American Mensa Region 10
RVC Columns: 2011
Last month I wrote a column about balancing safety with fun, and used as an example a recent change in policy by the AMC regarding the publication of local group directories.
Before I wrote the column, I inquired as to the previous policy, and wrote my column based on what I was told. I received a couple of emails from people who thought that my statement as to the previous rule was incorrect, so I inquired further, only to find that there is some confusion as to what the previous policy was. So, at this point I'm not really sure if I gave accurate information in my previous column or not.
Be that as it may, the new policy is as I stated it: Local groups are now free to do what they like in terms of pub-lishing directories, and individual members are free to in-clude as much or as little information about themselves as they like. And I hope none of this detracts from my under-lying point that we can't be so careful and safety-conscious that our joy disappears and we can't have fun being Mensans.
That leads me to another topic: Burnout. Mensa lead-ership -- local, regional and national -- all experiences it from time to time. Being a Mensa volunteer is a wonderful experience that I wouldn't trade for anything. (Well, maybe for winning lottery numbers and a body that's 30 years younger. Oh, and a romantic evening with Drew Brees. Plus a cat-free planet. But other than that, I wouldn‘t trade it for anything.) At the same time, it's a lot of work, and takes a lot of energy.
Sometimes it's inconvenient; sometimes one has to deal with annoying people. And every Mensa volunteer has probably wondered at one time or another why they bother. Then there's a really great First Friday or RG or games night, and it's worth it again.
When someone burns out, often there is someone else to pick up the slack. But sometimes there isn't. Some-times it's the same few people making things happen in a local group, and if one or two of them wear out, there really is no one else to take their place. This is especially a problem in smaller groups.
If you're never volunteered, or if you haven't volunteered in a while, please consider doing so. Mensa, as with most volunteer organizations, is run by the people who show up.
Ask your locsec how you can help; usually there's no shortage of things to be done if people are willing to do them. You'll get to meet some of the finest people on the planet, and be part of a family that does fun things togeth-er. Best of all, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that you helped make it happen.
Finally, I want to wish everyone a happy holiday season and a prosperous new year. Thanks for making me part of your family; you are all a part of mine.
At the last AMC meeting, the AMC took a vote on a narrow issue with broader implications that is important enough that I wanted to devote an entire column to it.
As a board, the AMC was again faced with trying to strike a balance between allowing local groups to do what they need to do to have fun activities while at the same time looking over our shoulder at potential liability if something goes wrong. It often isn't an easy balance to draw.
For years, most local groups published local group directories that allowed members to locate and contact one another. The benefit of such a directory is obvious: If someone wants to start an activity, like a dinner event or a theater event or a trip to the local science museum, it's nice to be able to contact other members in the geographic area and let them know about it. Activities are more fun if more people participate, and Mensa is more likely to keep members if there are fun things for them to do
A few years ago, the AMC voted to ban such directories over concerns about liability. What if a serial killer uses the directory to find new victims? What if someone uses it for harassment purposes, say, to aggressively pursue women who aren't interested in him (or worse, children). How about if someone with something to sell uses it to flood members' email inboxes with spam?
After several years with no local directories (or at least no legal local directories; as always some local groups ignored the directive and continued to publish them anyway), we took another look at the issue and decided to leave it as a matter of local option, with the provision that any individual member could decide how much personal information to put in the directory.
So, the new policy (for which I voted) is that a local group may publish a directory, but is not required to. If it chooses to do so, each member has the right to decide how much personal information to include.
Which brings us around to the broader question: How does the national office strike a balance between letting local groups decide what works best for them locally, versus not allowing local groups to get the national organization sued if something really, really bad happens as a result? It's not an easy question.
At one time, there was a bulletin board in which members looking to share rides to regional or national events could find one another. That no longer exists, due to liability concerns. We had a roommate matching service for those attending AGs; that no longer exists either.
In my opinion, Mensans are grown ups who can decide for themselves if they know someone well enough to accept or offer a ride to the next RG. At the same time, the occasional crazy does find their way into Mensa and it would be naive to pretend otherwise.
My view is that if we never do anything that could potentially cause a problem, we'd never do anything. We'd never have monthly dinners or game nights or even AGs. So we can't allow our fears to cripple us; if we're going to make this an enjoyable place for everyone, we have to take some risk.
