A frequently asked question of state surveying associations is: “What do I get in return for my annual dues?”

To answer that question, I turned to Jennifer Mauer, CAE, managing director of the New York State Association of Professional Land Surveyors (NYSAPLS) Inc. Mauer discussed the types of membership and the benefits that associations provide to members.

Each association offers a variety of categories of membership and associated fees. For example, NYSAPLS offers the following:
  • Regular member (for an active, licensed New York surveyor) – annual fee: $200.
  • In-state regular member (for a surveyor without a regional chapter) – annual fee: $200.
  • Out-of-state member (for a surveyor with a dual license residing near the border or doing business in New York) – annual fee: $230.
  • Associate member (for those working for surveyors) – annual fee: $60.
  • Correspondent member (for who wish to receive the magazine, services and camaraderie but are subscription-only) – annual fee: $25.
  • Student member (for those enrolled in a university surveying program) – annual fee: $10.
Additionally, some regions within a state may charge an additional fee ranging from $10 to $275 per year. In the case of New York, Mauer explains there are 18 geographic regions across the state that are independent but affiliated. In the mid-1960s, the regional associations combined to become a state association amalgamating the power and resources for the betterment of the surveyor. The state association is composed of two representatives from each region. The officers are elected by the membership. “Committees are formed at the regional level where member-to-member contact is critical,” Mauer explains. “Their representatives convey the issues to the state level to ensure that members have a voice across the state.”

According to Mauer, NYSAPLS maintains a 76- to 85-percent membership base of all licensed surveyors in New York and, as a result, has a good understanding of what surveyors need.

Annual dues are only a small percentage of the funding for NYSAPLS. Additional funds are obtained through magazine and Web site advertising, the annual conference and affinity programs (such as insurance programs). Affinity program partners benefit from getting access to surveyors and, in turn, buy advertising, sponsor seminars and underwrite classes or conference events.

At an executive board meeting of the New York State Association of Professional Land Surveyors, board members discuss issues ranging from community outreach to continuing education.

Tangible-and Intangible-Benefits

According to Mauer, there are many tangible benefits to membership in a state association. Included in her list of benefits are a monthly NYSAPLS publication, “The Empire State Surveyor”; two e-mail newsletters of current information; a legislative update; and the Web site, which posts available resources for surveyors, including links to related information, national news items, articles and pamphlets, and an online bookstore that sells more than 100 land surveying books on topics ranging from history to mapping the Adirondack Mountains.

“We also have a variety of business services on the Web, such as sample business contracts for those starting out,” Mauer says. “We have a series of human resources booklets and guidelines on such topics as how to terminate poor employees. We offer a good deal of data on technologies that would be helpful to a surveyor such as scanners, office equipment reviews and recommendations.”

In addition, the Web site provides information on NYSAPLS’ discounted payroll services, discounted collections agency programs, vehicle and life insurance programs, student scholarships, the annual conference, and discounted continuing education programs. “Prior to 2004, the annual conference attracted 200 to 400 people,” Mauer says. “Currently, we are attracting 1,000.” She explains that the growth in attendance has been spurred by continuing education requirements and the breadth of new events offered during the conference.

Association membership also has many valuable intangible benefits. Over the years, NYSAPLS has constructed a “circle of consultants” for its members. Essentially, the association has access to a large repository of experts, including its own highly experienced surveyors as well as attorneys, accountants, bankers and even legislators. When members call with inquiries on technical, legal or boundary-related issues, NYSAPLS directs them to experts who can offer confidential advice.

The association also tries to lead the way by setting a code of ethics for the profession in New York. Such a code includes technical issues as well as continuing education, job descriptions, business milestones and more. As the association’s guidelines mature and reach consensus, they may become the standard on which surveyors base their work and their businesses. They may also become the standard the legal profession looks to when mediating professional cases.

Lobbying for the Profession

A large percentage of an association’s funding and effort is allocated to lobbying for legislation that will help surveyors better serve the public, Mauer explains. “This may entail sitting with commissioners and appointed members and explaining the technicalities of the business,” she says. When state representatives are elected, they must be knowledgeable on a thousand things on any given day. The purpose of lobbying is to remind elected leaders of the issues they need to know when voting.

With its lobbying efforts, the association becomes the advocate for the survey profession. While state licensing boards protect the consumer and the public welfare, they don’t necessarily serve the profession. So that is the role the association tries to fill-it looks out for the profession. “New York is a big state with a lot of regulation, and the association tries to let the surveyor be heard as legislation is developed and implemented,” Mauer says. “The wealth of information that is gathered and shared between an association and the elected leaders is significant.” For instance, NYSAPLS has an education committee that researches technical programs just to review the effects of GIS and machine control on the profession.

As an example of how NYSAPLS’ lobbying efforts aided the profession, Mauer turns to continuing education requirements, which became law in 2005. “Once it was passed, [our] lobbying efforts turned to implementation. [In other words, if surveyors] are required to obtain continuing education, perhaps we can work with the state regulatory bodies to serve our needs as closely as possible. We attempted to refine the implementation of the law to something that would suit the industry as a whole.” Mauer sums this up as “protecting your interests when interpretations must occur.”

Another benefit of legislative lobbying through the association is that it allows surveyors to speak with one voice. Since NYSAPLS represents 1,300 people, I believe that the association is doing a great job in portraying 1,300 surveyors as a large, well-organized block of constituents and voters. Currently, NYSAPLS’ lobbying efforts are addressing the definition of land surveying in the state-and this is clearly something that affects every surveyor.

Community Outreach

What does an association do to improve society’s respect for the profession? According to Mauer, this is the No. 1 issue the association deals with. “Community outreach is the backbone of the association,” Mauer says. “We try to educate the public, planning boards, attorneys and others. We help the public understand the land surveying profession today. Fifty percent of the calls come from consumers who ask, ‘Why does it cost $1,000 to survey my house?’ or ‘Why do I need a survey at all?’” NYSAPLS acts as a conduit for the public to understand the value of a survey in a land transaction.

Another area of outreach occurs at the student level. With the average age of surveyors estimated to be in the mid-50s, there is a need for young people to join the profession. “We want to provide young people with professional programs, hotlines and an 800 number where they can call for help along the lines of ‘ask an expert’ type of program,” Mauer says.

Associations also reach out to those in survey companies who are not licensed but have built their careers in the business. NYSAPLS believes these staff members should be association members since they can contribute valuable information on the inner workings of the survey field.

Serving Surveyors and the Public

State associations work on multiple levels to help surveyors. At the macro level, an association looks at what is on the horizon and tries to observe the surveying business from legal, governmental, human resources, technical and public relations aspects. In multiple ways and at different levels, associations work to help surveyors get work, do the work, bill for the work, collect billings and obtain administrative and legislative assistance.

“American history is a story of people banding together to run schools, hospitals, orphanages, foundations, churches and civic groups. Ben Franklin is one of a number of early Americans who established some of our first associations commonly called guilds of craftsmen,” Mauer says. “Professional associations are at the root of our country’s growth. It is a support system, and we are eager to help.”