Jon Gruebele Regional Vice Chair Local Group Newsletter Articles from 2018
December 2018 – ‘WeeM, Happenings at National, Vouchers, and RGs Galore
I am writing this in the afterglow of a terrific ‘WeeM. Chicago sure knows how to throw a party! Over 550 attendees from all over the world enjoyed the pun-tastic costume contest, pretentious drinking, presentations, games, tournaments, a dance, and much more. It takes a big team to make it all happen. From the hard-working organizing committee to the awesome hospitality team to the people working registration, it’s amazing to watch all these efforts coalesce into a wonderful weekend. Thanks to everyone!
At the October 30 meeting, your Board of Directors (AMC) approved placing several bylaws amendments on the ballot for April’s election. These would:
Two proposals failed to reach the required 2/3 majority:
If you haven’t heard, you can invite a smart acquaintance or relative to take the Mensa Admission Test or submit prior evidence absolutely free through March 31st. Around September 21st, every member was sent an e-mail with voucher program code your friend can use. If you deleted the e-mail or didn’t get one, simply e-mail MVP@americanmensa.org or call the National Office at +1 817 607 0060. Details are available here: https://www.us.mensa.org/featured-content/introducing-the-mensa-voucher-program/.
We’d love to have you attend one of these upcoming gatherings across the region – please join us there:
November 2018 – Happenings at National
Late September, your national Board of Directors (AMC) met for two days in Arlington, TX, the home of American Mensa’s office. We started the first day discussing how we as a Board were working together during our 2017-2019 term. We had individually completed a self-assessment, then collectively reviewed the consolidated results. We definitely didn’t all agree on the questions, but overall felt we were OK on most dimensions. As there’s always room for improvement, we would welcome your suggestions.
As Chair of the Strategy Planning Committee, I facilitated a strategy session for the AMC and national office leadership that afternoon. The prior (2015-2017) Board had defined five critical areas (Governance, Leadership Development, Public Awareness, Finance, and Membership), along with metrics to measure progress. Earlier this year, we found owners for each element and worked with them to establish a baseline and targets. In this session, each team defined which projects were needed to achieve the targets, then the entire AMC multi-voted to establish the highest priorities. This will be used as input during the upcoming budget process and for deployment of national office staff.
Our top priorities included electronic admission testing, national advertising, and e-mail automation. Obviously spending on these projects will need to be balanced with expected revenues. As always, that means we won’t be able to do everything we want. We did, however, make clear the AMC’s direction on which ideas were most important. More information is available at https://www.us.mensa.org/lead/planning/.
The next day, our regular Board meeting dealt with routine items and reports. We also considered four motions on Event Safety; unfortunately, each needed at least some improvement. One was defeated, and the others were committed to the newly formed Event Safety task force for review. I am a member of that team, and we will be recommending necessary bylaws changes or Board motions, hopefully ensuring members can have safe and enjoyable experiences at Mensa events.
The Board was informed regarding the Mensa Foundation’s sale of our office building. This building has been owned by the Foundation, and American Mensa rented space there. For the Foundation, this arrangement provided a solid investment and regular income; American Mensa got affordable office space from a friendly landlord. The Foundation accepted a solid offer and the national office staff will be relocating to different offices in the area by year end. Our regular Mensa Wired and Mensa Leader communications will provide more details.
The Mensa Foundation announced the topic of the 2019 Colloquium. It’s “Privacy in the 21st Century: Mystery or Myth”. These are always held the day before the Annual Gathering starts. Next year that will be July 2, 2019 in Phoenix, AZ, with the AG being held from July 3 through 7. I hope to see you there!
October 2018 – I’m out of the closet, and it’s fun!
A couple of years back, the chair of Chicago’s Rainbow SIG asked the group’s members whether they were more in the closet about being gay or about being in Mensa. I don’t know what the response was, but I’m guessing it might be Mensa. As reported before in this column, most people tell their families they belong to Mensa, but fewer than 60% have told their friends, and it’s around a third for coworkers.