At the same time, be careful. Take the same precaution with Mensans you don't know that you would with others you don't know. Get to know people in public venues before inviting them to join you in private ones.
I just came back from a magnificent RG in Fort Lauderdale in which I spent a weekend with Mensans doing fun things together and enjoying one another's company. Fort Lauderdale put on a smash hit RG and great kudos go to the organizers and volunteers.
Then I got home to find that a Mensa e-list I'm on is on the verge of collapse because three people who don't like each another very much have been engaging in a non-stop flame war that has driven most of the other participants away. It's a shame, too, because a great many interesting conversations used to take place on it.
All of which shows that spending time with Mensans can be enormously rewarding, or a huge pain in the neck. (I realize the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive.)
In my time as RVC, I have rarely had to deal with problem members of the disruptive variety. The few incidents there have been were minor and quickly resolved. Other RVCs have not been so fortunate, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the members in my region for what has, for the most part, been a peaceful and harmonious tenure as RVC.
At the same time, nobody is loved by everybody; each of us has a personality that somebody else finds less than optimal. And when that happens, I would urge everyone to try to view the other person in the best possible light rather than the worst. Try to see their point even if you don't agree; try to understand that they are a product of their past, and above all, try to remember that very few people are really and truly evil.
Good people and evil people exist in the movies; in real life most of us are a mix of both and it's a bit more complicated.
I love being in Mensa because it has allowed me to meet and work with some of the best people I've ever known. If you think of other people in that light, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Mensa has just completed the most extensive survey it has ever taken of its members to determine member satisfaction and ask people what they want out of Mensa.
In February 2010, surveys were mailed to 10,000 members (or about 17% of our 58,000 members). 1,379 people (14% of those surveyed, 2.3% of our total membership) responded.
Since the responses were self-selected by those who chose to return the survey it is not truly a random sample. Nevertheless, it is the largest survey taken of our membership to date. The results were published in the June 2011 Report of the Local Group Services & Funding Task Force, chaired by Robin Crawford. This document is available on-line at Mensa's Web site, http://www.us.mensa.org.
The survey contained predictable questions: Why did you join Mensa, and what were you hoping to get out of it? Did you get out of it what you were hoping to get out of it?
The answers were mostly what one would intuitively have expected even without taking a survey. Previous surveys had given us the wholly unsurprising information that the more actively one participates in Mensa activities, the more likely one is to be happy with one's Mensa membership, and also that the biggest worry for local group leaders is the lack of volunteers.
If that's all the information that this latest survey had given us, I'd probably file it away instead of devoting a column to it. The thing that makes this survey particularly valuable, in my opinion, is the fact that every one of the 1,379 people who responded were given an open-ended question: What service(s) do you want from your local group that is not listed on this survey?
And the recurring answer, over and over again, was: I live too far away from any activities; I wish I could get to local activities but they are an hour, two hours, three hours away from me.
In other words, we have a significant chunk of members who would like to attend local group events (and we know from earlier surveys that participation in local group events leads to increased satisfaction with Mensa membership) but live too far from the centers of their local groups to make it feasible for them to do so. The key to their satisfaction with Mensa membership is ease of attending local group events.
In Florida, we have several local groups that are fairly tightly compacted and finding an event nearby should not be a problem. We also have other groups that are more spread out and, in looking at the calendars for those groups, I can see that someone living at one end of the local group area very well might not be able to conveniently attend anything offered by local groups.
So, I am asking two things:
First, if you are a locsec/member of a local excom, please look at your calendar to see if all areas of your local group have events and, if not, please try to find someone willing to organize one.
Second, if you are a member who would like to attend local events but there is nothing near where you live, please consider organizing something yourself. I'm sure your local newsletter will be happy to give you space, and you can get email addresses for members in your area by going to the membership directory on our national Web site.
If you need logistical assistance, talk to your locsec or talk to me. Let's see if we can broaden the areas that have local events.
It was nice to see so many of you at the AG, and I hope that you have all made plans to attend next year's in Reno. I was in meetings for much of the AG but I did get to spend some time in hospitality and attending a few programs, so I enjoyed myself.
