American Mensa Region 10
RVC Columns: 2013
On December 7, the American Mensa Board of Directors meeting will be hosted by Palm Beach County Mensa here in Region 10, at the Hilton Palm Beach Airport. There are a number of motions on the agenda this quarter, on topics including changes to the Handbook Development process, AG Registration rates, establishing Regional Ombudsmen, amendments to the weapons motion from the previous meeting, uniformed security for the Annual Gathering, differentiating Arbitrators from Ombudsmen in Local Groups, and changing the way members may participate in Board meetings. Details on these motions, on other programs for the day, and Board and Committee Reports can be found on the American Mensa website at LEAD > Board of Directors > Meeting Reports (select the top meeting: 2013-12-07 -- West Palm Beach, FL.)
I hope to see many of you at the meeting, as having it in our Region gives you an opportunity to see the Board and Committees in action. However, even if you cannot make the meeting, you can still participate via a number of available channels:
AML COMMUNITY -- Otherwise known as the Community Forums, this is linked to the AML website at CONNECT > Online Community, or you can go there directly at community.us.mensa.org. Under the Forums tab, there is a category called "Mensa and You", and one of the six categories there is "Mensa Matters", where many discussion threads can be found regarding Mensa governance and current topics for the Board of Directors.
American Mensa Facebook Group -- While it's easy to get lost in the wide variety of topics on this page, there are also a good number of participants discussing governance topics. I confess it's not for the thin-skinned, as the group is not moderated, but many people do enjoy the spirited banter.
Region 10 Facebook group -- This one I set up specifically for members of our Region to discuss topics of general interest to our region, as an avenue for input for national topics, and to promote various events such as Regional Gatherings or special local group events such as games weekends or local group anniversaries.
Finally, if you want to send your input but do not want to participate in any of the available discussions, you can email me directly at the address below. I'm interested in your feedback!
Thomas George Thomas
At the American Mensa Board of Directors meeting on October 5, we voted on a motion which has gotten a lot of spirited attention. From the mini-minutes of the meeting:
"All functional weapons shall be prohibited from American Mensa Ltd. National events, such as Annual
Gatherings, Annual Business Meetings, Colloquium, Mind Games®, and AML Board meetings.
Sworn law enforcement officers are exempt from this policy. For purposes of this motion, a weapon is
any instrument, device or thing that is both
a) Capable of causing death or serious injury; and
b) Either i) Designed or specifically adapted for use as a weapon; or
ii) Possessed, carried, or used as a weapon.
The motion passed 10-9-1."
The motion had been submitted by LaRae Bakerink and Roger Durham on behalf of the Risk Management Committee, of which I am also a member. This was a controversial motion, resulting in substantial and respectful discussion during the meeting, with pros and cons on many aspects. (If there were only one correct answer, of course there would be no controversy.) I did not know going into the meeting how I was going to vote on the motion, since there were strong points to be made on all positions, though I did raise my concern about reputational risk to Mensa if law enforcement had to be summoned due to an incident at one of our national events, at which the press is present every year.
But the argument that finally swayed me related to an earlier discussion on litigation, which Interpretive Counsel Mark Silverstein presented on the topic of disclosure and evidence. The question raised in this situation centered on our liability. In the event of a civil lawsuit brought about as a result of a weapons incident at one of our national events, this question would certainly have come up if we had not passed this motion: "You considered this possibility, and had the opportunity to take preventative action, but you did nothing." If this motion had not been brought, this would not have been a point in court, but having been raised, I felt there was no option but to vote in favor of the motion.
One thing that most of the board agreed upon was that this was NOT a political position, despite the characterization by many members before and after the meeting. American Mensa takes no position on whether weapons can or should be carried in general, nor does it hold an opinion on any Federal, State or Local weapons laws, pro or con. We do, however, hold positions on internal policy matters. For the time being, that includes whether members may bring weapons into official American Mensa events, and that position is NO.
The next meeting of the American Mensa Board of Directors will be on December 7 in West Palm Beach. It is open to all Mensans.
Thomas George Thomas
Over this past Labor Day weekend I attended the bi-annual Broward Mensa RG (this year called "Suite 16") in Ft. Lauderdale. As usual, it was a fun event at a beautiful facility. They drew approximately 150 members from across the state and country, and Mensans were spilling out of the hospitality area into the lovely atrium for games and socializing.
