our traditional Proctors. On the plus side, Prometric typically offers many more locations to test than we have been able to provide with Proctors. As an example, Mensa of Wisconsin has six Prometric sites across their territory. Also, Proctors typically test infrequently. With Prometric, prospective members can test whenever it fits their schedule. Many Local Groups shut down testing during COVID; Prometric is still testing with appropriate precautions.
On the other hand, testing with Proctors is cheaper – usually $60. It’s also more personable. To help ensure food safety at an RG I co-chaired, I took a ServSafe Food Protection Manager course and tested to obtain my certification at one of Prometric’s competitors. They had a lot of security, made me take everything out of my pockets, patted me down, and then closely monitored the room to help prevent cheating. It wasn’t the friendliest experience. Proctors may be more effective at introducing Mensa to prospects and thus increase the probability they’ll join if accepted. We’ll therefore continue offering our traditional testing with Proctors for the foreseeable future.
In other actions, Rachel Kibler was appointed as Regional Coordinator for Region 9 (Far West) to replace Alton Hitchcock who had resigned as Regional Vice Chair (RVC). American Mensa is incorporated in New York, and laws there prevent the AMC from naming a direct replacement for an RVC. A Regional Coordinator has the same authority as an RVC, but they don’t have a vote on the AMC. Also, a motion to update our rules (ASIEs) about SIGs was defeated, and a motion to affirm our adherence to Mensa’s International Constitution was approved.
October 2020 – The Credly Kerfuffle
You probably received several e-mails from Credly/Acclaim in August that looked like spam. Like many of you, I didn’t click on the links – until I learned what it was about. Afterwards, I did claim my “badge”.
While badges are apparently a thing these days, they were new to me. Microsoft for example uses them to verify someone has passed a certification exam. People share their badges on social media and professional platforms such as LinkedIn.
For Mensa purposes, this badge is your digital membership card. Some members couldn’t care less; for others, a digital badge may be more valuable than a physical membership card. Also, if people share their badge on social media, this helps promote our organization.
If you deleted the e-mails and now want to claim your badge, simply go to https://www.youracclaim.com/, click on “Create account”, and follow the instructions using the e-mail address you use with Mensa.
For many, this offer arrived as a surprise. It had been communicated in advance via our Mensa Wired and Mensa Leader e-mail blasts, but not everyone gets those and fewer still read them thoroughly. We also posted a FAQ document on-line. [As an aside, you can subscribe to Wired and Leader by going to https://us.mensa.org and navigating to My Mensa, My Membership Profile, and My Communication Preferences.]
Some people asked why they received this offer despite having opted out of external promotions. The National Office considered this a benefit, not a promotion. This isn’t GEICO trying to sell you discounted car insurance. Credly/Acclaim isn’t asking you to pay for anything. They don’t sell your information. This company acts as a data processor and only carries out the tasks we assign to them. Using outside companies to provide member services isn’t unusual. Another example is the company that handles on-line voting for our elections.
How much did this initiative cost? Our agreement allows all existing members to get badges at no cost to us. If a new member is offered a badge and claims it, we’ll pay a nominal fee for the service. The total cost will depend largely on how many new members we get and how many of those will claim a badge. Overall, I expect the financial impact to amount to about as much as a rounding error on our overall budget.
This was a National Office initiative not voted on by the Board of Directors (AMC). I’m personally in “wait and see” mode as to how effective this initiative will be. I’ve requested the National Office review the process and communications they used with this initiative to see if “lessons learned” could improve future results. Meanwhile, my own badge is proudly displayed on the website I use for Mensa purposes.
September 2020 – Board of Directors (AMC) Update
In perhaps the most controversial decision made this term, a motion was passed at July’s AMC meeting to remove “American Mensa Firehouse” and “American Mensa Hospitality” as official Facebook Groups. “American Mensa” will also be removed from their names. A Task Force will be recommending next steps for consideration at the September 12th AMC meeting. The team should include one active member from each of those Facebook groups.
