AUSA’s 3 challenges: Membership, budget, national/chapter activities
(Editor’s note: The following is an edited speech delivered by Gen. Carter F. Ham, USA, Ret., AUSA president and CEO, at the Annual Meeting’s Chapter Presidents and Delegates Dinner attended by association region, state and chapter presidents, delegates, and members of the Council of Trustees.)
“The particular business of the Association of the United States Army shall be wholly educational, literary, scientific, fostering esprit de corps, dissemination of professional knowledge and the promotion of the efficiency of the Army components of the armed forces of our country.”
Those words are from the original certificate of incorporation of our association dated 5 July 1950.
Sixty-six years after they were written, these words still define our mission, our purpose, our very reason for being.
In simple terms, everything we do, everything we are must be tied to this charter.
I’ve had the privilege of being with you for three months; three months and one day, to be precise!
I am honored today as I was on the first day; but, my understanding is better now.
I’ve visited 26 chapters and participated in region meetings. And, while my learning curve is still steep, I have some initial observations and thoughts about where we go from here.
First, our association is strong. It is made so by you, the volunteer leaders who willingly give of your time, talent and, often, treasure to support America’s Army, its soldiers, families, civilian employees, retirees, veterans and the businesses that provide services and capabilities to the finest fighting force on the planet.
Like our Army, our association faces challenges, but we are not in distress.
I believe we face three important challenges:
In 2009, we had almost 105,000 members after a high, in recent times, of almost 112,000 in 2004. We went below 100,000 in 2010 and have been on a steady decline ever since, bottoming-out earlier this year at around 61,000.
That’s a loss of about 40 percent of membership in six years. Clearly, that is neither acceptable nor sustainable.
Many factors have contributed to our membership challenges, but, for me, I sum it up this way – our association has largely fallen out of the Army’s consciousness. What used to be a normal relationship between chapters and Army units no longer exists. We simply have to change that and I believe we have an opportunity and an ability to do just that now.
While our membership appeal must, and does, extend beyond the uniformed Army, it is with soldiers where we can and should apply our greatest effort.
To begin, we must focus on all soldiers – Regular Army, Army National Guard and Army Reserve. Many of you do this exceedingly well already – we need to learn from you and replicate your success.
We must explore closer partnerships with like-minded organizations – NGAUS, EANGUS, ROA, AAAA, and the great branch and regimental associations. We can and should find common cause with them. Some of that we at national headquarters need to do, but some of that you can do.
Invite your local commanders and CSMs, TAGs, your senior Army Reserve commanders, professors of military science to speak at a breakfast, a lunch or an evening event. We’ll do better at sharing the many successes you have so you can see how others are making this work.
As our current membership tends to be older and more senior, we must find ways to appeal to young professionals. To me, this means captains, CW2s and staff sergeants; GS and wage-grade Army civilians. That’s when someone is making a serious commitment to the profession of arms.
If we aspire to be who we say we are – the Total Army’s professional association – then we have to contribute to the professional development of the next cohort of leaders. And, we must demonstrate by our actions that we are committed to professional development.
This Annual Meeting is, perhaps, the most visible manifestation of that principle, but it is not the only means. The dedicated professionals at the national headquarters will have ideas and initiatives, but so will you in your regions, states and chapters. We can help each other by supporting and sharing our successful programs.
I have established a goal of 100,000 individual members by the end of 2017. That means not only keeping every member we have now, but adding over half again as many new or returning members over the next 15 months.
Your challenge isn’t to get 100,000 members. Your task is to get one more member.
Challenge each of the members of your chapter to get one more new member and have that new member come to your next chapter event.
Use the current 2016 lower rates to your advantage. Connect with ROTC units like the Greater Atlanta Chapter did with the ROTC cadets at North Georgia College where every contracted cadet receives a membership. Get one more. If each of us does that, we’ll be over 100,000 in no time.
I believe this is important for our brand, for our reputation and for our relevance. I also believe in your ability to get this done.