There was a crowded scholarship auction, which raised $2,500 for the Joe Vitale Scholarship Fund.
The presentations were very well attended. The crowd at Dr. Stan Cohen's talk about his relationship with Albert Einstein was the largest I've seen outside of an Annual Gathering. They dedicated a full day to a Mensa Kids' Track, with terrific attendance, while the adults participated in presentations, tournaments, and of course the auction.
Kudos to Robin Rhea, Kris Martin, Jackie Callaghan, Micki Hawn, Laura Peralta, Christina Westerberg, and the dozens of volunteers who made the event a success.
No Mensa event, large or small, happens without the volunteers. The newsletters don't get put together, the calendars don't get filled, the events don't get hosted, the on-line communities don't get material -- none of this happens unless there are volunteers to do them. And all of these volunteers (or their family members) are dues-paying members just like you and me -- they don't get paid (though most groups do reimburse expenses on authorized events).
However, while no group has enough volunteers, every group has a pool of potential volunteers. That would be YOU. Volunteering doesn't have to be an onerous task. It could be as simple as offering to join a calling tree to get word out about an event, or designing a postcard to reach out to lapsed members or prospects, or setting up chairs at a meeting, or becoming certified as a Proctor (did you know that Mensa considers that a "solid investment" in Testing includes at least one proctor for every 100 members?).
Contact your volunteer local group board members, whose contact information is elsewhere in this newsletter. Ask them what you can do to help, or if there is something you would like to do, offer that. The strongest groups are the ones with the most participation. Be part of the success of your group!
I'll be attending the American Mensa Board of Directors meeting in early October. The agenda has been posted at http://www.us.mensa.org/meetingreports under the 2013-10-05 -- Irving, TX dropdown. I would like to hear any questions or comments you may have about the agenda.
Thomas George Thomas
American Mensa is continually seeking out new benefits for its membership. In the most recent Mensa Bulletin, for example, two new member benefits were announced: discounts on HP computers and products, and discounts on LifeBound study materials. These are in addition to 31 other benefits listed on the American Mensa website ( us.mensa.org/benefits ), including a variety of discounts on car rentals, hotels, educational materials, magazine subscriptions, insurance and more, plus the Mensa Store for a variety of Mensa-branded merchandise. The Mental Floss subscription alone saved me $28 off the price I'd been paying.
Now this is all very nice, and a careful shopper could probably earn enough discounts to offset the cost of their membership. But frankly, none of those influenced my decision to join Mensa, nor, I suspect, were they a factor in your decision to join. For me, the best benefit of belonging to Mensa is its membership.
The most tangible aspect of that, of course, is the social setting. Dinners, game nights, speaker evenings, picnics and socials, and of course, the Regional and Annual Gatherings, all provide opportunities to meet other members face-to-face. But fewer than half of our members take advantage of those opportunities. Members have expressed varied reasons for this: the distances are too great; the activities are not at convenient times or are not interesting; they don't really like socializing; or many others.
Fortunately, alternate opportunities to connect with other members in new ways are continually growing. I already discussed social networking in last month's column. Another great way to expand beyond the limits of your local group is to take advantage of the Local Group Newsletter repository on the American Mensa website ( us.mensa.org/newsletters ). There are recent issues online from 96 of the 132 Local Groups in American Mensa, and many of them have substantial items of interest. Just picking five issues at random, I find:
MENSAGENDA (Minnesota Mensa) had columns about many of their Special Interest Groups (SIGs) as well as numerous regular columns;
Redwood Mpire News (Redwood Empire Mensa) also had interesting monthly member columns and reprints from member blogs;
"The As Yet Un-renamed Newsletter" (formerly Sally Hemings Memorial Newsletter of Thomas Jefferson Mensa) had an article about an interesting local event called a "Corn Boil" which read like a one-day Regional Gathering, plus a Geo Trivia photo series;
MIND (Central Indiana Mensa) had a poetry page and again, regular member columns, and
Oracle (Orange County Mensa) had a puzzle page and once again, local member columns.
Sensing a pattern here? You can participate without attending meetings by writing a column for your local newsletter, or just enjoying what others are already providing -- as full members, you aren't restricted to your local group!
Let me know of any ideas you may have, or any topics you would like me to cover in future columns.
