Proposal for USATF-NE Member Club Grants

by EJN Comments (2) Articles, Commentary

The following is a proposal put together by Amanda Wright for USATF-NE members to consider ahead of the Annual Meeting (to be held on Sunday, September 27th at 4:00 pm at Gosman Ctr Brandeis University in Waltham, MA). It certainly does present a unique idea for handling the surplus of cash that the USATF-NE has on hand. It most certainly will spark passionate debate amongst the members. Check it out and decide for yourself (and show up to vote on the 27th!):

Abstract:  USATF-NE’s purpose is to promote the sport. USATF-NE has roughly $500,000 to do that, but has been very reluctant to use the member’s money to promote and create new programs. The member clubs are currently more active at promoting the sport and have more resources and personnel management to do so, so the member clubs are better situated to use the money to promote the sport and develop programs.

Proposal: What do you call a not-for-profit entity that banks a profit and sits on an ever increasing pile of cash and is reluctant to use said cash to fulfill its own mission? Why, I think you would call that entity USATF New England.

It’s certainly a complex issue, so let’s start with a simple question: What would you do with $200,000.00 dollars to invest back into track & field? More specifically, fostering post-collegiate competition, youth development, and basically running and track and field in general. What if I told you I could give you the power to take $200,000.00 of the USATF New England’s net assets and you could do just that – use your own ingenuity and your fellow harriers’ ingenuity to spend the money and to grow our sport. Stop right there – before we go any further. I may have misled you – I can’t do exactly that. I am only human after all, but I might be able to come up with something close – perhaps, something just as good and even more fair.  

I plan to make a proposal at the USATF-NE Annual Meeting on Sept 27th to distribute a program grant of $200,000.00 coming from the USATF-NE’s net assets and sub-divide the grant among its own member clubs in the form of smaller program grants. The division of the $200,000.00 program grant will depend on the proportion of membership each member club has as registered USATF members on the date of the annual meeting: Sunday, September 27th at 5:00 pm at Gosman Ctr Brandeis University in Waltham, MA. For example, Greater Lowell Road Runners has the most registered USATF-NE members of any club in our association; therefore, GLRR would receive the largest program grant of $12,882.85 (roughly). I provided a chart that breaks down the grant each club would receive based on the most current membership report I could access.

The program grants would be distributed to each willing club to create a program (or programs) to further the development of our sport, allowing the USATF-NE’s assets to be invested directly back to the athletes to grow and promote our sport. Each club has the option to decline their portion of the grant. A club may decline for various reasons, for example, inability to create programs due to lack of time, personnel resources etc. but a reason need not be given to decline the grant.

Perhaps, I have moved too fast, I’ve explained my proposal without telling you the reasons for my proposal and obviously, I’ll have critics so I should explain because as the great Matthew Centrowitz once tweeted, “If you have no critics you’ll likely have no success.”  I guess, I hoped to garner the support of all the Tarantino fans in the USATF NE (I’m going to show you the ending and then go back and explain how we got there). So in true Tarantino fashion – here we go.

According to Article 3 in the USATF-NE By-Laws the purpose of this organization is “to foster national and amateur sports competition by encouraging, improving and promoting amateur Athletics in New England.” The organization is supposed to improve and promote by administering and organizing athletic programs in Track & Field, Long Distance Running, and Race Walking, et. el. for both youth and adults. The USATF-NE obviously does some of that, but there’s a lot more money to be invested into the organization’s purpose and a lot more improving and promoting that could happen. Specifically, there is about half a million dollars that USATF-NE has not done anything with!

Last year the treasurer’s report for USATF-NE reflected $491,000 net assets through August 2014, roughly $230,000 of which are in a mutual fund. Per the treasurer’s annual report the treasurer discussed the growth of assets and wrote, “We have been handling all of the above with no growth in office staff for many years. In order to continue to handle this type of growth, and leverage the Board to do further development work, my primary recommendation (repeated for the past five years) is that we use the excess assets to add staff to handle an increased work load and provide even more resources to our sports.”

A year before, at the 2013 annual meeting, the treasurer reported that the net assets of the association were $465,000.00. Most of that was liquid cash. The treasurer at the time made this statement as per the meeting minutes which was consistent with his recommendation a year later: “I think we need to invest in further staff, part or another full time, we have the funds and can get better service. If we have a bigger staff then theoretically we can grow even further.” That was in September 2013. Nearly two years have passed since the treasurer has made that statement and he has made the same recommendation now for nearly five years in a row, but what has the USATF-NE Board of Governors done with the nearly half a million dollars? Do we have new staff? Do we have new programming? Or (the more likely reality) as a non-profit organization are we still sitting on this cash, claiming it’s a rainy day security fund?  

Well, there has been some push from some good people trying to hire more help to increase programing to grow the sport and reinvest the money back to the athletes, but there remains only one full-time employee on the USATF-NE’s payroll, the Managing Director. Throughout 2014, the Board did vote to hire a consultant to make recommendations concerning how the USATF NE could grow as an organization and the consultant made some oral recommendations to the Board – I was a part of the process because the consultant did speak with me. Maybe they have good reason not to hire more permanent staff – or maybe they just are afraid to fail or afraid that the person they hire won’t do a good job. Either way, we are still sitting pretty on about half a million with no new staff to help grow and promote our sport and no new programing. Point: There is no one to manage the spending of all this money.

