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American Mensa Region 10

RVC Columns: 2012

[RVC 10 Mel Dahl Photo]

December 2012

     "Why are my dues so high?"

     I've been asked this question a lot since the AMC voted to raise dues on October 30, and it's a fair question.  As I have already publicly said, I thought it was necessary to raise dues by a dollar or two, but voted against the increase to $7 the AMC ultimately adopted.  So that you know, here's what your money goes for:

     American Mensa is part of Mensa International, and we are required to pay dues to Mensa International, and those dues have just been increased.  A significant  chunk of International's budget is working with national Mensas that are still developing.  Mensa has the potential to be huge in India and China, and giving it a secure footing in those countries would greatly enhance our international reputation, especially if those countries turn out to be high-tech superpowers. 

     Consider it an investment.

     Here at home, we provide support to local groups; many of your favorite local group activities are possible because of local group funding.  I expect local group funding to increase at our annual budget meeting in March. 

     Mensa also has programs that, while they may not benefit every individual member, nevertheless make us a better organization.  We have an active gifted children's program and a scholarship program.  We have Project Inkslinger, which helps local libraries.  One of our missions is to foster human intelligence, and we do that.

     I've written in the past about our national office staff and the fine work they do.  Without them, we would need to find volunteers to process 52,000 memberships, keep the national Web site up and running, provide logistical support to local groups and volunteers, score all those tests, and organize our annual gathering.  (If you don't think it is a huge undertaking to bring 2000 Mensans together in one place, talk to someone who's done it.)  Personally, I'd rather enjoy my membership and hire people to do those things for us.

     We are also spending on enhanced technology to make it easier for volunteers to do their job, and also to make it easier to attract younger, more tech-savvy members.

     Mensa is a great organization; I'm proud to be a member and even prouder to serve as one of its regional vice chairs.  Unfortunately, it takes money to run, and our costs continue to go up.  Thank you all for being part of it.

Mel Dahl
Regional Vice Chair

November 2012

     Mensans in general are a pretty opinionated bunch, and are sometimes fairly blunt when it comes to expressing disagreement.  Why say, "I respectfully think you may not have fully considered the opposing viewpoint" when you can say "You're a total and complete moron and I don't see how anyone as stupid as you managed to get into a high IQ society." 

      It's a trap I myself occasionally fall into, though I try to avoid it.  When I take a position on a controversial issue, I always brace myself for the acid rain that will fall on me from those who have a different perspective.  And, I haven't always done as good a job of trying to see things from a different perspective as perhaps I might have.

     Something I've learned to do over the years is to separate the nastiness from whatever kernel of truth may be bathing in it.  It's not easy; the human response is to simply write off the source of whatever vitriol comes in one's direction.  Why, after all, should I respect the opinion of someone who has shown no respect to me?  But sometimes, if you can get past the nastiness, the other person really does have a point, and sometimes the point that is being made is more important than the ugly packaging in which it was delivered. 

     In fact, sometimes the ability of a local group, region, or Mensa as a whole depends on someone being able to look past an ugly delivery to the validity of a truth being spoken.  And I will admit to having occasionally learned things from people who weren't even trying to be civil.

     I would like to encourage two things.  First, if you disagree with someone, try to do so in a civil manner even if it kills you.  Whatever wisdom you may have to impart is far more likely to be received if you don't make a personal enemy of its intended recipient.  Since nobody gets off this planet alive, there is no reason to not treat other people with kindness while you can.

     Second, if you are at the receiving end of someone else's vitriol, try to ask if maybe they have a point even if it isn't being made in a civil fashion.  "Consider the source" is simply an excuse to not listen to what someone else is saying. 

     And sometimes even the worst source produces something useful.

Mel Dahl
Regional Vice Chair

October 2012

First of all, I want to congratulate the publication recognition program finalists; that is, the awards program for outstanding local groups' publications and Web sites.  The winners will not be announced for another month, but Tampa Bay (Ronan Heffernan, editor) and Broward County (Jason Knight, editor) are award finalists for both their newsletters and their Web sites, and Tampa Bay is also a finalist for its calendar.  So, congratulations to those two groups.