Thomas George Thomas
I've just returned from my first American Mensa Committee (AMC, or Board of Directors) meeting at the 2013 Annual Gathering in Fort Worth. With a stunningly large turnover of new Board officers, we spent a lot of time in orientation and standard business (approving minutes, appointing committee chairs and action committees, reviewing the financial statements, etc.). There were also presentations to the Board, and the one I want to focus on this month is the one on Mobile Tech and Local Groups.
Andrew Heffernan (RVC 1) and Heather Poirier (1st Vice-Chair) showed us a video about the emergence, ubiquity and generational usage of various social and mobile networking platforms, and discussed ideas on how to keep local groups engaged through the use of mobile technology. (You can see the video for yourself at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUCfFcchw1w).
Because there are so many varying opinions on this topic, the discussion focused on measurable statistics, steering away from anecdotes and opinions. We came away with an understanding that if American Mensa is going to grow we'll have to find more ways to take advantage of the latest tools, which are mainly directed towards younger members. This is a generalization, of course; your mileage may vary. I'm not one of the younger members, but even I had three mobile devices on the table in front of me during the presentation --a smartphone, an iPad, and a laptop.
As a result of this, a Local Group Logistics Team has been
established to coordinate information, best practices, and technology templates
for use by local groups. LaRae Bakerink (2nd Vice Chair) will be the Chairperson
of this team.
Combining the mobile tech strategy with our Local Groups and Communications, I've established a Facebook site Mensa Region 10. Search for "Mensa Region 10," or go to http://www.facebook.com/groups/641128319231852/). There are 44 members in this group so far but it is open to all Region 10 members: a forum for discussing upcoming events around the region such as the Broward RG or the Tampa Games Weekend. This will supplement the nine known Local Group Facebook groups in Region 10 (I'll be contacting the remaining four groups over the next month to see how they may take advantage of this tool for their own membership). Drop me a line if you are interested in any of these, or if you have any other topics you would like to discuss.
This month we welcome our newly elected Regional Vice Chair, Thomas George Thomas, whose initial monthly message appears below.
One of the duties of the Regional Vice Chairman (RVC) is to report on the business of American Mensa to the Local Groups. However, even though I will have taken office as of the publication date of the newsletter you are reading, as of this writing I have not yet attended my first American Mensa Committee (AMC) meeting as RVC. Such are the oddities of a monthly publication schedule.
I can report, however, that there was one final teleconference meeting of the AMC between Mel Dahl's last column and now. The main focus of that agenda was to institute changes in the responsibilities of the Nominating Committee for candidates for national office. Two of the changes require amendments to the bylaws and will be passed to a referendum of the membership, while several other amendments to the ASIEs (Actions Still In Effect) were passed: Adding three past members of the AMC to the Nominating Committee, shortening the nomination and election periods, changing the structure of the Nominating Committee sessions at the Annual Gathering, publicizing the Call for Candidates, changing the requirements for First Vice Chair and Second Vice Chair, encouraging the Nominating Committee to suggest alternative offices for good candidates, and defining the task of the Nominating Committee as a selective body. This last one is somewhat controversial, in that it directs the Nominating Committee to select the single best candidate for office, allowing for two nominees only if they are equally qualified. Some have opined that this will unfairly imply that petition candidates are less qualified than those who are nominated by the committee.
Since I was not present at the teleconference (not having taken office yet), I do not have the detailed rationale for these decisions. There may be compelling reasons for passing these, though at first glance some of them seem overly restrictive to me. One of my goals in the next two years is to identify new leaders in Region 10 who will be qualified and interested in stepping up for national positions in the future. It would feel presumptuous for me to focus on a single individual, grooming them for a position to the exclusion of others, but this is how the AMC action strikes me. Of course, once I have a better sense of what drives these sorts of actions I will be better able to report them to you.
This month I will be hosting a Meet and Greet for Region 10 at the Annual Gathering at 9:00 am on Saturday, July 6. Apologies to those who, like me, are not early birds, but the schedule for this year is tightly packed and this is what they had available! Any of you who attend the AG are assured of a good time. If you are not able to make the Annual Gathering this year, make plans to attend the Broward Mensa Regional Gathering (FLoRanGe 16 -- Suite 16) on Labor Day weekend. I've been to several of their RGs and they put on a good party.
The time has come for all good things to come to an end, and that includes the privilege of having been your RVC for the past four years. Thank you for the trust you placed in me in allowing me to serve you. It has been a great experience. I've learned a lot; I've loved meeting members and attending events; and I've enjoyed being able to help people and groups with issues as they have arisen.