The interesting thing about the USATF-NE is it really does sit on a monopoly because it is an organization charged with the governance of track and field throughout the region. Why would an organization with such power sit on liquid cash and not help our sport grow? Maybe for some of us the question is, do we even care what their reasons are for sitting on the money? In any organization it’s good to have a rainy day fund, right? But, how much is too much? Certainty, half a million seems a bit excessive for a non-profit governing body of track and frield. Plus, most of the money comes from membership dues and race sanctions. There’s a certain amount of money we can rely on coming in each year. We are like a tuition-driven college that doesn’t invest in any improvements for the students and has no operating costs. You all can understand that, right? Especially, you millennials out there. Let’s break that trend. No more tuition-driven USATF NE. Let’s stop the cycle of collecting tuition dollars from members and holding it in an account for a rainy day all while having zero ingenuity in new programming or program improvement. Let’s not do the same boring thing year after year. Let’s build a new gym, improve the library, and make the quad look a little nicer by putting some sod down. Let’s use the membership dues to invest back into the sport and let the Board of Governors figure out ways not to be so “tuition-driven,” you know, explore corporate sponsorships, local sponsorships, and other ways to raise revenue if they still want to keep half a mill in the bank.

Summarily, if the Board refuses to spend the money to grow the sport and if they refuse to hire someone to spend the money to grow the sport, I think they have made it patently clear they are just going to sit on the money. That has been their stance for half a decade. I think it’s time we gave the clubs a chance to reinvest the money since they are the entities with all the ingenuity anyway.  

I have made a simple observation as of late. I have seen a lot of innovation coming from the grassroots of our organization. I am talking about the USATF NE clubs. We’ve seen several clubs step up hosting their own events to improve both our cross country and our road series: Millennium just hosted our first Cross Country Opener in the Grand Prix Cross Country Series which will be followed by GBTC’s annual XC Festival. I’ll mention briefly GMAA’s 15k last season designed exclusively with the Grand Prix and USATF runners in mind and the Annual Club Challenge Cup Marathon Relay put on by Somerville, but there are countless other examples of inventiveness to improve and promote our sport coming from the club level. The All-Terrain Series is a good example of a Board initiative to use funds to create programs. It costs about $10,000.00 and has raised cross-interest in disciplines and brought athletes from various disciplines together to compete. Clubs are better suited to create these sorts of programs since we see so few from the Board. For example, track participation among post-collegiate athletes suffers, especially inter-club competition. With some funding, I am sure clubs could find the resources and personnel to organize more interest in track. Most recently, we saw the Western Mass Distance Project put on the Friday Night Lights 10k – a well-attended and excellent showcase of New England talent not often seen on the track.

So maybe the money is better distributed in the hands of many who can handle it and use it than in the hands of a few who refuse to use it. After all, it’s probably not the Board of Governors fault. This is a largely volunteer run organization with volunteers that refuse to hire any more help and very few volunteers. With one employee, they don’t have the resources to spend the money intelligently and effectively, at least without hiring a new employee or two (which they have refused to do for the last five years for seemingly illogical and contradictory reasons).

At the 2014 meeting, the treasurer per his report, “An advantage any treasurer of USATF-NE has is good visibility into future income and expenses. The office and staff expenses are very consistent year to year. It is possible to make very accurate projections on next year’s income based on past growth trends of our two major income sources. And the events and meets we host tend to break even or generate some excess income. Plus we have vast excess funds in the bank should we miscalculate for the upcoming year. Thus the primary challenge is having committee chairpersons who have the time and resources to create and execute on a budget which can be fairly liberal in terms of dollars available to their sport.” But the clubs do have the time and resources, they can create and execute a budget with the money we disperse to them. They’ve already proved to us they can put on great events, come up with new ideas, and breathe life into something that so desperately needs life.

According to Article 7 of the By-Laws which addresses procedures at meetings, I can make this new proposal when there is a call for new business. Someone will have to second the motion and then after everyone is heard on the issue, it may be voted on. If you agree with me and want to support and vote on the proposal, you should attend the meeting to speak and vote. You should bring your friends. We can all go out for drinks after. If you disagree with the proposal, you should voice your concerns, but you should also attend because…what if drinks after the annual meeting is enough to entice people to show up and vote…and what if it goes through…you’re going to want to be there.

  • USATF-NE club grant distribution Wright
  • USATF-NE club grant distribution Wright II
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2 Responses to Proposal for USATF-NE Member Club Grants

  1. Nich Haber says:

    I think this is an excellent start of the conversation. I would question your calculation to divide the money up based on the number of athletes on a team. Not every club has giving back to the sport as part of their mission and there are some clubs that have a small roster, but an oversized positive impact on the running community. I think there should be more of a nuanced approach to funding organizations in New England.

    Here’s how I would structure it:

    I would look at examples of how other foundations distribute money. In general, a well run foundation will review their finances and decide on a specific amount of money they can distribute annually that is sustainable. Giving away a huge chunk of money one year and then not being able to support programming the second year is not always a good bet. We want to be able to support organizations that can start new exciting programs and help put them on a path of independent sustainability. If USATF-NE gives away $200k this year, can they reasonably expect to be able to do that again next year? If you are running youth programming or an annual event, what happens to your event the second year? The question to ask – What can USATF-NE reasonably be able to give away every year and be confident that they can do this for the foreseeable future?

    I would then decide what areas are in need of funding that best match the mission of USATF-NE. Elite athlete development. Eliminating the “Play Gap” between poor and affluent youth. Creating exciting competitive events here in New England. These are some areas that are meaningful to me. Members of the committee may have others. This should be decided on and a budget for each area of funding should be determined.

    Have a formal proposal process that is transparent and has measurable outcomes towards the stated goals. Be confident you can answer questions like “Why did one organization get a large grant and not another?” Well maybe maybe one can run programs for 300 kids and the other can only do it for 50.

    Thanks for throwing out this proposal. I think it’s a great start of the conversation and I’d be happy to discuss it further with you or anyone else who is interested.


  2. Steve Prefontain says:

    “You know white people get money don’t spend it”

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