I came out about being in Mensa soon after joining. I thought it might help me advance my career. I can’t say that it did, but it didn’t seem to hurt either. Some people I knew at work later joined Mensa, and I’m hoping I had something to do with that.
Today I embrace all that Mensa has to offer. I attend Annual and Regional Gatherings; I go to monthly meetings. My wife and I just returned from the Minnesota State Fair, where Minnesota Mensa graciously let us help staff their booth for a couple of days.
Just as with most non-manufacturing operations, people and paper represent the biggest costs. The next biggest chunk is money we send to fund Local Groups and Mensa International. The “bank / credit card fees” category is mostly the processing costs for membership renewals and AG payments.
Every year our Board of Directors (AMC) votes on the budget recommended by the Finance Committee. This generally happens in March to prepare for the April start of our fiscal year. As a first term RVC, that meeting will be my first formal opportunity to weigh in on our finances. Any feedback you have would be welcome.
I often get questions about the transparency of American Mensa’s finances. The short answer is that we are very open about our budgets, revenues, expenses, assets, and liabilities. These are all posted on the American Mensa website, mostly under Lead -> Financials.
While budgeting is an annual process, the other items are updated quarterly. Every year we also post audited financial statements to our website and submit publicly available forms 990 to the IRS (see http://foundationcenter.org/find-funding/990-finder). Among a ton of other detail, the latter provides information about the salaries for RVCs and all other Board of Director (AMC) members (hint: they’re $0.00) and our former Executive Director (not zero).
For those who don’t like memorizing financial statements, I compiled a snapshot of our revenues. For the most recently completed fiscal year (April 2016 through March 2017), we have:
Total revenues were $4,379,696, and obviously most of that was from dues. While we try to find non-dues revenues from advertising and partners such as Geico, that’s still a small part of our financial picture. If you’re wondering about the Annual Gathering (AG) amount, please keep in mind this is only the revenue side. There were also AG expenses that offset the income. I’ll dissect our expenditures in next month’s article.
On another topic, I’d like to personally thank the organizers and volunteers who gave us Mensa of Wisconsin’s RG-Lite and Chicago Area Mensa’s HalloweeM RG. They were both terrific events and I really enjoyed them both. Don’t forget we have Mensa’s biggest party, our Annual Gathering, coming to Region 4 July 4-8 in Indianapolis. Registration is open now.
Finally, have you used your Mensa Voucher to invite a friend or relative to join Mensa? These vouchers were distributed via e-mail in October and are good for free testing or prior evidence submission. If you didn’t get a voucher or can’t find yours, simply call the National Office at +1 817 607 0060 and ask.
Thoughts? Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, call/text me at +1 309 693 1359, or join us on our Region 4 Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/695847670490858.
September 2018 – Happenings on the National Level
This year’s biggest National event was of course the Annual Gathering (AG), chaired by our own Teresa Gregory and Jan Pfeil Doyle from Central Indiana Mensa. It was a terrific event made possible by the many volunteers who helped. Thanks to everyone who contributed — you know who you are!
During the AG, your Board of Directors (AMC) held a marathon meeting to hear reports and take actions, including:
Besides that, two Region 4 Local Groups, Chicago Area Mensa and Sagamon Valley Mensa received Diamond Jewel Awards. Jewel awards are given for meeting the criteria expected of Local Groups. Only one Local Group in each size class earns a Diamond, so getting one shows they have gone above and beyond. Central Indiana Mensa and Mensa of Wisconsin earned the next best Sapphire level award; Iowa-Illinois Mensa, Northeast Indiana Mensa, and Saint Louis Area Mensa all earned Emeralds. Chicago also earned the only Gold Medal ACE (Achieving Communications Excellence) award this year. Congratulations and thanks to everyone!
August 2018 – Help Spend My Money, Please!
