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14 April 2010

Moving on

We just went through another round of bylaws amendments, and unless we decide to throw everything out and start over, we should be about done. The reason behind many of the amendments goes back to the governance initiative recommended by the Board and approved by the members just a couple of years ago. As you may recall, one of the biggest changes was to reduce the board of directors from twenty-nine members to eighteen. We’re well on the way now; we soon will be down to twenty board members.

The intent of the governance amendment was to create a smaller board, one that would be more nimble, more efficient, and more forward thinking. With that in mind, let us consider two Board activities: creation of a new committee to oversee the way members use their dues, and expanding CSI’s visibility and influence through increased participation of corporations.

Region Allocation Program Oversight Committee

Along with the reduction in size of the Board came a division of responsibilities. Institute Directors now will focus primarily on matters pertaining to operation of the Institute, while operation of the regions, formerly part of the Institute Directors’ duties, now is delegated to the regions. This created a problem; while Institute Directors had annual travel budgets for visiting chapters, region officers would now have to find other sources of funding for region business.

The response was the Region Allocation Program (RAP). Under this new program, regions no longer have to rely on chapter assessments for operating funds. Instead, the Institute sends a percentage of the basic membership dues directly to the regions. Kudos to the Board for implementing this program, which, at one stroke, nicely addressed three problems: the lack of funding for region travel, the difficulty of collecting assessments, and the “missing” income that was not collected from at-large members. The result is essentially the same process used for chapter dues - the Institute collects them along with Institute dues, then sends the money for local dues to the chapters, a system that has worked for a long time without attention.

It then was decided that the transfer of funds to regions required supervision by the board of directors, and a Region Allocation Program Oversight Committee was formed, the intent being to “administer the Region Allocation Program (RAP) and evaluate the program’s effectiveness.” Since then, the oversight committee has since been quizzing regions and chapters, trying to figure out what’s going on.

In either case, is it not the members’ money, to be used as the regions or chapters determine? The Region Allocation Program was a good idea, but do we need an oversight committee to decide if regions are spending their money wisely?

It's easy to think that all chapters or all regions run the same and manager their finances in the same way, but that isn't true. Some chapters allow their committees to meet at lunch or dinner time, and charge the cost of the meal to the chapter, while others do not. Some operate with only a small amount of money in the bank, while others have a sizable reserve. Some give to charities, while others spend money only on chapter business. Some reimburse members for travel and/or lodging for the annual convention or region conferences; others don't.

Regions have similar variations. Is it really necessary to find out how they spend their money? And once that information is known, what should be done with it? The oversight committee could debate this for years, arguing which expenses are justifiable, and which should be prohibited, and we could end up with a ten-page guideline to further complicate the operation of the regions.

Increased participation of corporations

Another topic our board of directors has discussed many times is corporate participation in CSI. To put this in the proper perspective, our bylaws state that “Firms or corporations are not eligible for membership” and I certainly don’t want to try to change the bylaws to allow corporate membership. However, it seems that we should be able to allow companies to participate more fully in CSI without being corporate members, and to publicize that participation through use of the CSI logo and other expressions of their relationship with CSI. This would benefit both the company and CSI, by showing the company’s support and by making CSI more visible. AIA and USGBC have shown the value of cooperation between companies and organizations; it’s time CSI stopped trying to ignore the importance of those companies that pay the bills.

We often have lamented the fact that while ordinary people are aware of AIA and have some understanding of what it means, they have no idea what CSI is. And in only a few years, USGBC has become possibly the most-recognized name in construction associations. Both AIA and USGBC encourage and profit from corporate participation; in turn, companies that actively support those organizations gain recognition and credibility.

Should CSI pursue greater involvement with companies? Should corporate participation be acknowledged by allowing companies to display the CSI logo? Isn’t it time to gain more visibility by promoting CSI through every means possible?

Express your opinion!

How are the Region Allocation Program and corporate participation related? They’re not. They are two separate activities, each of which requires some of the Board's valuable time. Given a choice, which should the Board spend its time on? And it is a choice, as, along with the reduction in size of the Board comes a reduction in time available.We have fewer people available to do the work of the Institute.

The new Board not only can, but must focus on those things that will make CSI more visible, more useful, and more attractive to new members. At the same time, it must avoid activities that sound good but do not contribute to the survival and success of the organization. There is no question in my mind that members will be better served by more visibility and recognition than by oversight of region finances. Even if it could be shown that region oversight is necessary - something I doubt - it could be done by a task team, allowing the officers and directors to concentrate on more important issues.

Each year we have an annual membership meeting at which members have an opportunity to express their views directly to the board of directors, and to submit resolutions. While it is too late to submit a resolution (which is non-binding anyway), these and other issues still may be brought to the floor as “Other Business.” If you have suggestions for improving our organization, take advantage of this annual forum! If you're interested, contact your Institute Director and ask for a copy of the procedure.

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