Overall, the region is in good shape, and I'm sure Thomas Thomas will make it even better. He has superb local group leaders to work with, and one thing I have learned is that it is local group leaders who truly make Mensa a great place for its members. An RVC can only do so much; it's the local leaders who determine whether members will keep coming back or not. And Region 10 has some of the finest leaders I've ever been privileged to work with.
If anyone needs anything that I can help with, please feel free to let me know, even after I leave office. I will look forward to seeing you at RGs and other local group events. Thanks, one and all, for all that you do.
At the last AMC meeting, we had three discussion items that, in my view, are all parts of a larger issue: How do we connect members with other members who share the same interests? We heard an interesting presentation from our national SIG coordinator, Barbara Kryvko; our national membership officer gave a talk on how local groups can make new members feel welcome; and RVC-1 Andrew Heffernan and Heather Poirier spoke to us about the use of mobile technology to keep members in touch with one another.
Mensa has both local groups, based on geography, and special interest groups, based on common interests. Thus, a Mensan who lives in Miami and is interested in gardening, politics and travel, has two ways to meet other Mensans: Through local group activities, and through joining a Mensa special interest group devoted to gardening, politics or travel. Over the years, I have made many friends by both methods, and I encourage other Mensans to do the same. Look through our SIG list, available on the national Web site, to see which groups might interest you, and attend local group events to meet other local Mensans. Or, if you have an interest but we don't already have a SIG for it, start one. I will be more than happy to put you in touch with the necessary people to get your SIG formally recognized as a Mensa group.
At one time, there was a one-SIG per subject rule, which meant that if there was already a history SIG, nobody could start another one. We have come to realize that free market competition can be a good thing, so that rule has been repealed. If you're not happy with the direction in which a SIG to which you belong is going, feel free to start another one.
And this brings us to the subject of mobile technology. Once upon a time, members learned of Mensa events through print newsletters only; thanks to social media it is now possible to plan a spur of the moment event and have a dozen people show up for it. This is very exciting, because as it becomes easier and easier for people to stay in touch, spontaneity will allow for far more opportunities to meet up. This is a good thing.
I'm excited about the direction mobile technology is taking and I'm looking forward to seeing its use expand. In the meantime, opportunities to be social have exploded; please take advantage of them. Other people look forward to meeting you.
Clarifying it all for you . . . From time to time, an issue comes up with respect to the Mensa name and logo: When may individuals use the Mensa name and logo?
In general, the Mensa name and logo may only be used for official Mensa events and products. The fact that someone is a member of Mensa does not entitle them to put the Mensa logo on their business Web site, or to use the Mensa name to sell their product.
There are two reasons for this, and both of them should be fairly obvious. First, Mensa itself makes money from licensing the Mensa name, and so we need to be careful not to dilute the trademark. Second, Mensa has no way of policing individual member business transactions; if someone is selling a bad product, we don't want to risk our reputation by hav-ing our name associated with it.
Local groups are, of course, free to use our name and mark for official events, such as local group functions, regional gatherings, local newsletters, and the like. And so, there are two clear black and white areas, but what about the gray ones?
Some local groups raise money for themselves or their scholarship or other efforts by teaming with local members who are also in business. It's a mutually beneficial relationship; the local group gets to raise money, and the member gets good advertising for his or her business. Who could object? Well, someone can always be found to object, and there are a few rules the local group needs to follow:
First, make sure that the product or service being offered really is something Mensa can be proud to be affiliated with; reputations can take years to rebuild.
Second, make sure the local excom is on board; no individual member can claim local group authorization if it hasn'tactually been authorized by the local group.
Third, make sure that any advertising is crystal clear that this is an official event sanctioned by the local group. And any questions, ask!
It's an election year, and I'm doing something I've never done before: Publicly urge all members of Region 10 not just to vote, but to vote for a particular candidate for chair. I'm doing so because it's even more important this year
than ever before. American Mensa is at a crossroads, and this election will determine which path the organization takes over the next two or four years.
The two candidates for chair could not be more different in both substance and style. I have served on the AMC with both of them, and I like both of them personally. But they have very different views on where Mensa should go and how it should get there, and in my view, only one of them has the necessary policy vision and experience to effectively lead us.