There were strong opinions on both sides of this issue. Some members treasure Firehouse for its unfettered conversation, fun, and caring. Others find many posts there flatly unacceptable and a threat to Mensa’s reputation. Part of the disconnect may come from how members experience the group. Members can block those who consistently post objectionable content, thus improving their experience. Unfortunately, new members see it all and are therefore more likely to find issues.
It will be interesting to see what the Task Force will recommend. The motion requires the recommendation to be posted to both Facebook groups and e-mailed to members. This will allow for a period of member comment before the AMC votes to accept, amend, or reject the proposal.
The AMC approved the audited financial report for fiscal 2019-2020. The results were dismal. On the plus side, we managed a modest $70k operational surplus. On the negative side, we record the value of our investments at the end of March. At that point, the stock market had dropped significantly, and we posted an unrealized $534k investment loss. With that more than offsetting the surplus, our net assets dropped $464k. We therefore ended the year with a total net asset deficit of $2.2m. Fortunately, the market has since recovered, but our financial situation remains concerning. Membership renewals have been down this year, possibly due to COVID-related financial concerns. We will need to make very tough choices to reduce expenses moving forward.
The Mensa Foundation announced it had completed the purchase of a new building. As was the case with our old building, American Mensa plans to rent the space from the Foundation. We expect to move into the new offices by the end of 2020.
In other Region 4 news, the AMC voted to approve Chicago’s Beth Weiss as the Chair of the 2022 Annual Gathering in Reno, NV. Sangamon Valley Mensa’s Laura and Timmy King helped raise $42,731 for the Mensa Foundation by competing in the Mr./Ms. Mensa pageant. Normally held at the Annual Gathering (AG), the event moved on-line and raised more than double the amount from any previous year. Our heartfelt thanks go to everyone who competed and donated.
August 2020 – Rights, Opinions, and Facebook -- What to do?
As I write this at the end of June, hundreds of social media posts and e-mails have reached the national office and Board of Directors (AMC). These relate to both the AMC’s statement on racism and motions for our July 11 AMC meeting.
In 1986 and again in 1998, the AMC affirmed, “bigotry and prejudice are antithetical to the nature of American Mensa”. In response to George Floyd’s homicide, the AMC reinforced this with a message to our members. Some complained the statement violated our constitution’s prohibition against Mensa expressing opinions or having any “ideological, philosophical, political, or religious affiliations.”
This reminded me of the uproar after Chicago’s Rainbow SIG marched in the 2015 Chicago Pride Parade. This put Mensa’s name in front of around one million attendees, and I proudly marched with them. While the event had been planned for months, it was held just two days after the Supreme Court decided the 14th Amendment allowed same-sex couples to marry. Despite the ensuing complaints about Mensa “expressing opinions”, it was determined the SIG did nothing wrong, and they’ve marched in every parade since.
It is relatively rare for the AMC to get compliments. Yet after our statement on racism, we got lots of compliments – perhaps as many people were supportive as those sending complaints. Many felt racism isn’t an “opinion”; it’s a violation of fundamental human rights.
I personally supported sending a statement, although I can’t claim credit for writing it. I recommended we include some concrete actions to back up our words. Let’s face it: our organization lacks diversity. We need to improve. Unfortunately, improvements are still very much “TBD”.
The July 11th AMC meeting agenda has motions to remove the “American Mensa” name from our Facebook Firehouse and Hospitality groups. We will also discuss a Code of Conduct, which might cover both on-line and in-person interactions if adopted at a future meeting. While social media posts that could be considered racist, sexist, ageist, or any other “ist” may be protected by free speech, they also represent a reputational risk to Mensa. We somehow need to nurture the free exchange of opinions – including those with which we personally disagree – without crossing the line into abuse. That won’t be easy to define or implement.
As I have a close relative who works for Facebook, I will be recusing myself from the discussion and votes on the Firehouse and Hospitality motions. That may not be strictly required, but American Mensa officially approved having these groups on Facebook, and that generates advertising revenue. As a Facebook employee, my relative participates in that revenue stream through employment, bonuses, and stock incentives. By recusing myself, I will help ensure these decisions will be made without impropriety on my part.