Two Florida local groups received recognition at the Awards Luncheon: Northwest Florida received an award for best Web site for a small group, and Micki Kaplan of Central Florida Mensa received an award for "AtomArtLife," an original piece of artwork she did for the July 2010 Flame. Congratulations to both of them.
And congratulations to the other Region 10 nominees; that you weren't selected for an award is a testament to how many superb contestants there were from all over the country and nothing to be ashamed of. As always, I was hugely impressed with the talent we displayed here in Region 10.
The new AMC met at the AG, and it was a fairly quiet, getting-to-know-you meeting. Our new treasurer, Nick Sanford, gave us a report on our investments and will be making some recommendations; Mensa is on solid ground financially with about $3 million in assets.
We confirmed West Palm Beach Mensan Brian Reeves as national communications officer, which means Florida now has three votes (out of 21) on the AMC. Personally, I'd like Florida to have about a dozen votes on the AMC but three is a good start. We're going to have a two-day planning meeting in Texas in September, which will be when we get down to work in earnest.
We use an outside vendor to count our election results. A vendor clerk did not enter part of the computer algorithm, which caused a miscount in two races, for First Vice Chair and for Treasurer. Unfortunately, the results were announced before the error was brought to light and the candidates were misinformed as to who had won. Once the vendor realized the error, the ballots were re-counted, the correct results were certified, and the correct winners were notified of their election.
Our Election Committee under, Maggie Truelove, did a superlative job under difficult circumstances not of their making; the fault was entirely with the outside vendor. This must have been especially difficult for the candidates who had erroneously been told they won, only to find that they had lost after all. I don't know that we will be using the same vendor for our future elections.
I look forward to seeing more of you as I continue to visit local groups; I will be at the Tampa annual summer event the first weekend in August and will be at Jacksonville's monthly potluck in September.
The votes are in, and I have been returned as RVC-10, your representative on the AMC. That result was expected since I had no opposition, but I still appreciate the trust and confidence you have placed in me. I look forward to serving you for the next two years.
On that note, the strong probability is that I will not be running again in two years. I may change my mind in the event of unusual circumstances, but at this point there is a 90% likelihood that I'm not running.
Part of it is that I don't think anyone should get too comfortable on the AMC; unless someone aspires to higher office (which I do not). I think the RVCs should reflect the grass roots and that's easier if the seat gets turned over every couple of terms or so.
Part of it is personal; I still have residual health issues and I'm back in school to make a career change.
But the reason I'm telling you this now, instead of waiting until closer to the next election, is so that the Region can have a nice, leisurely two years to think about and talk about who should be the next RVC.
It's been my pleasure to meet more of our local leadership throughout the Region and I can think of several people off the top of my head who would, in my opinion, make superb Regional Vice Chairs. But under our system of governance I don't get to anoint my successor. The job of deciding who should represent you belongs to you, the people of Region 10.
So, please start thinking about and talking about who that person should be. In the meantime, I look forward to serving you for another two years and will be available whenever and wherever I can help out.
Last month I talked about our national office and all the fine work they do. This month I want to talk about our local volunteers.
Three of our local newsletters -- Broward County's Brow Beat, Miami's Flamenco, and Manasota Mensa's 4-M -- have been nominated for national awards this year: The Brow Beat for Member Recognition, the Flamenco for best newsletter for a medium-sized group, and the 4-M twice, once for member recognition and once in competition with Miami for best newsletter for a medium- sized group. Manasota Mensa also received a nomination for its Website for best overall entertainment.
Northwest Florida Mensa's Website is up for three nominations: Overall presentation, overall entertainment, and best small group Web site. Broward Mensa's Web site has been nominated for best members section, and Central Florida's Website has been nominated for best large group Web site.
On the individual level, Deborah Freeland has been nominated for a national award for her piece, "Membership Director," that appeared in Central Florida Mensa's Flame. Micki Kaplan is also up for an award for her artwork, "AtomArt - Life," that was published in the Flame.
For a small Region, we've done very well in the nominations department, as we always do, and I'm proud of all of our publications, Websites and contributors. And we do not get results like that without dedicated, hard working and creative volunteers. Thanks to one and all. I couldn't be prouder to be your RVC!
As always, we are on the lookout for more dedicated, hard working and creative volunteers.
