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State of the Association: 2010 vol 2

03/31/2010, 1:27am CDT
By No Author

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Here I sit, returning from the NAC inDallas, knowing that the day this will be released marks 850 days until the OlympicGames in London.  I’ve been lookingforward to continuing our conversation.

 

The last time we chatted, the focus ofthe conversation was on the “Build” component of our business model. Thisinstallment will move to the second component – “Support” – but before I do,it’s important to extend a sincere thank you to all who have taken time to sendmessages to ideas@usfencing.org. Iappreciate the diligent and well-reasoned responses, am amazed by some of theideas, and am grateful for the help in recognizing continued areas forimprovement for us as an organization. Please continue to write. I’ve beenconsidering how we might begin sharing some of the ideas with the rest of themembership to see if any of them might gain some traction and support.

 

Just to refresh your memory, our businessmodel has three distinct, yet integrated components, simply identified asBuild…Support…Achieve. Two different types of support are identified –financial and emotional.  For many,this is the white elephant in the room, and the subject of much discussion. Manyassert that this is THE challenge we face. The reality is, it just might be.

 

A very hot topicout there currently is the painful length of time it is taking to pay our refereesand tournament officials that in many ways serve as the backbone of ourNational Events. There is no question that without the willingness of thereferees and tournament officials to serve in various capacities, we would notbe able to run National Events as we do. Unfortunately, the implication is thatthe manner the National Office has gone about repaying its debt has failed torecognize the importance of the referees. Though I would agree that theNational Office has failed to show proper appreciation to the referees andtournament officials (and I intend to change its behavior), I’m not sure I canput the officials at the top of the list of those who must be paid first.

 

Let me explain.

 

Prior to myarrival, the National Office did a fairly good job of reimbursing the refereesfor honorariums and out of pocket expenses. Unfortunately, what few realize isthat in doing so, it was failing to cover more foundational expenses of theorganization. As the saying goes, “it was robbing Peter to pay Paul”. Inkeeping the reimbursements current, it failed to address the debt (around$225K) owed to the US Olympic Committee. Some say, “but that was for theOlympic Games.” Well, they’re right.  It was for the expenses the USOC incurred on our behalf aftertaking over the high performance program and the Olympic Team.  Obviously, their efforts had a netpositive result, though it has taken its toll on us financially. 

 

I am grateful that theUSOC chooses to partner with US Fencing – to the tune of more than $1,000,000 eachyear – to support the programs and athletes that have the potential of producingmedals on the Olympic Stage. A continued failure to remedy the debt to the USOCwould result in losing that support, and equally as important, the designation (potentially)as the national Governing Body for the sport of fencing.

 

The short version –No NGB status…no need to qualify. No need to host national events…no longer asgreat a need for referees or officials. Obviously the USOC also had to beaddressed.

 

Some then say, “OK, I’ll buy that…butthen next on the list to be paid should be the referees and tournamentofficials.” Well, there’s actually one more group that had not been addressedupon my arrival – cities, hotels, venues, etc. where the events are run. Thecities that have venues large enough to host our events are limited, and, likemost industries, there is a sharing of information. No doubt, failure to payfor one convention center will have ramifications for returning to that city. Ican hear the voices thinking, “but we don’t want to go back to Albuquerqueanyway…” It’s not just Albuquerque that’s the concern, it’s the other cities andnationwide hotel chains that have relationships with them who will no longer beinterested in having us come.

 

In short – no venue and no hotel stillresults in no national events.

 

In addition to the matterof running future events was the practical reality we faced this year. Ourfailure to submit timely payments in 2008 and early 2009 has made it nearlyimpossible to run events without paying in advance for the space and the hotelroom blocks. So not only have we had to make our debt from previous eventswhole, we’ve also had to pre-pay expenses for future events.

 

Now that the debtto those groups has been mostly remedied, we have been able to focus on ourreferees and tournament officials. Any additional funds that have beenavailable, instead of being directed into an operating reserve account to coverunanticipated expenses, have been directed back to the referees and officials.  We will continue to look for innovative ways toincrease our revenue, with the intention of directing all net proceeds back toreducing our debt owed to members.