It doesn’t get nearly enough attention, but American Mensa has a 501(c)(3) charitable arm. It’s been known variously as the Mensa Education and Research Foundation, MERF, or simply the Mensa Foundation (see mensafoundation.org).
These services further two of Mensa’s goals as defined in our International Constitution:
A small part of your annual membership dues goes to the Foundation. Our Board of directors (AMC) typically votes to provide around $50,000 from our budget every year. That’s about $1 per member. This unfortunately isn’t enough to fund everything they do – or could do with more resources.
The Foundation’s other resources come from investments and tax-deductible donations. This is where the “spend my money” challenge comes in. I’ve already given the Foundation the same amount I gave last fiscal year. I’m willing to donate more if you are.
If any member in Region 4 donates more to the Foundation than they did last fiscal year, I’ll match the increase dollar for dollar – up to a cap of $1,000 across all donations. To qualify for the match, you must make your donation after April 1, 2018 and before September 1, 2018. Then before October 1, 2018, simply e-mail me a copy of the Foundation’s acknowledgement of your donation. If you also donated last fiscal year, please include that acknowledgement too. It’s that easy.
Even if you aren’t interested in donating money, you can help the Foundation in other ways. One example is by volunteering as a scholarship judge. Each Local Group can decide who from their area will be granted a local scholarship award and be eligible for bigger national awards. You can also attend the Colloquium or subscribe to the Mensa Research Journal (only $9 per issue).
The Mensa Foundation is our organization, does great work, and deserves our support. While there are many terrific causes competing for our donations, intelligence – properly applied – can ultimately help alleviate many of the world’s ills. The Foundation’s education, scholarships, prizes, and Mensa Research Journal all make a difference. Please join me in helping them to succeed!
July 2018 – Annual Gatherings Near and Far
Hopefully I’ll see you at the Annual Gathering (AG) in Indianapolis this month. We’ll have loads of speakers, games, tours, a gala dinner, and lots more. It’s bound to be terrific! Even driving in for one day can be fun.
If you’re there, you are cordially invited to attend the events I’ll be leading:
As you might imagine, other countries do their AGs differently. In April, I attended my fourth German AG, this time in Aachen. They had somewhere around 800 attendees.
Registration for their AG is only €15 (about $18.50), but all you get for that is a badge and a regional bus pass. Everything else is extra. They have no Hospitality, but you can always buy a beer in the main hotel bar. Want to attend a presentation? It's $2.50. Have a nice dinner? It's $17, or $94 for the Gala dinner. Go on a tour? Depends on the tour. I went to a local optical research center for $5, and for $13.50 we visited a very nice energy museum at the site of coal mining and coke production operations active from the 12th century to the 1990s.
Not much happens at the main hotel other than the presentations. Everything else is somewhere in the surrounding area (hence the bus pass with your main registration). Including a few repeated sessions, they had 20 presentations, 32 tours (city tours, museums, archives, buildings, etc.), 8 dinners, a reception with the mayor, 11 cultural events (including absinth tasting), 6 company visits, 4 workshops, 13 sport & fun events (laser tag, escape rooms, bicycle trips, etc.), and 4 miscellaneous events.
For what I wanted to do, I paid about what the mostly inclusive U.S. AG registration costs. The main benefit of their approach is that people can tailor their AG experience to their budget. On the downside, you must decide what you want to do far in advance, and there's significant administrative overhead. You get printed admission tickets for each event, and someone must collect them. Finding restaurants that will simultaneously accommodate hundreds of people is nearly impossible, so organized meals are typically split across several separate venues.
I enjoy both the way we do it and the way they do it, although I particularly missed having the social meeting place our Hospitality room provides. In any case, the world of Mensa extends well beyond our Local Groups. Mensa has fun things happening across the country and around the world. If you have the opportunity, check them out!