July 2020 – Mensa Across the World
Mensa was first conceived in 1946 in England after Roland Berrill and Lancelot Lionel Ware met by chance on a train. On October 1, 1946, Berrill printed the first piece of Mensa literature, and this date is generally recognized as when Mensa was founded. That of course was nearly 74 years ago. We’ll celebrate our 75th anniversary with a World Gathering planned for late August 2021 in Houston, TX.
We were an exclusively British club until 1960, when American Mensa first emerged. In 1963, a constitution for a worldwide organization was adopted. It provided for a U.N.-style voting, with one vote per national Mensa. The larger groups, including American Mensa, disliked the system since we had only one vote while shouldering a significantly larger financial obligation. In 1981, a compromise was reached more equitably relating voting rights to membership levels.
Today, we list around 50 different countries as having national Mensa organizations, and we have members in over 100. Organizations are classified as:
The most recent country achieving Full National Mensa status is Mensa Mexico. This is an interesting achievement since the word “Mensa” reportedly means “stupid” or “foolish” in Latin American Spanish slang. That no doubt gave them a challenging branding issue to overcome.
Each National Mensa is required to contribute 7% of dues revenue to support Mensa International. A member paying our annual dues rate of $79 would therefore have $5.53 of that remitted. In return, we enjoy the ability to participate in services such as SIGHT (“Service for Information, Guidance, and Hospitality to Travelers”). I’ve used SIGHT twice internationally: once to get some excellent pointers as to what a Mensa member might find interesting in Dublin, and once to join an awesome group of Mensa Philippine members for dinner in Manila.
International groups also welcome American Mensa members to their events. I’ve attended Annual Gatherings in both Canada and Germany more than once. I’ve been to EMAG, the European Mensa Annual Gathering. I haven’t made it to an Asian Mensa Annual Gathering (AMAG) yet, but it’s on my list.
More information about Mensa International is available on this website: https://www.mensa.org/. Click on “Login / Register”, and then “Create new account” to gain access to the member-only content.
June 2020 – Board of Directors (AMC) Meeting Report
American Mensa’s Board of Directors (AMC) held a teleconference meeting on March 21st. It was originally scheduled to be held in conjunction with the Las Vegas RG; unfortunately, COVID-19 dictated otherwise.
Important actions taken included:
For more details, the mini-minutes are available on the American Mensa website and navigating to Lead, Board of Directors (AMC), and Meeting Reports. Also posted there are the audio recording of the meeting, the proposed budget, several presentations, and multiple reports from officers and committees. The full meeting minutes will be posted once approved at our next meeting, currently scheduled for July 2.
Finally, I am sad to report that former RVC4 George Haynes passed away in April at the age of 51. He contributed to Mensa in many ways, from Editor and LocSec for St. Louis Area Mensa to his national service on the AMC. His friendly nature and good humor will be greatly missed. Rest in peace, George. You will be remembered.
May 2020 – Mensa in Sad Times
My last newsletter article ended with links to a variety of planned Mensa events across the region and beyond. Sadly, COVID-19 forced local and national leaders to make painful decisions to cancel them, helping to protect our members and the public. Springtime RGs? Gone. Monthly Gatherings? Canceled. Mind Games® and CultureQuest®? At best postponed. The AG? Too soon to tell.
Even sadder is the toll this scourge is exacting on everyone, from the loss of loved ones, to the economy, jobs, and the restrictions we’ve endured as we’ve sheltered at home. As I write this article at the end of March, the predictions are dire. With fatality predictions reaching into the 100,000+ range, it’s perhaps inevitable that Mensa members and their families will be affected. While I hope that won’t be the case, the math suggests otherwise.
Some wag once opined that Mensa was like academia: the arguments are so fierce because the stakes are so low. Yet when times get tough, I’ve seen us pull together and act in generous, kind, and loving ways. I would expect this crisis will be no different. Think about reaching out to your Mensa community if you need a shoulder to lean on. We are truly all in this together.
Beyond canceling events, Local Groups have faced challenges producing print newsletters. Some Local Groups rely on printers who shut down their business for the duration. Other groups have fold-label-stamp gatherings, and that’s ill-advised under the current circumstances. If you have a physical newsletter, someone may have done a lot of work all by themselves or at least got very creative. Be sure to thank your editor and newsletter team for going above and beyond.
