Point of Beginning

Offsets

July 1, 2004
All that money and nowhere to spend it.

The past decade has seen a major boom in membership for many of the state professional surveying associations. The economy has been better, and engineering/surveying firms have done well, too. Business managers seem to be encouraging surveyors to participate in their associations more, and association income levels are reportedly way up.

What is causing this upswing? The adoption by more than half the states of some form of mandatory continuing education has swelled attendance at conferences and other functions. Frankly, I don't care how we got folks to attend. I'm just glad they are attending. Many states are reportedly making profits in the tens of thousands of dollars at their conferences, and this is also good news!

Many state associations have also established educational scholarship funds. They have utilized various activities to help raise funds for the scholarships, in-cluding auctions. A recent visit to the Arkansas conference revealed a $25 fine to be placed into the scholarship fund if a cell phone or beeper interrupted a meeting or seminar. Having spoken at more than 40 conferences in the past 12 months, I really appreciated that one!

This financial success has resulted in the accumulation of large sums of money in the association bank accounts. In fact, many states are holding amounts in excess of a half million dollars.

I do not know about IRS regulations, but it would seem to me that such large sums stashed away (sometimes with few or no plans to use these monies) might endanger the non-profit status of some groups. People smarter than me will have to look into that one.

I asked one association's treasurer why the state did not use that money for some good cause. He said that the association administrators were holding onto it for a rainy day. That state had more than a half million dollars in the bank. A rainy day? That much money will not be needed for a rainy day until we spot animals grouping two-by-two. Another officer of another state said his state group had no real ideas on how to spend it.

Most states seem almost paralyzed when it comes to brainstorming ideas of how to spend their monies. And yet at the very same meetings where they read the results of bloated bank accounts, they also discuss grave problems facing the profession. Often, the resolutions to the problems include the expenditure of money. Perhaps they are missing the connection? Or perhaps they are missing the entire purpose of a professional as-sociation?

While each of us may see the purpose or goals of a professional association differently, we might agree on a few basic things. These might include the promotion of the profession in a positive light, the expansion of the influence and stature of the surveyor, or improvements to certain public resources in which surveyors have an interest.

It seems to me we may be missing some of our greatest opportunities. And this is an important (and well-funded) time to reach out for some of those opportunities. Yes, we should maintain a fund for rainy days, but the membership has flooded the coffers with enough money to finally do something big.

Knowing our profession as I do, I'm sure there will be a push by some to use the money to reduce or eliminate membership dues, conference fees or the like. My recommendation is not to do this. The monies collected must be used for their designated purposes, not to refund money to folks who will question the perceived value of the fees and dues more than before.

I would like to offer a few ideas on how to spend state association monies. Many states are enacting one or another of these ideas, but much more can be done.

Have you noticed a radio ad campaign in the past few months by the American Institute of Architects (AIA)? This organization has been running 15- and 30-second spots that portray the profession of architecture as the one that solves the nation's planning problems. The slogan in the advertisement does nothing more than highlight a type of problem-solving service to society. It is very effective in my opinion. Could we surveyors do something similar?

Mark Husik, executive director of the New Jersey and Maryland associations, and I decided that states should each pony up some cash to buy the design and time for a couple of clever ads to run on nationwide radio. Perhaps a similar approach to that taken by the AIA would work for us. The ad spot could include information about the history and continued influence of surveyors on America. It could end with its own clever slogan like, "The Professional Surveyors of America"¦ mapping the country one deed at a time." OK, so I'm not a marketing guru.

I think this would be a great service and function for the National Society of Professional Surveyors to provide, but I realize they do not have the cash for such a task. Hence, the states sending in $25,000 each could be a good start. To NSPS: I suggest that if you receive this cash, do not buy a building, rake off a large percentage for overhead or hire more staff (contract it out).

Here are a few other ideas I have dreamed up while sitting in airport lounges:

  • Offer to pay for professional scanning of all plats and other maps for the cash-strapped GIS system or assessor's office in your county. Get the records onto the Internet!
  • For public lands states where the GLO record has been turned over to a state agency (that often does not understand or appreciate what they have), offer to scan the entire set of plats and notes and place them on the Internet for all surveyors to have instant access to the most fundamental title records.
  • Hire professional record keepers in some sort of co-op effort with your county or other government agency to index maps or other records, or to upgrade bindings of records.
  • Fund a statewide effort for the high school Trig-Star scholarship and include cash prizes for every participant.
  • Provide money to help pay for extensive lobbying to bring the profession into the 21st century, like getting a mandatory plat recordation law, or required stamping of your license number on monuments, or getting laws passed to allow your board of registration to actually enforce the rules for those already licensed.
  • Help your board hire investigators for better enforcement.
  • Send a one-time donation to the Museum of Surveying in Michigan.
  • Donate to some worthy cause that is promoted by a long-time member, such as a local kids sports group, a community literacy group, or surveying merit badges for the Boy Scouts.
  • Increase the amount in your state scholarship fund with a one-time donation, or pass out bigger scholarships for a couple of years.
  • Print and distribute old surveying texts of local importance and interest.
  • Buy billboard space and yellow page space to advertise the profession.
  • Buy surveying instruments or other resources for a local community college in need.
  • Sponsor an officer every year to get some special training that will benefit the entire leadership team.
  • Sponsor a member to go on an overseas mission to serve as a surveyor in a less-developed country on behalf of a charitable group.
  • Send a donation to a memorial fund set up by a deceased member's family.
  • Sponsor a free continuing education class for realtors across your state and start educating them about surveying!

My ideas are quite limited. I know that many of the states have other activities they could share with one another. And I'm sure the members of the surveying profession who read these pages have ideas to add to my list. So, we here at POB invite you to E-mail, call or write to us with your ideas. We will put them in a future issue to share with everyone.

We have a tremendous resource sitting idle in many of our state coffers. And there is so much potential to do good, for the community as well as the profession. Talking about professionalism is cheap. But we have money! Let's start acting like a professional part of our community. Put those professional dollars to work for all of us!