I have just returned from the September AMC meeting in Dallas.  For those of you who have always wondered what we do at AMC meetings, here are the highlights of what we discussed:

We had a presentation about the LocSec leadership development session held at the Reno AG. Overall, it was a positive experience; the locsecs who attended said they considered it valuable. There was some discussion about expanding it to include local group treasurers and possibly utilizing RVCs more. Some specific changes will be made to the program based on the experience in Reno and it will be continued.

We have a strategic plan in place for the long-term growth of American Mensa. Since it is a couple of years old, we went over it line by line to talk about what should be kept and what should be rewritten. Several sections of it are going to be re-written, either because it's not strategic, is duplicative of stuff that appears elsewhere, or is not a well-written statement of our vision and goals. There will be more on this at our meeting in December.  It is available on our Web site if anyone wants to review it, or I can send a copy to anyone who is interested.

An evaluation that has been done on all of the services and programs that we offer, with an eye to determining which of them have outlived their usefulness, which are not needed, and which should be reconstructed. The national office will have specific recommendations to make at the December meeting.

We took up a motion to put on next year's election ballot a proposal to amend the bylaws so that there would be a way for members to recall RVCs; at the present time, there is no such provision and no way to remove an RVC for cause. There were AMC members on both sides of the issue with strong feelings about it.  In the end, it received a majority of AMC votes but not the necessary 2/3 majority to put it on the ballot for the next election.  I voted yes.

We then took up a couple of housekeeping provisions that mostly involved changing our bylaws to conform to state law or to our actual practice; both passed with little discussion and no opposition.  They will be on next year's ballot.  The RVC replacement provision that I discussed in last month's column passed, though not without opposition.

Mel Dahl
Regional Vice Chair

September 2012

It's September, so it must be time for another discussion about RVC replacement.

To bring everyone up to speed, once upon a time, if an RVC did not complete a term, the rest of the AMC would fill the vacancy until the next regular election.  About five years ago now, our counsel determined that this violated the law of New York, the state in which Mensa is incorporated.  So, as of now, there is no way to fill a vacancy if an RVC dies, resigns, moves out of the region, or otherwise doesn't complete his or her term.  If I were to be hit by a truck, Region 10 would simply not have voting representation on the AMC until the next regularly scheduled election.  And while the last two terms have been relatively stable in terms of people not leaving, there have been several instances in which RVCs did leave early, including one region that lost two RVCs in a single term.

There have been three different attempts to amend the bylaws to provide for filling an RVC vacancy on the AMC.  All three of them received majority support of the members, but none of them received the necessary two-thirds vote needed

to amend the bylaws.  These attempts included a change that would have had a special election in the affected region (which many felt was too expensive), and a change that would have had the locsecs in a region elect an RVC replacement (which was objected to on various grounds).

At our July meeting in Reno, the RVCs as a group discussed the matter among ourselves, and have agreed on a plan which is being submitted to the AMC at our September meeting.  It's not perfect, but given that none of the other alternatives has succeeded, it will at least provide a temporary fix.

The proposal is that if there is an RVC vacancy, the other RVCs will sit down with a map and temporarily assign responsibility for the region to other RVCs.  So, for example, if I were no longer in the picture, part of Florida might temporarily be assigned to Region 5 (Bob Cox) and part of it might be assigned to Region 6 (Roger Durham).  Members who live in Florida would then have Bob or Roger as their voting representative on the AMC and would be able to contact Bob or Roger about anything of concern to them.  Bob and Roger would have administrative responsibility for Region 10, just as I do now.  And, at the next regular election, Region 10 would elect an RVC as it normally does, and would go back to having the same geographic boundaries it normally does.

As I said, it's not perfect, but it has the benefit of allowing the members in the affected region to have someone to look to for regional leadership until another election is held.  I intend to support it, though you, the members, will have the final word.  If the AMC approves the plan (and my preliminary nose counting is that the AMC most likely will), then it will be sent to the membership for a vote.

Mel Dahl
Regional Vice Chair

August 2012

The annual gathering was, as always, a great time, and I'm sorry all of you could not be there; the only negative part is that, as usual, I ate too much. The next three AGs are closer to home: Fort Worth next year, Boston the following year, and Louisville in 2015. I hope that will increase Florida's representation.

Meantime, I wanted to share an example of how even a small, struggling group can do well and have an impact. Sev-eral months ago, the longtime locsec for Gainesville Area Mensa retired after many years of faithful service, and no one immediately stepped forward to take her place. A couple of volunteers agreed to keep the doors open and lights on while I hunted for a long-term solution. Without for their doing so, the group would likely not have survived.