As there’s a good chance that some Local Groups will continue producing electronic publications even if print is unavailable, this might be a good time to review your communications preferences on the National website, http://us.mensa.org. Not only can you get newsletters on-line, you can also allow your Local Group to send you an occasional e-mail with important updates. Simply navigate to My Mensa, My Profile, and My Communication Preferences, then select the settings you want.
Despite these scary times, I dare say that Mensa will come through them and prosper. Thank you to all the volunteers who have had to make difficult choices and go beyond the call of duty. We truly appreciate everything you do. Floreat Mensa!
On another topic, American Mensa’s Board of Directors (AMC) had a teleconference meeting on March 21st. The mini-minutes are available on the website under Lead, Board of Directors (AMC), and Meeting Reports. Several motions were considered, and we adopted the 2020-2025 strategic plan. I’ll have more to say about all of that in my next article.
April 2020 – Our National Office, and Why Members Don’t Work There
Almost half of American Mensa’s total outlays (2018-2019 - $4.6m) are for “Administrative & General” (A&G) expenses ($2.2m). Big picture, A&G is the cost of operating our National Office headquartered in Arlington, TX. 78% of A&G expenses are for salaries and benefits. That’s not surprising. Most costs for organizations that don’t manufacture something will typically be for employees.
A&G expenses fund a dedicated staff of 20+ professionals who handle day-to-day operations and various projects. While the vast majority of everything done in American Mensa is driven by thousands of volunteers, we’ve opted to handle a few operations with employees. That allows for greater accountability regarding efficiencies, timeliness, and quality.
Trevor Mitchell, our Executive Director, leads the National Office team. He has an MBA and is a Certified Association Executive. The Board of Directors (AMC) is responsible for hiring him and managing his performance. He in turn hires and manages the rest of the staff.
Key leaders reporting to Trevor include Timothy Brooks, Membership; Charles Brown, Marketing and Communications; John McGill, Brand Partnerships; Matthew Needham, IT; and David Peery, Finance. Jill Beckham, Foundation Director, also reports to Trevor but her position is funded by the Foundation.
Two other key National Office staff include Shirley Meine, the Executive Assistant who sweats all the details, and Becky Folger, our Local Group Services Manager. Becky is the main contact for Local Group officers. If she isn’t the person responsible for doing something, she knows who is and will facilitate the conversation.
A frequently debated policy is the one that prohibits National Office employees from being current American Mensa members. Some employees are certainly eligible for membership, and some have joined – or rejoined – Mensa after leaving employment with us. This policy stems from a strict interpretation of bylaws article VII(5) that prohibits conflicts of interest.
On the one hand, having employees as members might result in better engagement; on the other, it could lead to real or perceived challenges. One extreme example might be a member employee who gets elected to the AMC and thus would be responsible for hiring and managing their own boss. Another less dramatic example might be a staff member who could be perceived as favoring their own Local Group over another. To respect our bylaws and avoid such issues, this policy has been in place as long as I can remember.
Don’t forget, it’s not too late to attend some of our terrific upcoming events. We’d love to see you there:
March 2020 – Board of Directors (AMC) Update – Being Strategic
A board’s primary responsibility is to set the organization’s overall direction. As I write this at the end of January, we are hoping to approve a strategic plan for 2020-2025 at our March 21st AMC meeting. If you have any recommendations on our draft proposal, I’d be very interested in hearing them before the meeting. The draft is still very much under discussion and will likely be updated before being approved.
In short, we wanted to have a plan that focused on reaching out to people who might be interested in Mensa, delivering good value to our current members, and reducing our reliance on dues for funding.
As Chair of the Strategic Planning Committee, my recommendations were:
American Mensa has a strong, well-understood brand image that’s communicated through many marketing channels, attracting new members and delivering ongoing membership growth.
Metric: new memberships (including renewals after a lapse of one year or more)
American Mensa provides excellent value for the dues our members pay. We understand how to appropriately segment our members so we can best serve their needs – regardless of age and geographic location. We deliver value by helping members form communities of common interest, offering great events, and delivering an attractive local group experience.