This year has been a tough year for us. Revenue is down and expenses are up. Some of the overseas shows under-performed; Turkey cancelled its businesses from participating in the Annual Meeting and a few other challenges.
Expenses are up. You hired me, paying me for several months before I formally became your president. Printing and mailing costs increased.
That resulted in an operating budget shortfall of about $2 million. Through exceedingly dedicated efforts across the staff, I think we’ll end up ok. We let some people go; good people. Hard workers, dedicated to our mission. We’ve constrained travel and other expenses. Partly, but not exclusively, because of costs, I’m transitioning our AUSA News to a digital format. (See related story on Page 22)
I wanted to fund chapter presidents’ travel to come here, but simply could not do so this year. In short, I have not been able to do all that I would like to do to support you this year. We’re going to fix that in 2017.
On the investment side, we’re still strong. As most of you know, the Council of Trustees wisely requires us to hold a full year’s operating budget in reserve and we have that, though I need to increase the amount we hold simply due to annual increases in costs.
Our building, which also is a source of revenue due to the space we lease, will require major renovation in the coming years. I’ve got to build a sufficient amount in our capital accounts so that we don’t have to borrow money for building work.
And, an update on our support for the National Museum of the United States Army. The Council of Trustees last year approved a plan to donate $34 million for the museum. The first payment, $10.4 million, will be paid in September 2017 and I anticipate we’ll complete our payments in June 2018. We have the money in the investment account to do all of that. I want the museum to be successful; and our donation is consistent with our mission. But, I am first and foremost concerned with our own operations.
3) National and Chapter Activities
At the national level, I think we have become overly DC-centric. While I understand that Washington is where the Army headquarters is, where the congress is, etc., if we are to be the national association we say we are, I need to find ways to more effectively connect with our members and our various constituents in other places.
You’re going to start hearing more about an Army initiative called “Meet Your Army.” We’re going to ask you to help. It’s our mission.
We’re close to finalizing a plan to hold an event in Detroit in 2017. It may be small to begin, but the Army has lots of interests in Detroit-based businesses and organizations.
We should explore opportunities in other places as well, and I’ll need your help. Boston, Atlanta, Austin, San Antonio, Denver, Silicon Valley and Seattle strike me as locations where we might find value in some sort of AUSA event.
Along that same vein, we can, and must, become better at leveraging our newly renovated Conference and Event Center. We’ll explore improved ways to connect you to the various forums we hold at our headquarters, but also look for ways to hold our own one- or two-hour sessions focused on a particular topic to support your requests.
At the chapter level, I find good, innovative, imaginative ideas everywhere I go. What I think we need to do better is to share those ideas more widely.
I would ask you to be more active in sharing with your fellow AUSA leaders. The network that you all have is incredible and includes amazingly talented individuals who stand ready to help.
Let me say how much I appreciate the dedicated group that has contributed to the Chapter Excellence project. I’m convinced that they have outlined a roadmap that will help us achieve success.
Let me conclude by telling you how proud I am to have the honor of serving with you. Some of you have heard me say this before, but I think it bears repeating:
The heart and soul of the Association of the United States Army does not reside at 2425 Wilson Boulevard in Arlington, Virginia. No, AUSA lives in 119 chapters around the globe. The heart and soul of our association is you, the committed volunteer leaders who willingly give of your time, your talent and, yes, often your treasure, in support of soldiers, their families, retirees, veterans, army civilians and the businesses that support them. Without you, without our members, we don’t have an association.
I have asked each of the 80 members of the national headquarters to think this way – when I walk into our headquarters building each day, the foremost question on my mind should be: “What am I going to do today to help a chapter, state or region president be more effective in accomplishing their crucial mission?”
In other words, you don’t work for us; we work for you.
Thanks for your leadership and for making a difference every day for America’s Army.
A young boy scout asked a great question at the shooting range with members of the Pikes Peak Chapter recently: “Can anyone join AUSA?”
My answer to that question is that we have only two entry criteria:
You have to love your country, and
You have to love soldiers.
If you can pass that test, we’ve got a place for you in the Association of the United States Army.