After 9 years of membership and volunteering, I’m leaving the AMTA. It’s been a long time coming and there are many, many reasons for this decision. I won’t bore you with the full list, but recent changes and my upcoming renewal deadline have prompted this decision. Many of you are members, many of you are volunteers in state and national leadership positions. I think we’re all getting hoodwinked, and I think you should know about it.
But let’s lay down some history. I joined as a student, because a few teachers were members and they suggested it. I went to my first conference in 2007 and immediately became a volunteer.
I love the state chapters. I love them. I love the people I’ve met and the volunteer work I’ve done. I love that my chapter has a host of benefits well beyond what national AMTA offers. Along with a lobbyist to help us fend off attacks from crappy legislation and other professions looking to limit our scope of practice, we’ve got a health insurance broker, financial planner, lawyer for work-related consults, and top notch continuing education for $50 a day.
As I became less enchanted with the policies and attitude from National, I’ve stayed a member because I love the local network and my chapter, (and all the New England chapters, really) is pretty great.
But AMTA has made some changes recently, and they matter. You can read the details about those changes here and some interesting discussion on Laura’s facebook posting here.
In a nutshell, they are eliminating the mandatory chapter fee a member pays as part of the membership dues and chapter budgets are taking the hit.
In a series of conference call presentations, chapter leaders were told that changes were being made in order to be competitive in pricing with other organizations. Membership numbers have been decreasing and this is a concern.
Also, leaders were told that the varying chapter fees (each chapter determines its own fee and the membership votes on it regularly) were confusing to members and potential new members.
Further, some chapters do not spend all of their budgeted money every year, leading to a surplus of funds not being used, and instead being saved. This is an issue when trying to maintain a IRC 501(c)(6) status like the AMTA holds.
For those reasons, the mandatory chapter fee previously added to the $235 membership dues is being removed, and new and renewing members are being offered the opportunity to make a voluntary ‘donation’ to their state chapter (or any other state chapter) above and beyond that dues. ( added 1/27 9:30am: chapters will still receive a portion of dues, I believe about $32/member.)
So let’s be clear: after these changes are instituted, the amount of money that national receives from dues has not changed. Chapters are absorbing the loss.
Chapters will lose a huge chunk of their operating budgets. My chapter will lose about $90,000 a year. That money has been providing direct services to members. Services that we use. Daily.
I am not okay with this. Taking money away from state chapters is a crappy way to fix the problem of falling membership numbers. The chapters are the power behind the AMTA. The state chapter network is what differentiates the AMTA from other organizations and what makes a therapist pay more money for a membership when they could pay much less for just liability insurance elsewhere.
The best way to stay competitive with other organizations and insurance providers is not to drop the fee, it is to provide a better product. We all learn this in basic business skills: Don’t compete on price.
If varying chapter fees are a problem, the solution is not to eliminate the fee and punish the chapters. The appropriate solution would be to standardize the chapter fees.
If the amount of money in chapter reserves is problematic, AMTA could simply instruct their chapters to limit the amount of money in reserves to a three to six month operating budget and require that anything left not earmarked for a specific initiative such as licensing, etc., be donated to their favorite massage research organization, or to a smaller chapter, or returned to national AMTA, even. Instead, they are choosing to penalize all the chapters, not just those who are under-spending.
Nonetheless, this craptastic decision was made in executive session of the National Board of Directors last year and announced to chapter leaders this fall. ‘Executive session’ means the meeting is closed. No one outside the room is supposed to find out who introduced the idea, who said what, and how board members voted. And once the vote is taken, all board members must speak only the party line, and not express any dissenting opinion. (Which is a whole other issue. How am I supposed to decide who to vote for if I can never know what an incumbent candidate for national office actually thinks about any particular issue? Coupled with the ‘no campaigning’ policy, there is no way to place a truly educated voted. That’s just batshit.)
If AMTA staff was doing a stellar job of running the National office, making hardcore efforts to creating fantastic, useful training materials and real support for chapter leaders, making a genuine, educated effort to truly connect with massage therapists hustling at work every day, or representing us well in the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, I could probably get on board. But they are doing none of those things.
AMTA is failing us. The National Staff is failing us. This Board of Directors failed us. Together they are failing the members, the volunteers, and the profession.
I decided that I cannot in good conscience be a professional member of the AMTA any longer. But I wasn’t ready to break up entirely. My plan was to get my liability insurance elsewhere, stay a supporting member of the AMTA ($95/year) and donate some money to my state chapter, hoping they still let me hang out at an occasional meeting. I was hoping that over the next year, AMTA would pull their crap together, and maybe I would want to go back. Sadly, that ain’t happening.
My membership is up for renewal at the end of this month. I called last week to change it to a supporting membership, and I was told that is not allowed. The supporting membership is only for retired or inactive massage therapists, or non-massage therapists. I cannot be a practicing massage therapist and be a supporting member of the AMTA. [Sidebar, I have unofficially been told that this is because the general public could be confused and think that I’ve got full membership and insurance when I don’t, and that could harm the reputation and credibility of professional members. That’s utter crap. Take my money, tell me I cannot display the logo on any promotional material or imply in any way that I am a Professional Member and call it a day. They already have rules and protocol for the display of the logo. This is neither complex nor earth-shattering. You can see the rules here, or checkout the screenshot here, since you can’t see the rules without logging in to the site.]
So AMTA is now behaving like a petulant child. It’s all or nothing. They are shunning potential supporters (and their money) who choose to get their liability insurance elsewhere. Newsflash to the national staff and BoD: You are not an insurance company. You are a membership organization.
And on February 1, AMTA will have one less member. One less motivated member. One less volunteer. One less experienced, well-educated, well-spoken member who is respected in her own community as a massage practitioner. One less mentor and advocate and teacher.
You’ve got one less member. And I bet in the next year as renewal forms go out all over the country, AMTA will find there are many, many members right behind me.
Rules for comments: If I’m wrong, tell me why and how. If you identify with my experience, feel free to share. However, comments that involve a “one organization vs the other organization” attitude will be removed. You all know what I’m talking about here and I will moderate with reckless abandon to keep this conversation focussed.