Metrics: retention rate, net promoter score
Mensa has a diversified revenue stream. This helps keep dues at a level that aligns with the value provided.
Metrics: Non-dues revenue as a percent of total revenue, net operating income as a percent of revenue
Obviously, these are very high-level goals and many supporting efforts will be required for each. As an example for Outreach, we’ll need programs that focus on brand awareness, social media, testing, reaching out to members who have lapsed, and others. Each should have their own goals and supporting metrics. I hope to add rigor to our execution, with regular feedback and a strong partnership between volunteers and our national office staff.
As an aside, the one metric “net operating income as a percent of revenue” is perhaps not well matched to the Revenue Diversification goal, but I still feel strongly it needs to be included. This is the one measure that shows how well we’re doing at reducing our net asset deficit. While these are all important goals to pursue, we must maintain healthy finances in the process.
Finally, we have several upcoming Regional Gatherings plus the Colloquium and Annual Gathering. We’d love to see you there:
February 2020 – Board of Directors (AMC) Update – Longer Terms of Office?
The quarterly AMC meeting was held December 7th in Elk Grove Village, IL, not far from O’Hare. Despite a relatively short agenda, it went well into the afternoon with discussions on financials, liability, risk, the Mensa Foundation, and strategy. My thanks go to the members who attended the meeting, and the others who read the mini-minutes and reports or listened to the audio recording posted on-line.
Our most detailed discussion centered around changing our elected officers’ terms from 2 to 3 years. Since this is a bylaws change, first the AMC would vote to pass the measure to the membership, then members would vote on it at our next election in April, 2021. This measure was proposed because the International election cycle was recently changed from 2 to 3 years. If approved, American Mensa’s election schedule would then match International’s.
When I posted about this in our Region 4 Facebook group before the meeting, I got mixed feedback. Some were in favor, others against, and some weren’t sure. To summarize the various viewpoints:
In the end, I voted with the majority to pass this proposal to our members for their consideration. I felt the cost savings and learning curve arguments were compelling.
January 2020 – A Year of Gatherings – and Other Stuff
2019 was another banner year for Region 4. We of course host the best gatherings anywhere:
The common denominator is the opportunity to have a whole lot of fun. I love the m&m’s in hospitality and talking with Mensa members – they’re always interesting! The speakers are fascinating. There are opportunities to play board games, compete in tournaments, and go on interesting tours. Many RGs have unique events such as HalloweeM’s pretentious drinking and puntastic costume contest.
The untiring volunteers across the Region didn’t stop there. We had RG-Lites. Culture Quest® trivia teams abounded. There was a great turnout for the Cornbelters baseball game at the Corn Crib stadium. We toured Frank Lloyd Wright’s Dana Thomas House, hosted a Mensa booth at the Minnesota State Fair, attended a Scottish high tea, and learned to forge a metal hook. And yes, there were many other events too numerous to mention here.
Not far outside Region 4, Mind Games was hosted in Wadsworth, OH where five games were given the coveted Mensa Select® seal. I also attended Snowball in New Jersey, Brilliance in the Wine Country (San Francisco Regional Mensa), and SynRG in Houston. Mensa Canada’s Annual Gathering (AG) in Montréal and American Mensa’s AG in Phoenix were wonderful. Each gathering is unique and delightful in its own way.
Besides having fun, I always get good ideas that can translate into better experiences for our members. Somehow, I never seem to meet a Mensa member who is shy about sharing their opinions. I very much appreciate the feedback. Keep it coming!
When I proctor people taking our admission tests, I always encourage them to attend something. The bigger the event, the more likely you’ll be to find a group you’ll enjoy, but the small ones can be terrific too. Person to person interaction is a big part of the value many of us get from our membership. Sometimes geography, cost, and time commitments can be a challenge. I get that. Some people prefer an on-line experience, and that’s OK too. However you enjoy Mensa, we’re glad you’re here.
Thank you to all the volunteers who made 2019 a joy. We look forward to even more in 2020. Happy New Year!
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/americanmensaregion4.
Copyright © 2020 Jon W. Gruebele. All Rights Reserved.