Jon Gruebele Regional Vice Chair Local Group Newsletter Articles from 2023
September 2023 – How’m I doin’?
Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch was famous for asking anybody and everybody to give him feedback. Periodically, we also ask Mensa members how we’re doing. In February, we sent a survey to members who had e-mails on file with us and whose contact preferences allowed it.
The results were shared with the Board of Directors (AMC) at our July meeting at the Annual Gathering in Baltimore. Here are some highlights:
The report is available on our National website by navigating to Lead -> Board of Directors (AMC) -> Meeting reports -> 2003-07-06 Baltimore, MD -> Membership Survey Results. I sent the local response data to each of our Region’s LocSecs for their review.
Regarding SIGs, if you haven’t looked at the available SIG offerings lately, maybe it’s time. On the website, see Connect -> Special Interest Groups. While not all SIGs are active, we have over 100. Many offer a rich experience that can add to your membership’s value.
On the website, SIGs are nicely categorized into Active & Outdoors, Advocacy, Altruism, Arts & Entertainment, Digital, Discussion & Lifestyle, Games, Hobbies & Crafts, Investing & Finance, Language, Literature & Writing, Music, Professional, Religion & Spirituality, Science, Social, and Support. If you can’t find something to like, you could always apply to start your own.
I belong to several SIGs, including HELL’s M’s. While it may sound like a motorcycle gang that goes around auditing people’s taxes, it’s really Mensa’s party SIG. Any party is a HELL’s M’s party if everyone participating or affected by it has good memories the next day. They have a website, cool t-shirts, and even coordinate trips including an upcoming Baltic cruise. This is just one of many you might consider joining!
August 2023 – Being on American Mensa’s National Board of Directors (AMC)
The AMC election season starts in October when candidates can submit signatures to qualify for the ballot. You may be eagerly awaiting the opportunity to support an incumbent, replace them with someone new, or even be a candidate yourself. You may instead be dreading the associated electioneering, wishing it would all just go away. Only 11% of members voted in the last election, so you’d have plenty of company.
Volunteering to be on the AMC has been a joy as I’ve worked to help shape the organization I love. Every AMC job is different, and while we have ten Regional Vice Chairs (RVCs), each of them faces unique circumstances and approaches the role in their own way.
Region 4 has 9 Local Groups ranging from 1,500 members to fewer than 60. Living in Chicago, I can drive to all these Groups, although I’ve also flown or taken Amtrak to some. Only two Local Groups – St. Louis and Minnesota – are too far for me to make the round trip without an overnight stay. Other RVCs have up to 20 Local Groups and a geography that requires plane trips for in-person visits.
I try to visit each of my Local Groups frequently, although it’s harder with the ones farther away. Virtual meetings have helped. Keeping in touch helps me understand each Group’s circumstances and lets their members know where they can get help when needed. If they don’t need it, I try not to meddle.
RVCs typically get reimbursed up to $2,000 annually to cover regional travel and other expenses. Last year I spent more, paying for the overage myself. I was glad to do that, but not everyone can make such a contribution.
Besides keeping in touch with Local Groups, an RVC is also a member of the Board. This means travel to AMC meetings 3 – 4 times per year, plus attending occasional virtual meetings. Most meetings take place at our National Office near Dallas.
Despite being a voting AMC member, initiating change is hard. Much work is done in committees. If you’re not on a particular committee, the opportunity for input into their area of responsibility can be limited. Besides that, anything that costs money must somehow be included in a budget that’s approved once a year. In the end, each AMC member has just one of fifteen votes.Working with Local Groups, doing AMC work, and Committee memberships can add up to a time commitment equivalent to a demanding part-time job. Some jobs such as Chair involve much more time, knowledge, experience, and effort. We need leaders who will do more than just “phone it in.” Next April, I trust we’ll elect volunteers to the new AMC who will make us proud.
July 2023 – Yours, Mine, and Ours
The International Constitution states that Mensa has these purposes:
It adds that we provide a forum for intellectual exchange among members and that the Mensa organizations shall express no opinions.
Over 50 years ago, American Mensa founded the Mensa Foundation to accomplish some of these goals. This was done partly for tax reasons. Donations to the Foundation are tax deductible whereas donations to Mensa are not.
So how do Mensa and the Foundation share the responsibility to achieve Mensa’s purposes? We have goals that are yours (the Foundation), mine (Mensa), and ours (both of us).
