Governor’s Column

By Roy Ockert December, 2022

Red ink isn’t good for district — even at Christmas-time

Having been chairman of the district’s Finance Committee for the past six years, I know how people’s eyes glaze over when you start talking about budgets, account balances and financial statements. However, we need to talk about finances, even if it is nearly Christmas.

At our Nov. 4 Board of Trustees meeting we approved a budget for the new year that began Oct. 1, projecting a deficit of $29,673. That’s on the heels of two years in which the final financial statements showed bottom-line deficits of $38,130 and $26,565, respectively.

The two most recent were planned to an extent because the board had decided to dip into our reserve funds to pay for membership contest grants — $22,000 two years ago and $15,000 last year. So the red ink wasn’t as bad as it sounds.

We were pleased with the results of the membership contests, especially considering that clubs were coming out of a pandemic that shut many down and affected the activities of all. My own Jonesboro club lost all revenue from Pancake Day for the first time in more than 80 years.

In short, we needed to encourage all our clubs to get back into recruiting, and many of them did. But it was expensive, and the district still lost members both years.

Therein lies the problem Mo-Ark has been dealing with, and most other districts — other service and civic clubs, in fact — are facing the same thing.

In 2015-16 our district started the year with 5,200 members and anticipated dues revenue of $104,000. Our revenue comes almost exclusively from the $20 dues per year for each member. Until last year we also received $20 when a new member signed up after Oct. 1. That new member fee has been eliminated, and now we get a pro-rated share of the $20 first-year dues, depending on when the application is accepted.

This year our beginning membership district-wide is 3,798. We project dues revenue to total $80,960, including the late member additions that are pro-rated.

We have cut all travel budget lines, and many district, region and division officers were already paying a significant portion of their expenses.

The district has two paid part-time officers — secretary and treasurer — each of whom operates out of a home office as an independent contractor. The total cost of stipends and office expense is $37,200, nearly half of our projected revenue, and that doesn’t count related expenses such as office supplies, travel, bonds and communications.

The budget includes $5,000 in club building expenses and $2,000 for club strengthening. The most important thing we do in the district is to establish Kiwanis clubs wherever we can and help them thrive. The club building expense can be partially offset by up to $2,500 in Kiwanis International grants.

All this says it’s time to consider an increase in district dues, and I have asked the Finance Committee, now chaired by Governor-elect Paul Sherman, to study that possibility. Because our dues are set in the district bylaws, an amendment would be necessary, and it can only be considered at a District Convention.

Research done by Brad Boyd, KI’s Area 3 director,  shows that Mo-Ark and Kentucky-Tennessee districts share the distinction of having the lowest district dues in North America. Some of our neighboring states have much higher rates: Louisiana-Mississippi-Western Tennessee, $46; Texas-Oklahoma, $40; and Illinois-Eastern Iowa, $36.

We don’t need to go that high, but when you’ve cut expenses all you can, the only alternative is to increase revenue. Of course, a dramatic turnaround in membership numbers would do it, but we’re on a downward trend.

Complicating anything we might want to do on the district level, is Kiwanis International’s situation. With membership dropping in almost all divisions, KI is struggling to make ends meet with the $82 now charged annually to each member for dues, insurance, the magazine, etc. We’ve heard that delegates to next year’s international convention will be asked to approve a dues increase, and we’d hate to piggyback on that.

Mo-Ark does have about $135,000 invested in mutual funds, which is now producing some revenue. Previously, our reserves were parked in money market accounts and certificates of deposit, which earned next to nothing. But $30,000 annual deficits could wipe that out in a hurry.

We account for our conventions separately from the operating budget, and we try to make sure they break even. That usually works — unless an event has to be canceled for some reason.

Maybe Santa will fill our wish list. Meanwhile, we’re open to new revenue ideas. Everybody else is already doing silent auctions and raffles.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

For the Budget see the Board Reports page or click here


By Roy Ockert Jr. November 2, 2022

Congratulations to our newest Mo-Ark club, Kiwanis Club of Northwest Jefferson County, which was officially organized on Oct. 25.

