Dear Industry Colleagues,

One of the more interesting aspects of trade associations is the leadership structure. In most cases it is a combination of paid staff and volunteers coming together to make decisions about…well,everything. That’s how ASA is structured. The balance of power is a very deliberate function that is fundamental to the association’s ability to best serve its members.

What do I mean by all that?  I mean that I discovered a lot about ASA when I sat through my first budget meeting as a volunteer. What goes into running the association is beyond what I had imagined.

I was impressed with the time, energy and dollars given by volunteer leaders when they serve. I also developed an appreciation for the role of the staff and the challenges they face in bringing together the directives for new programs and fiscal prudence, especially when there is contradiction between the two.  

The ASA Board of Directors and staff have an incredible amount of respect for all ASA members and their businesses, and appreciate the trust you put in us when you write out that dues check and send us your hard-earned money. Since all the Board members are also writing out those checks, I can assure you if there were doubts about how the money is being treated and spent, it would be voiced immediately. 

We take very seriously our obligation to provide expanded programs and services to help our members, but know we also need to manage spending. Some proposed programs are cut because the return on investment isn’t viewed as significant. For the programs put in place, we focus on maximizing the return and often ask the staff to do more with less.

Specific examples? At the February 2010 Board of Directors meeting, we spent a good deal of time reinforcing the need for prudent financial management of expenses and priorities. Over the past two years ASA has moderated payroll expenses by reducing head count and eliminating salary increases and 401(k) matches, explored opportunities to reduce our lease obligations and reviewed the financial ramifications of changing meeting contracts that were agreed to when the economic climate was better. In the end, we may not be able to alter existing circumstances, but we will not quit until every last option is explored and assessed. 

It’s not just talk - ASA’s volunteers walk the walk. Last November and December, Joe Poehling, Bill Kenney and then the rest of the Executive Committee spent days in Chicago working on ASA’s proposed budget line by line without asking to be reimbursed for their time or travel expenses. That’s a big commitment and as an ASA member, I appreciate their dedication and generosity.

As business people, we all understand that you have to spend money to make money. Following that same thought process, an association has to spend money to serve its members. ASA could have saved a significant amount of money by cutting our Washington, D.C., lobbyist from the budget for one year, but then what happens with issues like Card Check, LIFO Repeal, and the W.A.T.E.R. Act when there’s nobody there representing the interests of our industry?

More money could have been saved by eliminating the benchmarking data that so many members have come to rely upon to help in their decision making, but wouldn’t that be contrary to the portion of ASA’s mission that states: “To drive the effective and consistent implementation of quality programs and services which improve the operational efficiency… of the wholesale distribution channel”? ASA takes seriously its obligation to its members to serve their needs, especially in times of turmoil when it’s at the same time the most needed and most financially challenging. You can count on us to continue to exercise restraint and respect the trust you have placed in us.  

Frank Nisonger
Slakey Brothers