COMMON Still In The Red; Trend Is Favorable
May 11, 2015 Dan Burger
It’s a fact that professional associations are struggling to sustain themselves in the modern work environment. What organizations need to do to remain relevant is a never-ending question. Solutions come from what has always worked, but they also require new strategies and a break from the past. The COMMON user group finds itself in this position. So do 95 percent of the professional associations representing everything from doctors to dog catchers. And in most cases, the success of the association comes down to members and money.
The greatest tangible benefit for the COMMON user group is its Annual Meeting and Exposition, which is held each spring in late April or early May. Average attendance during the past five years has varied between 1,000 and 1,200. That’s a reality. Talk about when three or five times as many people attended COMMON is no longer the reality. COMMON collects approximately 90 percent of its annual revenues from registrations for this single event.
Each year at the Annual Meeting, known to most as simply the COMMON Conference, the organization hosts a Meeting of the Members, a presentation of fiscal fitness. For the past four years, the organization has been dealing with red ink. Revenue the past two years (2013 and 2014) have fallen short of the mark set in 2012, which was the last year COMMON finished on the plus side of the ledger. That was made possible because the organization captures a return on investments from earlier years when fiscal fitness allowed money to be set aside, not because it was a particularly good year for revenue. In planning for 2015, COMMON is budgeting for an increase in revenue as well as an increase in expenses. Expectations for the operating margin are pegged at a negative 1 percent.
By way of comparison, the operating margin for 2014 was negative 6 percent and negative 21 percent in 2013–the lowest year for revenue and the highest year for expenses in the past three years. To put this in the best possible light, the negative numbers have getting smaller rather than larger.
All this underscores the importance of where COMMON goes from here. These aren’t great financial health indicators. They don’t show growth, but they also don’t point to doomsday, as I’m sure some people will be quick to assume.
Throwing COMMON overboard, like some detractors are known to do in forums and social media, doesn’t mean that we will all have more to eat. I’d say the opposite is true. We’d all have less to eat without COMMON. Call it a hunch, but I think the IBM i community needs COMMON. I also think COMMON needs to become more relevant and more inclusive. If it was more inclusive, it would be more relevant. That’s easier said than done, I realize.
For instance, COMMON had a strategic planning meeting at the beginning of the year. I understand it was decided to place a greater emphasis on enhancing members’ careers. That seems like a great plan. It also sounds like what COMMON always emphasized. Whatever it is that COMMON is doing different for its members, no one came to this member of the media to talk about it and explain what is going to take place. Appealing to the members should be the highest priority. It should be considered like a return on investment for members of COMMON. It would be a great thing to let the whole community know about. That’s what inclusive means. It’s about working together. You know, like our Congress does.
Sometimes it seems like COMMON works behind a curtain. Maybe I’m the last to know and maybe few people care, but there’s a new executive director of COMMON. The previous director, Ralph Gervasi, was removed in January. The new director is Manzoor Siddiqui. He became interim director in January and was approved by the board of directors as the actual executive director at the COMMON Conference. Siddiqui was previously the marketing director at COMMON. For the time being, he’ll do both jobs.
Regarding the indicators on the fiscal fitness report, Siddiqui described it as a positive financial trend. He also noted the allocation of funds to build future events will include a virtual conference in June, then the Fall Conference, then a second virtual conference in December. He added that COMMON would also be investing in certification and in tools, resources, and staffing.