The new club will serve several communities along Highway 30 and southwest of St. Louis, including High Ridge, the hometown of our immediate past governor, Carla O’Brien. In fact, Carla’s club, Kiwanis Club of Gravois, which is further up Highway 30, will be the sponsoring club.

Northwest Jefferson County will be a part of Division 8, which is fortunate to have Becky Panchot of Farmington as its lieutenant governor. That will put the division back at five clubs.

Getting this club open is a testament to the efforts of Carla and Mo-Ark’s indispensable membership chair, Barbara Thompson of Florissant Valley. Actually both of them have been involved in so many clubs — as a member, coach, opener, sponsor, whatever — that I’m sure they couldn’t count them all.

Carla is so dedicated to Kiwanis that for the recent charter ceremony of  the Kiwanis Club of Greater Bryant, Ark., she lugged 52 pounds of food from St. Louis to Little Rock in her checked luggage. Actually, she had to move two pounds of cheese from one bag to another to avoid an overcharge.

The experience, expertise and dedication of these two great Kiwanians is why I’ve asked them to work together in heading our two most important committees — Barb again for Membership and Carla for a new Club Strengthening Committee.

In the past the tasks of opening new clubs and revitalizing or strengthening existing clubs have been pretty much the work of one or two individuals, or small groups of individuals, sometimes with the help of KI personnel.

Last year Carla led an effort to “boost” several clubs in the areas where we had educational conferences scheduled. We made some progress with those that were eager to collaborate with us, but not as much as we’d hoped. And we found that those efforts over four weeks exhausted our 2-person staff and officer corps. Further, it exhausted our budgets.

This year I hope to get more people involved in both club opening and strengthening, with Barb and Carla doing the coordination — but not all the work. I’m asking both of them to form small committees to work with them in planning and coordination. After all, we should be getting some experience for the next Barb, the next Carla if Mo-Ark is to thrive in the future.

Barb and the Membership Committee will focus on club openings. My goal is a plus five for the year, and Barb says she figures we’ll need to open at least eight to do that (because we’ll lose some). We’ve got some strong possibilities on the drawing board, but we welcome suggestions.

Carla and the Club Strengthening Committee will aim to help any clubs that are struggling and willing to work with us to make things better. Adding new members is, of course, the obvious place where most clubs need help. But there are other ways the district can help, such as connecting a club with a coach who can help train officers.

Last year’s club revitalization chair, Ralph McCormick of Russellville, suggested we form teams that could go into communities where a club needs help on a short-term basis. A concentrated membership drive, or boost, can be done in two or three days if we have local members willing to collaborate.

Such teams can operate most effectively and efficiently if they can be comprised of three or four Kiwanians from the same region the club is in. For example, if we do a boost in northwest Arkansas, it’s much more expensive for us to send people from St. Louis or Jonesboro than to put together a team of people within driving distance of the club that needs help. The lieutenant governor certainly should be involved because he or she would already be familiar with the club, its leaders and the community they serve.

No committee can do everything that needs to be done, but we can work together for the good of Kiwanis.

One thing we’ve found is that some clubs, even with declining membership, don’t want help. We can’t do anything about that, and we don’t want to force the issue. We just want to be sure everyone knows that help is available. All you have to do is ask.

There is no shame in asking. We’ve all been through some tough times since the spring of 2020, and some clubs are still struggling to get back to normal.

Last year we added four — really now five — clubs, but we lost seven.

As of Oct. 1 Mo-Ark had 39 clubs — more than one in every five — with fewer than 15 members. That’s actually the magic number for starting a new club, and most of think the old standard of 20 is more realistic.

Seventeen of those 39 clubs have fewer than 10 members. That’s a real danger line for most. It’s hard to sustain an organization with fewer than 10 members.