Assistant RVC Thomas Thomas and I hosted an organizational meeting at a Gainesville restaurant, at which an en-thusiastic corps of new local group leaders stepped forward to take over what by then was a struggling local group. Thanks to their enthusiasm and hard work, the group is now back in business.

Fast forward to the annual awards luncheon at Mensa's annual gathering in Reno.

To my pleasant surprise, Gainesville received a national award for having one of the best growth rates for a small local group anywhere in the country. (There are separate awards for small, medium and large groups, since it would obviously be unfair for a 200-member group to have to compete with an 800-member group.) You could have knocked me over with a feather when the award was announced.

So, how does a group go from being on life support to winning national recognition for membership growth? In this case, a few dedicated volunteers who were willing to take over leadership position and make good things happen.

My thanks to them, and my encouragement to everyone else to go and do likewise.

Mel Dahl
Regional Vice Chair

July 2012

Recently I had the pleasure of attending a presentation by American Mensa Chair Elissa Rudolph on Mensa International.  It is sometimes easy to forget here in the USA that we are part of an international organization and there is more to Mensa than "just us."

     Worldwide, Mensa is experiencing phenomenal growth.  There are fully-accredited national Mensa organizations in 28 countries, with provisional organizations in nine other countries and emerging Mensas in six more.  Other countries have expressed interest as well, with China being perhaps the most significant.   Mensa China has some hurdles to overcome because of government restrictions and regulations on private organizations, but we are well underway to resolving those issues.  All indications are that once we do, China, which places a high value on education, will present an enormous opportunity in terms of growth potential.

     Speaking as an American, one thing I find disappointing is that our numbers, as a percentage of our national population, are below those of some other countries.  The US, with a population of about 311 million, has approximately 160 Mensans per million.  By contrast, Finland has 487 Mensans per million, the United Kingdom has 328 Mensans per million, and Holland has 248 Mensans per million.  I can't help but wonder if that may be because other countries place a higher value on education and intelligence than the United States does; in a place like Denmark (206 Mensans per million), having a high intelligence is something to be proud of; in the US, we still have serious discussions about whether it is a good idea to list Mensa on your resume (and cut school math and science budgets).

     Mensa, of course, means different things to the members of different countries; not all cultures build local groups around First Friday dinners or games nights.   And that, I think, is one of the nicer things about Mensa:  Its ability to adapt to the culture.  We see that to a certain extent even within Region 10; local cultures differ from one local group to another.  But the ability of Mensans to make their local groups into something that serves local needs is a feature, not a bug.

Mel Dahl
Regional Vice Chair

June 2012

I am pleased to announce that, despite a sluggish economy, Region 10 is holding its own in terms of growth and member retention.  Tampa Bay Mensa is the only local group in all of American Mensa to have gained members every year for the past six years; Broward County Mensa succeeded in not losing any members over the past six years (and was one of the few local groups nationally to accomplish that feat).

I single out Gainesville for special praise; a year ago it was having leadership issues; thanks to the dynamic leadership of its new locsec and membership officer (with logistical support from Assistant RVC Thomas Thomas) it is now one of the fastest-growing small groups in American Mensa, with a 7.5% annual growth rate.

As much as I would like to claim credit for these numbers, I really can't, because they are mostly due to the fantastic teams of local leaders that make the Region 10 groups warm and welcoming.  As usual, Orlando and Northwest Florida Mensa put on magnificent RGs, and Space Coast and Broward do a fine job of tag-teaming fun and interesting RGs on alternating years.  Sarasota continues to put out an award- winning newsletter and hold dinner events that, when I've attended, have felt more like old friends than anything else.  Southwest Florida does creative things like team with the local biker group to raise money for scholarships; West Palm hosts dinner meetings specifically directed at new members. 

When I last visited Tallahassee, the group went on an outing to the local science museum and saw an interesting presentation on astronomy, followed by dinner.  Jacksonville has well-attended and much-looked-forward-to monthly potlucks with the type of speakers that remind me why I joined Mensa:  To meet up with interesting people for interesting conversation.