June 2018 – The “Problem” Member
If you’ve attended Mensa events or are active on social media, you have assuredly met many friendly, interesting people who are a joy to be around. Unfortunately, you may have also encountered a problem member. If that happened, you quickly discovered that “playing well with others” isn’t among the prerequisites to join Mensa.
Problems can run the gamut from mildly annoying to very dangerous. Someone may simply not have showered recently. They could troll you online. They could engage in sexual harassment or make threats. There’s lots of ways to be a problem. Sometimes, problems are subjective. The member annoying you with their political opinion could be perceived very differently by another member.
The effects of the problem member are very real. People may stop coming to events or not renew their memberships. Regularly scheduled events have been canceled or taken off the Mensa calendar and held privately. People may feel intimidated or threatened. None of that is good.
Mensa does have dispute resolution procedures; however, they are seldom invoked. (See https://www.us.mensa.org/lead/policydocuments/grievance-policies/grievance-documents/.) Since American Mensa was founded, only seven members have been expelled, although other less severe sanctions have also been imposed.
Our procedures don’t deal with domestic disputes, property damage, or other civil or criminal matters. These should be adjudicated in the courts or elsewhere. Our procedures handle “acts inimical”, defined as: “deliberate acts that are harmful to, or result in harm to, Mensa”. Included as examples in our Actions Still in Effect (ASIEs) Section 12 are activities that:
To resolve an issue, our procedures recommend first dealing directly with the involved member. If you don’t like something that’s happening, speak up. I know that’s hard. American culture prizes being “nice”, and confrontations aren’t perceived that way. It may be easier to avoid problems by canceling events, but that hurts everyone. The individual may not even be aware the behavior is offensive. By addressing the issue yourself, you may achieve a better outcome than something adjudicated by others. You may also enlist the assistance of the event’s host who (per our ASIEs) has the responsibility and duty to attempt to control an offending party. That includes asking the member to leave if necessary.
The next step might be to request the assistance of the Ombudsman who can help mediate disputes. Other resources could include your Local Group’s Board, moderators of online communities, and of course I can always assist. Beyond that, we have a formal hearings process that allows both parties to present their positions.
Membership surveys often cite problem members as a top concern. Let’s work together to address this ongoing challenge.
May 2018 – Board of Directors (AMC) Update
During the March AMC meeting in Denver, a variety of important issues were decided:
Finally, it’s not too late to make plans to join us at the Annual Gathering in Indianapolis. Whether you’ve never attended a Mensa event or attend regularly, it’s one of the best thing we do as an organization. Please come; Indianapolis is conveniently close to us!
April 2018 – The War on Paper
There are few topics in Mensa that generate as much emotion as the trend away from paper-based systems in favor of electronic alternatives. One member stated he could never support anyone who sent him something by postal mail, since doing that is ecologically unsound. I’ve had another member very upset that AG registrations and information were only available via the website or by calling the National Office. Failing to print all that in the Bulletin was described as “insensitive or downright passive-aggressive mean.”
There are reasons behind the trend toward electronic transactions and communications. Cost and speed are big drivers, but quality plays a role too. I’m much less likely to misspell my name than is someone else keying it in from a form. Conversely, some people don’t have reliable internet access and others may find reading computer screens challenging.
Clearly our membership is divided. Today, 56% of members in Region 4 request print newsletters; the remaining 44% have their preference set to receive them electronically. The cost for Local Groups to deliver print newsletters is one of their largest expenses. Bulk mailing rates and an affordable printer can help, yet for example Chicago still spends $0.76 per member to mail newsletters. Contrast that to the $0.85 per member National remits to Local Groups to support all their operations. Other groups’ costs vary depending on how many pages they print; use of first class mail rates; or if volunteers fold, label, and stamp their newsletters.
Interestingly, new members’ default preferences are set to electronic newsletter delivery. Yet within a year or two, many of these members have changed that preference to print. You can set your own preference by going to the us.mensa.org website, logging on, and navigating to My Mensa -> My Membership Profile -> My Communications Preferences.