At the AMC meeting held in Atlanta on March 26 the AMC decided, over my no vote, to change the default for newsletters from print to electronic. So, let me explain what that means, both for individual members and for local groups.
Local groups have the option to offer their members delivery of the local group newsletter by electronic means if they choose to do so; no local group is required to offer electronic newsletter delivery.
When Mensa members renew their membership (or become members in the first place), they are asked if they prefer print or electronic newsletters. Up until now, unless someone specifically opts for electronic delivery, the default has been to send them print newsletters.
That has now changed. Going forward, if a local group offers electronic delivery, and if we have an email address on file for someone, the assumption will be that people get their newsletters electronically unless they specifically request print. (Some people get both, if their local groups allow that.) If an email address bounces, that member will go back to getting print newsletters.
And, since this is new, there will no doubt be bugs that need to be worked out.
Let me reiterate that if your local group is not one that offers electronic delivery, you aren't required to start. This simply means that if your local group does offer electronic delivery, you have to make a point of telling us if you want to remain a print subscriber. The whole point of this exercise is to save money on postage.
This means two things. First, you should check your profile on national's Web site to see if you are signed up for print or for electronic just to be sure that you are getting the delivery that you want. Second, if you want electronic delivery, make sure the email address shown on your profile is a valid email address for you.
One concern that I have is that people often change their email addresses without sending their new addresses to national, which means that your newsletter could be going to an address you no longer check.
Unless and until it bounces back, if you aren't signed up for print and the email address we have for you is an email address you haven't used in years, you may never see another newsletter. So, the onus is on each individual member to make sure that national has correct information as to your delivery preferences and email address.
Finally, this is an election year and you should all have received your ballots by the time this column appears in print. Please vote! Every national office race is contested this time. We tend to have low turnout in our elections, so your vote really does count.
With regard to the race for chair, we in Florida are lucky to have our national chair be one of us. Elissa is a member of the West Palm Beach group and is usually to be found at their local group events if you've always wanted to see what a Mensa national chair looks like. Having had the pleasure of serving on the AMC with her for the past two years, I feel very strongly that she is the best choice for chair and would urge all of you to vote for her. She has sent us in the direction of progress and needs another term to finish the work that she has started.
And I hope to see many of you in Portland at the AG.
First, I am pleased to announce that Dan Tobias of the West Palm Beach local group has graciously agreed to serve as Webmaster of the Region 10 Web site. Most of you probably don't know there is a Region 10 Web site and that is partly my fault for allowing other things to be higher priorities.
The URL is http://www.region10.us.mensa.org/ and I am asking all calendar and newsletter editors to immediately add Dan to their distribution list so he can get calendars and newsletters on the Web site. His email address is email@example.com and he has been doing a fantastic job as Webmaster for the West Palm local group.
Please contact Dan with any ideas, suggestions or contributions for the Web site. My goal is to have a one-stop Web site that will allow anyone in Region 10 to quickly find events, find other Mensans, chat, read great articles, and otherwise be glad they joined.
Second, in last month's column I asked for your input on whether the default for mailings should be changed from hard copy to electronic. I heard from you and the overwhelming majority of those who contacted me are against changing the default. So, as your representative, I will oppose it too.
Third and finally for this month, the AMC will meet March 26 in Atlanta, which date will already have come and gone by the time most of you read this. The primary subject for discussion will be the budget for the next fiscal year. I sent the proposed budget to all newsletter editors and LocSec and any member who wants to see it is welcome to contact me or any of them; the budget that actually passes will be on the national Web site shortly after the AMC meeting.
Overall, I think we are in pretty good shape, although as with other organizations we were hit by the recession. There had been fears that we would lose large numbers of members because of the recession, and we didn't. Testing and new membership mostly held steady. There are some projections in the proposed budget that strike me as perhaps too optimistic and I'm not sure the budget will pass in its current form, though if the treasurer is able to allay concerns about the projections, it may.
We've made some cosmetic cuts here and there to reflect a tighter cash flow, but member services are mostly still intact and at the same or even higher levels than before. Once the economy picks up again, we should be just fine.
Thanks for listening, everyone.
Inquiries: Dan Tobias, Webmaster - firstname.lastname@example.org
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