I'm expecting great things from Miami this year as well.  Miami has a new excom in place that promises to take one of the oldest and most venerable local groups in American Mensa and make it great again.  I look forward to seeing the results.

As always, it has been a true privilege and high honor to serve the people of Region 10 as RVC.  By the time this appears in print I will be in the last year of my last term; I will leave office knowing that the Region is in good hands because it is in the hands of the local leaders that make it such a special  place.

Mel Dahl
Regional Vice Chair

May 2012

This month, I want to continue last month's discussion about money.  As with probably all organizations, Mensa has more things it would like to spend money on than it has funds available, so choices have to be made.  Every year the Finance Committee, which presents a budget to the AMC for approval, has to make hard choices between worthy things on which to spend membership dues.  That means making a lot of tough choices.  Do we put more money into marketing and recruitment to attract new members, or do we spend the same funds on taking care of the members we have now?  Do we hire a new staff person who can help the local groups, or use the same funds to directly help local groups ourselves? 

At our March 31 meeting, the AMC approved a budget that conservatively projects a membership of 56,600 and ends the year $55,000 in the black.  (Before anyone asks, I am not publishing the current membership number for comparison because it is the beginning of the renewal season, which means that our numbers are temporarily low until renewals actually start coming in.  However, if anyone wants current membership information, you can find it, updated daily, on our Web site at http://us.mensa.org/lead/planning/dashboard/membershipdashboard/).

In order to do that, we had to suspend building equity for the year.  Should we have gone in the red and continued to build equity, or should we save money for a rainy day at the cost of needed programs?  There are good arguments for all sides.

I voted for that budget; not all my colleagues did.  There was honest and good-faith disagreement over some of the priorities in the budget.  Overall, I think the Finance Committee mostly got it right and I commend them for their hard work.

Finally, we also voted to change our investment policy.  Our investment policy has been 100% safe bonds.  That guarantees that we won't lose money, but it also means our rate of return is nothing to write home about.  We asked our brokerage firm to advise us, and they sent two representatives to give us a briefing.  We will now allow a small portion  of our funds to be invested in money market funds.  This will still be a very conservative approach, but we should see more money coming in as a result.

Finally, the Finance Committee is taking a look at the dues structure, and the treasurer has asked me to poll readers on this question:

"What would your members think about a steady increase in dues every year? For example, what if dues went up by $2.00 each year, or alternatively, 3% rounded to the nearest dollar. Is there another logical method that they would like to see?"

Please give the idea some thought, then email me at mel_dahl@hotmail.com with your ideas and suggestions.

Mel Dahl
Regional Vice Chair

April 2012

By the time this appears in print, the AMC's March 31 meeting in Dallas will have taken place. This month, I would like to talk about a motion that is on the agenda that I will not be supporting, even though at first blush it has some appeal.
     Two of my colleagues brought a motion requiring that a minimum of 1/3 of all membership dues be sent back to the local groups, with the requirement that local groups be required to spend it or not receive further money. The rationale for the motion is that people are more likely to join and renew if local groups have lots of fun activities, so funneling a significant chunk of dues money back to the local groups (and not allowing them to bank it) makes it far more likely that local groups will have the kind of fun activities that people want. So, who could possibly object to that?

Well, me.

Here's the problem: In order to return that amount of money to the local groups, programs and services would have to be severely cut at the national level. From an administrative standpoint, Mensa could not survive without a national office to send out and process renewals, troubleshoot problems that local groups are having, provide know-how and technical support to local groups, market the organization, and do the multitude of other things that most members don't see but would certainly notice in a hurry if they disappeared. The logistical support from our national office that goes into making an annual gathering happen would, if gone, be a disaster for putting on a successful AG. In the absence of a funded national office (or a severely reduced national office), these things either would not happen, or volunteers would have to pick up the slack.

I continue to believe that many of the best things about Mensa happen at the local group level. My favorite part of my job is visiting the local groups and seeing all the creative ways that they meet the needs of their members. But eviscerating national programs is not the way to support local groups. Even though this motion is superficially appealing, I can't support it. Nor, I believe, will a majority of the rest of the AMC.

Mel Dahl
Regional Vice Chair

March 2012

It probably comes as no  surprise that when the recession hit, Mensa membership numbers dropped.  When people have less discretionary income, activities like Mensa are the first to go.

