It has been said that the role of a leader is to define reality and say thank you. Reality for our chapter has a public face that is all about meeting our mission of promoting the profession of landscape architecture in Maryland through fellowship, advocacy, communication and education. It also has a private face, which is largely about amassing the human and monetary resources necessary to pull off the public side of things. Let me touch on these before I say a final thank you to you all.
1. Reality: The Public Face
Not to diminish in any way many outstanding activities that happened earlier in the year, we've had a couple of really great chapter events recently. First, let me recognize Ernest Maier, the sponsor of our recent golf outing, which raised over $4,000 for our scholarship and fellowship fund, our Trustee, Dennis Nola, who was the event's champion, and Paul Pestun, of the Ruppert Companies, the board member who was the chief organizer. Decline in landscape architecture program enrollments nationwide is a challenge that I have highlighted more than a few times in this column. Bringing attention to a problem is one thing. Taking action to address it is something different altogether. Thank you Ernest Maier, Dennis, Paul and the many members of our board who helped to put this together. A side benefit is the allied professionals who participated and came to know us a little better as a result. One of them wrote to me this week to say, "I hope to participate in the MDASLA scholarship fund raiser golf tournament for years to come."
A few days before the golf tournament, the Chapter hosted a showing of the film Hometown Habitat in space graciously provided by board member Eric Gilby and Vectorworks in Columbia. Thanks are owed to sponsors Brian Vavrina of BV Associates and Blue Water Baltimore. The champion of this event was JoAnn Trach-Tongson from Mahan Rykiel, who, with assistance from our Executive Director, Jennifer Kirschnick, was also its architect. I'm sure it will come as no surprise to you that the registrants for this really fantastic film event were largely not also participants in the Ernest Maier tournament. The great thing about these two events, one largely a fellowship effort and the other taking a more educational bent, is that they show the diversity of interests and needs that can exist and be met by our relatively small, mostly volunteer group.
2. Reality: The Private Face
On the private side of the equation lie our efforts to run the chapter without charging you all an arm and a leg to do so. For every nonprofit, there are three possible sources of revenue:
(1) earned income, i.e., what you earn from providing a service or from returns on your investments (e.g., endowments);
(2) government grants (largely not applicable to a 501(c)(6) like ours); and
(3) philanthropy (i.e., membership dues, other gifts from businesses (i.e., sponsorship) and individuals, and grants from foundations).
When you look at the best and most equitable ways for our chapter to increase revenues without charging a whole lot more for the services we provide, you find yourself focusing squarely on category (3), i.e., getting more members, getting better at bringing in sponsorship, and making separate asks of individuals.
On that latter score, I'm pleased to tell you that our summer appeal exceeded our expectations and the amount we budgeted. My heartfelt thanks to you for your generosity, which will go a long way to helping us deal with our need to deliver on our pledge to ASLA to name the green roof for the Md. Chapter, among other initiatives to which you chose to contribute.
On sponsorship, we have pledges that also have exceeded our budget for the calendar year, although cash collections so far are under projections. The place where things are really "sucking wind" in category 3, however, is membership. This worries me for several reasons. First, we've been very deliberate about tracking it monthly with the dashboard chart you see below and about following up with lapsed members.
The second and biggest reason that our inability to move the membership needle is troubling is because of what it says about us as a profession in Maryland. If your members aren't for you, how can you ask a sponsor to get behind you?
One explanation for the downward trend that was offered at a recent chapter meeting is that people "cherry pick" whether to pay for membership from year to year based on the likelihood that they will attend the national ASLA conference, since there is a substantial price discount for ASLA members. By extension, given that the ASLA conference is in California this year, the hypothesis is that some Maryland landscape architects are not paying for national/state membership in 2017 given the greater expense associated with traveling to the west coast. The more I have contemplated this, the more I have found myself reaching for the vodka bottle. Good grief! Truly? Do some people not see their role in a professional community more broadly than getting a reduced-priced ticket to a national conference?
In a previous life, I raised money for a college and one of the first questions I would get from a prospective funder is "what percentage of your alumni give to the institution?" It was important to be able to say, “at least 65%.” If you do the math on the chart above, you see that we have 57.3% of our prospect pool who are members currently. Clearly, we have some work to do on membership.
3. Thank You
This is my last column as president and, in it, I didn't want to sugar coat my own sense of where we stand. The bottom line, however, is that, while we have our challenges, we also have a solid foundation currently from which to build. I know our President-elect Larissa Torres stands ready to seize upon this opportunity.
It has been an honor, truly, to serve. To our Executive Committee - George, Ben, Kate, Edwin, Kelsey, Tracy, Eric, Brenda, Stephanie, David, Dennis, Paul, Larissa, Brian and Matt - and to Jennifer, our Executive Director, my heartfelt thanks for your hard work and support. To so many others, sponsors and members, who have provided encouragement, advice, counsel and financial support, please know how much I appreciate you and your efforts to advance our work.