Ours: The Mensa Foundation promotes research into intelligence by offering awards, fellowships, and grants to individuals around the world. On the American Mensa side, I serve on the Research Committee that works with people wanting to use Mensa members for scholarly research. Among other checks, we ensure requests are under the auspices of an institution that holds an approved “Federalwide Assurance for Protection of Human Subjects”.
Mine: Obviously we in American Mensa own the “social environment” goal. We excel in providing local, regional, national, and international gatherings – including those done virtually. Special Interest Groups (SIGs), online forums, and various publications help too.
Yours: The Foundation owns the “identify and foster human intelligence” goal. Scholarships are perhaps their best-known program. Many Mensa members volunteer every year to read entries and help decide how to award over $175,000. Another annual event is the Colloquium. This year’s topic is “The Talent and Potential of Neurodiversity”. If you won’t be going to the Annual Gathering in Baltimore where the Colloquium will be held, you can also register to view it on-line. Their Mensa Research Journal highlights scholarly articles and research related to intelligence.
As noted above, Mensa may not have opinions; however, the Mensa Foundation may. This means they can advocate for important initiatives supporting things like gifted youth. It’s important to note that we are distinct entities with separate finances. While our annual financial reports do provide a combined financial picture, it also splits them apart so it’s easy to see how each organization is faring. This is required by accounting regulations since the voting members of American Mensa’s Board of Directors (AMC) appoint the Foundation’s trustees, so we are “related” entities.
The Foundation succeeds because they get many financial donations every year. They very much appreciate all contributions large and small. It’s even better if your employer will match some or all of your gifts. Please consider going to their website to donate, or sponsor your favorite Misster Mensa candidate.
June 2023 – Sacred Cows
At our March Board of Directors (AMC) meeting, we briefly discussed American Mensa’s governance, and we expect more discussion at upcoming meetings. It remains to be seen what may come of this, but I’ve often wondered about how we do things.
There’s a long list of things that could potentially be considered, including:
I could go on, but you get the picture. Just because it’s been done one way for a while doesn’t make it right for the future. As I write this, I don’t know where our governance discussions will lead us, or even if any of the questions posed above will be considered. I am nevertheless happy that we’re taking a step back to revisit the status quo. There just may be a better way to do things.
May 2023 – Fiscal Balancing Act
The Board of Directors (AMC) recently approved the budget for the 2023-2024 fiscal year. As usual, the budget was the product of many uncomfortable compromises driven by our strong desire to avoid a dues increase.
We last increased dues to $79 effective July 2017. Had we increased dues at the same rate as consumer inflation, today they would be $97 (per bls.gov through February 2023). Nobody wants that – especially since dues increases are historically associated with membership declines.
National pays a subsidy of $10.20 per member per year to the Local Groups. That last increased in September 2015. Had it also been increased in line with consumer inflation, it would be $12.90 today. Assuming an average of 47,000 members across the fiscal year, that would add around $127,000 in annual expense for American Mensa.
Some members have argued we should indeed increase the subsidy. Local Groups’ largest expense is printing and mailing a newsletter, and costs for that have also risen significantly. Other members note that collectively Local Groups are sitting on nearly $2m. They ask why we should give Local Groups even more money they aren’t spending; instead, they’d prefer funding for a better national website, marketing, and many other initiatives.
When expenses are increased somewhere, we must increase revenues or decrease other expenses. On the revenue side, we work hard to increase non-dues revenues. About a third of our revenue comes from that. Examples include admission testing and marketing partnerships (think Geico); unfortunately, that only goes so far.
For expenses, people have mentioned cutting overhead, and I made a motion about that in February 2021. It was unfortunately defeated. Some have suggested all AMC meetings should be virtual, saving travel costs. That might be penny wise, pound foolish. While the meeting itself could be virtual, we would miss the many informal, face-to-face discussions where ideas are exchanged and improvements considered – to the overall detriment of American Mensa.
The easiest way to free up more money for Local Groups would be to allow them to decide for themselves whether they want print newsletters. Already some groups have reduced the number of pages, eliminated color, or gone to a bare-bones quarterly publication. Instead, they rely on electronic channels including Mensa Connect, e-mail, MeetUp, social media, web sites, and others. Most other national organizations I belong to long ago eliminated local print newsletters in favor of more timely electronic communications.