One would have expected membership numbers in Florida, where the recession has been particularly nasty, to have dropped like a rock.  They didn't. 

While membership numbers are slightly down in Mensa nationwide, Florida has been the exception.  Our numbers are actually up. 

I recently had a conversation with one of the locsecs here in Florida about why that might be.  He thinks, and I agree with him, that it might have something to do with the way so many of the local groups here in Florida go out of their way to engage members.

With a dozen local groups, some will naturally be more active than others, but overall there is no real shortage of Mensa-related things to do.  Look at Mensa newsletter calendars throughout Florida and there are almost nonstop opportunities to eat, play games, have book discussions, go on outings, hear interesting speakers (and I don't only mean when the RVC is in town), and join in other fun and exciting events.  Many of our groups have membership officers who contact new members and make sure they feel welcome. 

In other words, you are the secret to the success of Region 10.  By "you," I mean local officers who keep the groups running and the members engaged.  I mean the members who introduce themselves to new people and make them feel welcome.  I mean the editors who put out high quality newsletters with calendars. 

All of you play an important role in our ability to recruit and retain members.  And I thank all of you for your good work. 

Keep it up!

Mel Dahl
Regional Vice Chair

February 2012

If anyone has been looking for a chance to volunteer to do something that won't be a long-term commitment but will allow you to make a big difference, I have just the opportunity for you.

Every two years, Mensa has a national election. That means that every two years, a nominating committee needs to be appointed to find and vet candidates for national office. Region 10 is entitled to three seats on the national nominating committee, which means I am looking for volunteers.

The NomComm has a face-to-face meeting at the annual gathering before the election, which will be in Reno this July. So, in order to be appointed to the NomComm, you should be planning to attend the the AG. All candidates for national office -- chair, the first and second vice chairs, secretary, treasurer, and all regional vice chairs -- are invited to a face to face meeting with the NomComm to explain their qualifications and why they think they would be good candidates. The NomComm also actively recruits candidates for national office in the event that there is difficulty in finding candidates to run.

Maybe you lack the time to volunteer for Mensa on a regular basis, but you could give us a few hours at the AG to help select the people who will govern Mensa for the next two years. Whether Mensa is well-run or poorly-run depends in large part on who is in leadership. One of the perks of being a member of the AMC is the ability to get to know most of Mensa's national leaders, and overall I am mightily impressed by what I see. I hope that we will continue to have strong leaders who move the organization forward. To that end, if you would like to serve on the NomComm, please contact me as soon as possible.

Until next time.

Mel Dahl
Regional Vice Chair

January 2012

 January is a time for new beginnings, and I want to urge all local groups to do something: Make a special point of using social media -- Facebook, Twitter, etc. -- to publicize your group, and especially your events.

     At the last AMC meeting, we passed a resolution urging local groups to use social media. The average age of new members is 31, which means that most new members use social media to get most of their social information. Thousands of people join Facebook every second -- not every day, but every second. In fact, for Gen X and all those younger, it is difficult to exaggerate the place social media has in keeping them informed and in touch with their friends.

     It's hard for an old fossil like me (though I point out that Thomas Thomas is even older) to appreciate just how significant social media is. But the younger Mensans, and younger prospective Mensans?  They get it.

     Last year we published a study that found that the primary reason people don't renew their membership in Mensa was a lack of local group events. I have to wonder how many of those local groups actually had events and the members just didn't know about them. Maybe not, but it's at least something to wonder about as we work on member retention.

     And, it isn't only the locsec and calendar editor who can put stuff on- line. Any member who knows about an event is welcome to tweet or like or otherwise publicize it. And if you don't know how to use social media, there are other Mensans who do and who will be delighted to show you.
     I wish a happy, healthy and prosperous 2012 to all of you.

Last year we published a study that found that the primary reason people don't renew their membership in Mensa was a lack of local group events. I have to wonder how many of those local groups actually had events and the members just didn't know about them. Maybe not, but it's at least something to wonder about as we work on member retention.

And, it isn't only the locsec and calendar editor who can put stuff on-line. Any member who knows about an event is welcome to tweet or like or otherwise publicize it. And if you don't know how to use social media, there are other Mensans who do and who will be delighted to show you.

I wish a happy, healthy and prosperous 2012 to all of you.

Mel Dahl
RVC10@us.mensa.org

 


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