 

Additionally, since I took this role,there has also been a consistent but gentle pressure to initiate fundraisingefforts. It is definitely an area we will need to address. However,fundraising, especially in the current economy, requires a foundational trustand belief in US Fencing as an organization. The perception needs to be changedto identify us as a GREAT organization to partner with and support. Unfortunately,US Fencing’s checkered past doesn’t lead to this conclusion, though theperception is beginning to change.

 

What am I getting at? Well, what NEEDS tobe done is to continue to reduce costs, improve efficiency, increase structuralaccountability across the organization, and provide EXCELLENT CUSTOMER SERVICE.That doesn’t mean we simply ignore fundraising, for we have taken initial stepstowards building this base of support. In September, the Board of Directors approveda motion to implement an endowment membership (a specific way life members candemonstrate their support for the association). We are continuing to assess howto best roll this program out, and intend to announce specific details by midsummer. One of the components still to be finalized is the manner by whichendowment members are recognized, and ensuring the method is integrated intoour entire brand development strategy. As I mentioned to someone this weekend –it’s coming, it will simply take a little more time.

 

One athlete who wrote to me asked how theathletes could best support the organization, knowing that financialcontributions were probably not possible. I appreciate that individual forrecognizing that support is not merely financial.   Right now, themost significant method of supporting the entire fencing community is byintentionally keeping the lines of communication open, while remaining patient. 

 

We are committed to working towardsdeveloping our financial support systems, and the most significant way eachmember can support our efforts is through continued patience. Please, if we oweyou for your service, and there are many of you, please support our efforts bykeeping open our lines of credit with you (both faith and temporary financialforgiveness).  The systemic changenecessary within all facets of the organization will only be achieved by groupsof people (staff and volunteers) doing new things in new ways. This will taketime – considerable time.

 

I fear there has been an unrealisticexpectation placed upon the current administration (both professional staff andvolunteer) that we could not only pull out from the nose dive US Fencing was infor nearly three years, but ascend back to cruising altitude within a year. Sincewe were not able to pull off this impossible task, what’s resulted is a furtherloss of trust in the organization, increased frustration, and heightenedemotions.

 

The changenecessary – the change in behavior, the change in staff, the change in focusthat is needed – require patience as resources are realigned across theorganization, and programs and practices are re-evaluated and reorganized, andas stakeholder trust is re-established. How much time? Given the broad range ofchanges that must be carefully implemented – a few years. We intend to searchfor low-hanging fruit…providing some short-term wins. Still the cultural changenecessary, one that only is precipitated by a change in behavior, iswidespread, and the cultural norms run deep.

 

The systemic change needed will only besuccessfully achieved if it’s supported at all levels of the organization –which each group pulling in the same direction towards the same goal.

As is the case withmost ideas in business…

The situation isoften worse that you think,

The process oftentakes longer than you think,

And the price isnormally higher than you think.

 

As a National Office we are committed tofinding ways to become more efficient, reduce our expenses, and improve thelevel of customer service we provide. What’s our focus? How do we intend to supportour members? The answer is through a focus on reducing the debt owed to membersof our community, equipping our athletes, coaches, referees, clubs, officials,and staff so that sustained competitive excellence in all arenas is possible,while re-establishing a sense of trust in the organization. I am absolutelyconfident, that with every oar in the organization pulling in the samedirection, we will return to top speed much more quickly, and with much lesseffort, than if we all paddled in our own direction, in our own time, in ourown ways.

 

We have improved our financial positionconsiderably over the past year. If you’re curious, the audited financials areavailable on our website. It might be hard to see, but we are steadily, thoughslowly, reducing our indebtedness to our stakeholders. It’s not at the rate wewould like, but it is a focus. We’re intentionally developing relationshipswith new strategic partners, knowing that over time these partners will assistus in effectively supporting our elite athletes, while also providingadditional benefits to our clubs, coaches, and general membership.

 

More importantly,we are grateful for the support each of you has provided, whatever your rolemight be – referee, official, athlete, parent, vendor, supplier, partner, staffmember, or fan. I look forward to continuing our conversation. Thank you againto all who have commented directly to me, it has been wonderful to hear fromyou, I thoroughly have enjoyed the opportunity to listen.

 

Talk with you soon.

 

Kurt Aichele

29 March 2010

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