Every year the National Office works with our various officers and committees to lay out needs. Our Treasurer and Finance Committee work to prioritize the initiatives and establish a draft budget. The AMC then votes on it. I don’t know if anyone is happy about the resulting compromises, but I was delighted we managed another year without a dues increase.
April 2023 – The Splendiferous Mensa Gathering
Mensa gatherings come in many forms, from dinners to escape rooms, operas, games, movies, on-line talks, picnics, hikes, and a lot more. Regional Gatherings (RGs) and Annual Gatherings (AGs) are of course the biggest, ranging in size from under a hundred people to perhaps a couple of thousand.
I’ve attended many gatherings across the country and internationally – particularly lately. Each event has its own unique flavor, and all are a delight. For me, the best part is meeting our fellow Mensa members. I find them both fascinating and fun to talk to. Sometimes I have to move to a different table if the conversation just isn’t working out, but that’s very rare.
On the national front, April will bring us Mind Games®, May has CultureQuest®, and July will be the Foundation’s Colloquium on the “Talent and Potential of Neurodiversity” – plus of course the Annual Gathering in Baltimore. I’m excited about the tours (including Gettysburg and the National Cryptologic Museum). Our gala dinner speaker is John Waters. Regionally we have Central Indiana Mensa’s OMG (Outdoor Mensa Gathering) in May and Chicago’s HalloweeM in October.
If you’re thinking about venturing further, the European Mensa Gathering (EMAG) will be in Rotterdam, NL this August. Mensa Canada’s AG will be in Montréal mid-July. I couldn’t find many details yet, but the Asia-Pacific Mensa Gathering (AMG) is apparently planned for Bali, Indonesia in November. Personally I’ll be attending the German AG in April.
I’ve never attended the AMG, but I’ve been to a few of Canada’s AGs. They are similar to our AGs in that most things happen at the event venue. In contrast, the EMAG and German AG offerings generally happen around town. For example, at the upcoming German AG I’m scheduled to visit the museum where during WWII, Heisenberg and coworkers researched atomic reactions in a beer cellar (motto: heavy water instead of cool beer). I’ll visit the Mercedes-Benz factory, a castle that’s the ancestral seat of the Prussian Royal House, a tunnel construction site for the new train station, take a city tour, and do several other things.
I hope to also attend their annual membership meeting. If the past is prolog, that’ll be as mind-blowing as always. They don’t use Robert’s Rules of Order, so often I’ll see things like people with two hands in the air trying to limit debate time or make other motions. It’s a sight to behold.
I’ve said before that members who attend things are happier with their membership. Finances, geography, family commitments, and other constraints often get in the way of doing things with Mensa. I get that. Still, attending events – even the on-line ones – can be a great way to get more value from your membership. I hope to see you at an upcoming event!
March 2023 – On the Fence?
If you’re not a life member or in the middle of a 3- or 5-year membership term, ‘tis the season for you to be mercilessly bombarded with pleas to renew. Personally, I bought a life membership back when dues were still $45. That may have been my best financial investment ever. Not only can I avoid the yearly entreaties and dues increases, but I’ve gotten tremendous value for those dues.
Value is, of course, in the eye of the beholder. For some, getting the Bulletin and Local Group newsletter is enough. Others enjoy meeting their Mensa friends for a meal or games, having an on-line chat, or attending a regional, national, or international gathering. Some use SIGHT (Service of Information, Guidance, and Hospitality to Travelers) to enhance their vacations. Special Interest Groups (SIGs) abound. Some enjoy volunteering, either in service to Mensa or their communities through Mensa Cares. Many of us want to help support the Mensa Foundation’s philanthropic pursuit of excellence in human intelligence.
Fortunately, around 90% of us renew within 12 months. Of those that don’t, many aren’t gone forever. They may return when their life circumstances change, finances improve, or they simply miss our Mensa community. With new members joining, our membership has been down only slightly over the last few years – despite the pandemic.
Anyone looking for a deal on dues should consider multi-year or life memberships. Our 3-year memberships are priced at about a 10% discount; 5-year memberships are about 12% off. Life memberships are structured such that they’re always a great deal actuarily and protect you from future dues increases. For example, anyone ages 40 to 44 could buy a life membership for $1,380. That’s equivalent to 17.5 years of today’s dues, so a 40-year-old would break even at age 57 – or earlier if dues go up.