There are two things a chair needs: Good ideas, and an understanding of how to implement them. The best of ideas are useless if the person offering them is unable or unwilling to do the hard work of making them happen. Organizational leadership requires attention to detail and the understanding that stuff only gets done if leaders are willing to actually do the hard work of governance.
Dan Burg has demonstrated over and over again that not only is he a skilled leader with good ideas, but he is willing to master the details and shepherd projects through to completion. As RVC, and as a former member of the Bylaws Committee, I have seen him patiently and thoroughly work with local groups on bylaws issues. I have also been impressed at his mastery of financial, policy and constitutional facts and nuances in AMC meetings. No one has ever been able to accuse him of lack of preparation, on both major policy issues and relatively minor matters. In contrast, his opponent supported a major policy initiative, and when the AMC debated it, candidly admitted that he had not thought it through, did not know any of the details about how it would be implemented, and intended to leave those details to others. That is not the way to run a major organization.
I have not always agreed with Dan on every policy matter that has ever come before the AMC, but I've never doubted his work ethic, his thoroughness, and his willingness to learn everything there is to know about whatever issue we are discussing. I've spoken with him about his long term vision for the organization, and I like what I hear. So, I hope that all of you will not only vote this year, but vote for Dan. He is, in my judgment, definitely the right man for the job.
One of the positive things that has happened in Region 10 since I became RVC is that we have more proctors, and that includes one local group and one region within a group that have proctors that did not used to. Since most people get into Mensa by taking the test, this is good news, and I encourage all local groups to get as many people to test as possible.
There's something else I am asking members, and local groups, to do: Think about the next generation of proctors. In many groups, there is only one proctor; if that person were to decide to retire from proctoring, or move away, or otherwise no longer doing it, that group would not have a means to test candidates. It's nice to have a back-up plan.
I am encouraging all local groups to identify people who would be good proctors, and encourage them to become proctors. By the same token, I am encouraging all members who think they might enjoy being proctors to contact their locsec. As a proctor myself, it's a volunteer job that's a lot of fun. You get to meet prospective members and be their first introduction to Mensa. You get to answer their questions about what Mensa is like and how much of a good time they'll have by joining. You get to try to guess, as people are taking the test, who is going to pass and who likely won't. It is far and away one of the more fun jobs I have in Mensa.
The requirements are that a proctor must have a college degree. Some teaching experience is desired but not required; teaching experience will cut in half the amount of time it takes to become certified as a proctor, but the only non-negotiable is a degree. If you're unsure, ask your local group proctor to allow you to sit in on the next testing session.
And I have a funny story to tell about proctoring: I had figured out what I believe to be the correct answer to every question on the Mensa entrance exam, except for one, and it drove me crazy that I could not figure that one out. I would look at people's tests to see what other people had answered, and the candidates mostly all put the same answer, so I figured that was probably the correct answer, but could not figure out why. After months of driving myself batty trying to figure out why that was the correct answer, one day, after a test, I asked if there were any questions. One candidate raised her hand and said, "I think the answer to Question such-and-such is so-and-so because . . . Am I right?"
She pointed to the question I hadn't been able to figure out. Of course, her explanation was right. Mystery solved!
At our last AMC meeting, among other things we voted to endorse candidates for international office. American Mensa is part of Mensa International, and Mensa International has officers and board members. It is not uncommon for people running for international office to ask national Mensa organizations for their endorsement. And this brings us back to a topic I've discussed before in this space: American Mensa's role in an international organization.
American Mensa is the largest and wealthiest national Mensa by far. In fact, if American Mensans voted in international elections in any great numbers, we could pretty much run Mensa International. The reason this does not happen is because American Mensans vote in international elections in smaller numbers than almost any other national Mensa group, so we exert far less influence than we could. Accordingly, I encourage everyone to vote in the upcoming international elections.
One thing that was very educational for me was making a decision about whom to endorse for international development officer. Mensa is experiencing its greatest growth in countries in which Mensa is a new organization. In fact, if you look at growth numbers for older, established Mensas such as Britain, the United States and Canada, and then compare them to growth numbers for China, it is possible that at some point in the future, China could challenge other Mensa groups for membership and influence. We are nowhere near that point yet, and probably won't be for some time to come, but I could definitely see it as a possibility at some point in the future.
For that reason, it is especially crucial to have an international development officer, as well as an officer in charge of smaller national Mensas, who understands the importance of increasing our membership in places we haven't been before, and has the technical ability and skills to increase our market share.
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