Recently, I ran into an old buddy whom I hadn't seen for nearly ten years. We used to see each other at monthly meetings of our local Fluid Power Society chapter. In fact, he might have even been at one of our annual golf outings to witness the only two birdies I ever shot in my sporadic golfing career.
It's been at least ten years since the Cleveland Chapter of FPS had a regular meeting. The same goes for most chapters across the country. Oh, a handful still holds regular meetings. But, only six of the country's 72 chapters currently are active!
Local activity has not declined suddenly. It's been eroding for decades, so don't blame the Internet on this one. When I first joined FPS in 1987, I was asked to serve on the local board while attending my very first meeting. I remember thinking how desperate these guys must have been to ask a first-time attendee to become an officer. But I accepted, and soon became involved in coordinating meetings, rounding up speakers, helping out with the annual golf outing, and even organizing technical seminars.
After a short time, I realized the same handful of people was always doing all the work. It then became clear that to try to turn things around, I'd have to serve on a national level. So I became a regional director, which gave me a voice on FPS's board of directors.
Around the same time, FPS had recently launched its certification program. During one of the board meetings, Jim Morgan, who was executive director at the time, described the certification program as having become "somewhat of a cash cow." Certification was pulling in more money than FPS was spending, so the board had to find a way to use the expendable income to maintain the society's not-for-profit status. The iron was hot, so I struck.
I expressed concerns that local chapters were wasting away and explained how relying entirely on volunteers to run a chapter was no longer practical in an era of downsizing. To operate effectively, chapters needed more than the $10 rebate per member they received annually from FPS headquarters. Having more money would allow a chapter to support a part-time employee to print and distribute meeting notices, coordinate events, and perform similar detail work that volunteers simply don't have time to do. My pleas were all but ignored.
Even though only a small portion of membership dues - if any - is given back to chapters as a year-end rebate, inactive chapters get nothing. So it's actually in the best interest of FPS to have no active chapters. That way, they could keep all the membership dues for themselves instead of having to refund any back to local chapters.
Interestingly, though, FPS does allocate more than a third of each member's dues to a subscription to its official for-profit magazine. But members don't have a choice. Whether they want the magazine or not, $24 of their $65 membership fee goes to the magazine instead of their local chapter. So little or none of your dues gets back to your local chapter, and a sizeable portion goes toward a magazine subsciption you may or may not want. It sounds as if FPS shot a double bogey on this one.
Alan L. Hitchcox, editor
A reader's response:
Where was this article years ago? I was the Chicago Chapter president, speaker, tour finder, and newsletter writer/sender for many years. I did enjoy it and especially felt good seeing the faithful come to meetings and tours, and got something out of their attendance.
I was disappointed through the years that not once did Paul Prass (executive director of FPS) or anyone else ever say thanks for the chapter’s work. Probir Chatterjea, my boss at the time, was always supportive and urged me on.
The chapter has not met in the past nine months since I told the current president that I would no longer arrange meetings or do the newsletter. No one has missed it! I still get a member mailing list emailed to me so I can send out newsletters. They [FPS headquarters] haven’t even noticed that there haven’t been any meetings. That’s another issue: they [headquarters] used to send out preprinted mailing labels so the label was ready to stick on. Not any more. They e-mailed an Excel file that I had to format into labels and then print out on my own. How cheap.
I do think the Chapters have seen their usefulness, but it would have been nice to hear something from above. . . not just another dues bill.
Dennis Voss Chicago Chapter 3
Following is a response from Ray Hanley, vice president of FPS at the time:
I remember Jim Morgan (former executive director of FPS) referring to FPS Certification as a cash cow, but he was dead wrong. The society set up the Accredited Instructors Program to conduct review training and job performance proctoring. The FPS review training income was never realized. Processing the various certification applications is the labor intensive part of the program. It did turn out very beneficial to the chapters and other trainers.
Every active chapter had one or two accredited instructors, sometimes more. Whether or not the chapter survived, they went on with the training. The Accredited Instructors are the ones making the money.
All in all, even if I buy all you say, it seems like a poor choice of editorial material. To what purpose? What was your objective? Would your editorial help the Society? Would more money grow more chapters?
Raymond F. Hanley
FPS vice president, certification
According to the most recent tax records available, FPS reported total revenue of $571,008 and $552,815 for 2001 and 2002, respectively. Of this, only $107,049 and $78,953 came from membership dues, whereas $346,694 and $325,969 came from certification fees for 2001 and 2002, respectively. So the “cash cow” seems to be grazing in rather fertile pastures.
Still, membership seems to be dwindling, as evidenced by the 25% decrease in membership dues from 2001 to 2002. So with FPS raking in more than half a million dollars in annual revenue, where is all this money going? The staff is getting larger, but membership and chapters are dropping. And as revealed in the first letter, remaining chapters seem on the verge of becoming inactive.