I hope you’re one of the people who renew or have already purchased a discounted multi-year or life membership. If you’re on the fence, consider becoming more active in what Mensa has to offer. People who attend things tend to be happier with their memberships. If you can’t find something you like, perhaps you could invite other Mensa members to join you in doing what you already enjoy. We’re always looking for great ideas for the calendar.I always end these articles by inviting feedback and urging you to join the Region 4 Facebook group. I’m very serious about wanting feedback. What should we be doing better? If you aren’t renewing, why? What should we have done differently to keep your interest? If you did renew, I’d be interested in hearing about that too. We need to do more of the things that work and fewer of the things that don’t. Sometimes knowing which is which can be challenging.
February 2023 – Board of Directors (AMC) Update
The AMC met in Denver for its final meeting of 2022. It was the first meeting led by our new Chair, Lori Norris.
There were a variety of appointments made. We’ll be welcoming Baker Ring back to the AMC as Second Vice Chair. In addition to other service for Mensa, he served as Regional Vice Chair 5. We also appointed Beth Anne Demeter as the 2024 Annual Gathering (AG) Chair. That event will be held in Kansas City MO, following the 2023 AG in Baltimore and preceding the 2025 AG in Chicago and the 2026 AG in Fort Worth.
Walking through the agenda:
Additional detail will be available on-line as always under Lead -> Board of Directors (AMC) -> Meeting Reports.
January 2023 – Tell Me Again, Where Is That Body Buried?
Web sites are so #lastcentury. I get it. Boring. Hard to navigate. I’d much rather look at a funny meme. Sadly, when all else fails, sometimes I just have to fire up my trusty Netscape browser to find what I need.
It may have been a long time since you’ve looked at American Mensa’s (us.mensa.org) website. If so, I understand, but there’s actually some really interesting stuff you might want to revisit. The top-level navigation takes you to:
Join: If you have a smart friend, here’s everything they need to know about qualifying prior evidence scores, taking private or Local Group administered tests, and how to rejoin if you’ve been away.
Attend: If you like getting together with other Mensa members, learn about events beyond your Local Group. That includes Regional Gatherings, the Annual Gathering, on-line sessions, and the Foundation’s Colloquium.
Connect: Some of well over 100 active Special Interest Groups may help get more from your membership. Want to talk to a board or national staff member? Contacts are there. You can look up other members and get information about our “Service of Information, Guidance and Hospitality to Travelers” (SIGHT) program. Drilling down into the Local Groups directory can tell you about every one in the country.
Lead: Here’s all that super exciting governance stuff: board meeting minutes and financials going back to 2005, our strategic plan, leadership development, handbooks, Local Group resources, bylaws, and more.
Learn: Interesting things about the Foundation, gifted youth, Mensa for kids, demographics, and how to use the Mensa Logo.
Read: With few exceptions, you have access to pretty much every Local Group’s newsletter along with past Bulletin publications, our national e-mail newsletters, and an eclectic collection of other stuff.
Recognize: Join us in congratulating all the wonderful Local Groups and people who have been recognized by Mensa and the Foundation.
Volunteer: Learn about our Mensa Cares program that benefits our communities. Sign up for one of the volunteer opportunities occasionally posted on our Volunteer Marketplace.
Shop: Yup, buy stuff here and learn about third party company discounts available to Mensa members.
Play: Learn about CultureQuest®, Mind Games®, and board games awarded our Mensa Select® seal.
My Mensa: Perhaps most important, customize your membership experience. Tired of getting unwanted e-mails? Pick what you want to see. Subscribe to various publications. Change your address. You can even get a vanity e-mail address (firstname.lastname@example.org).
You may also want to visit connect.us.mensa.org. There you can join various e-mail lists. Manage your preferences to get real time notifications of new posts, ask instead for a daily digest of all posts, or turn off notifications entirely.
Finally, mensafoundation.org and international’s mensa.org sites are great resources too.
Enjoy browsing, and no, I don’t really use Netscape.
Feedback? Please contact me at email@example.com or via phone/text at +1 309 693 1359. Region 4’s Facebook group is: https://www.facebook.com/groups/americanmensaregion4.
Copyright © 2023 Jon W. Gruebele. All Rights Reserved.