American Mensa’s Minimum Standard Bylaws require Local Groups to send print newsletters at least quarterly to anyone who requests them. The print newsletters must have announcements of upcoming events including business meetings, financial reports, and anything the Ombudsman submits marked “for publication”. Groups may, however, produce both electronic and print newsletters, and they don’t have to be the same. Some groups have gone to a bare-bones quarterly print newsletter, with lengthier and more frequent electronic newsletters. Getting those longer, full color newsletters more quickly is why many members prefer electronic.
There’s not much appetite to change the requirement for print newsletters any time soon, but people may also not like a quarterly print newsletter with little content. I would expect the Board of Directors (AMC) will eventually make print newsletters optional for Local Groups, perhaps making it effective sometime in the future – perhaps 8 or 10 years?
One of the nice things about your Mensa membership is that you can easily manage what you are sent, how you get it, and what information you want to disclose to others. For example, I elect to:
You may not have ever changed your preferences from the defaults. If that’s working for you, great; otherwise, doing a quick review may improve your member experience. Simply log on to the web site and navigate to My Mensa -> My Profile. There are a lot of options, but definitely check out the “My Communication Preferences” section. You can subscribe to Mensa Brainwave under Read -> Brainwave.
On another topic, our long time Executive Director Pam Donahoo has resigned to take another position as CEO of USFN – America’s Mortgage Banking Attorneys. Replacing Pam will be Trevor Mitchell, former Mensa Director of Membership and Strategy. The details of the process used by our Transition Committee to make that recommendation are available on-line under the Board of Directors (AMC) January 16th Meeting Reports.
Hopefully your New Year’s resolutions are still in full force. A few years ago, I made a resolution not to make any more resolutions. That’s worked really well so far.
If one of your resolutions was to attend the Annual Gathering in Indianapolis from July 4-8, now’s the time to register. Starting March 1st, the price goes up from $199 to $229; starting June 15th, it’s $259. The Gala dinner speaker will be astronaut David Wolf, MD. A veteran of seven spacewalks and a one-time Mir resident, Dr. Wolf has logged more than 4,040 hours in spaces. Meet the astronaut, medical doctor, and Indy native who has worn many hats and helmets during his Walter Mitty-like career.
Last month’s article discussed American Mensa’s revenues; this month, let’s look at expenses. I’m again using figures from the most recently completed fiscal year ending March 31, 2017. These are posted on our website in the form of audited financial statements and budget reports.
Overall expenses were $4,665,520. That exceeded our revenues by $285,824. According to the audited financial statements, this broke down as:
Since some costs such as salaries were allocated across multiple categories, a different view of expenses summarized from the budget report was more informative:
Nearly two-thirds of lapsed members cite unappealing Local Group activities as a reason for not renewing. Yet Mensa has a lot to offer. Activities may not be in your back yard, but if you can travel a bit you’ll find we do a lot. Besides all the lunches and dinners, I’ve gone on tours (Fermilab, Exelon’s nuclear power plant in Clinton, the Yerkes observatory), cultural events (opera), sports (minor league baseball, bowling), lectures (everything from cybersecurity to cued speech), and more.
If you can’t find something to do in your local group, look at what’s happening in neighboring groups. You can read all their newsletters on the https://us.mensa.org site under “Read”. Better yet, find something you want to do and volunteer to host it for other members. It’s not complicated: make reservations if needed, publish the event in your newsletter, and show up a bit early to welcome others. It helps to have an owl or something so people can find you. Not every event will succeed, but many will. If something doesn’t, find something else to do; if something does, do it again.
Some of the best times we have at Mensa are at Regional Gatherings. We have several of them coming up:
Other dates are being planned, so keep your eyes open. We’d love to see you at one of them! Finally, here’s a picture of my totally “out of the closet” license plates. A little advertising never hurts.