Kiwanis is well worth sharing. Let’s do everything we can to keep strong, vibrant, service-oriented clubs in every community of Missouri and Arkansas.

Roy Ockert can be reached at royo@suddenlink.net.

By Roy Ockert Jr. October 1, 2022

We’ve had a peaceful transition of power — to use that term loosely — in the Missouri-Arkansas District over the past week.

My year as governor officially began Saturday (Oct. 1) with the new Kiwanis fiscal year after 12 months as governor-elect and another month as governor-designate. But Governor Carla O’Brien passed along the “accoutrements” of office the previous Tuesday during a meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Conway.

That ceremony had been delayed because Carla was battling COVID and unable to attend the District Convention in person. But I went to Siloam Springs Tuesday to install club officers there, and my trip home to Jonesboro carried me very close to the Conway meeting, where Carla was to perform the officer installation as one in a series of her final duties as governor.

So we agreed that would be an excellent time to get together.. She managed to pack the governor’s banner, magnetic car shields and the necklace plated with all the previous governors — it’s getting heavy — into her suitcase for the flight from St. Louis to Little Rock. And the Conway club graciously gave us time for the ceremony.

Now I’ll get the “Governor’s Home Club” banner to my Jonesboro club and hopefully talk first lady Pat into riding in a vehicle with a sign announcing “Kiwanis Governor” attached to both sides.

For my tenure as governor, I’ve chosen the theme “One Community,” which you’ll see on the lapel pins that I’m handing out as I visit Kiwanis clubs around Arkansas and Missouri. The pin features two Jonesboro kids — a brother and sister — in a photo taken by their dad, thus reminding us that we serve the children of the world.

We serve mostly up close and personal in our own communities, as “one community at a time.”

During the Kiwanis International convention in Indianapolis in June,  KI’s executive director, Stan Soderstrom, said in his annual report that almost everything good that happens in Kiwanis happens at the club level. That’s certainly true, and I’m going to spend a lot of my time as governor stressing the importance of strengthening our local clubs so they can continue to serve their communities for many more years.

My Jonesboro club does important things in our community and has since it was chartered in 1935. Each of you could say the same thing about your club. That’s why it pains us whenever a Kiwanis club ceases to exist, as several have in Mo-Ark over the past couple of years. Fourteen others had fewer than 10 members, according to the Sept. 1 KI membership report.

The most important things we do are those that benefit the youth of our communities. Whether your club does hands-on service like offering swimming lessons, reading to elementary school kids, sponsoring a Christmas parade or just writing a check, you make a difference in your “one community.”

Children’s programs, including those sponsored or supported by Kiwanians, can be life changing.

I’m sure many of you can testify, like me, that one or more programs for youth in your hometown helped shape your own life. The value of local programs for kids can’t be understated, especially those that benefit children who lack strong support systems or resources at home.

Kiwanis clubs support those vital programs, which is why we need more clubs and stronger clubs — meaning more members, more service projects.

While at the district level we are committed to opening new Kiwanis clubs, especially in communities that don’t one, we’re also going to do everything we can to help clubs that are struggling. The pandemic has been hard on all organizations, especially those like ours that thrive on face-to-face meetings and hands-on service.

Carla has agreed to head a new Club Strengthening Committee, which identify and work with the clubs that need help and are willing to accept it. One thing we learned during the past year is that revitalizing our clubs after two difficult years requires more than just the district staff and officers. So we will call upon lieutenant governors to help us form a boost team in the area of a struggling club. The division LTG and other Kiwanians from the area are more likely to be accepted by the struggling club, and it’s much more economical.

Another thing we will do is encourage you to start doing interclubs again. Having a group from a nearby club can be a big morale boost for a small club striving to bring its own members back for meetings. And the exchange of ideas that results can be useful as well.

As for club openings, the incomparable Barb Thompson has agreed to serve again as head of the Membership Committee, and we need to involve more people in that process. Having been involved, for the first time this past year, in not one but four club openings, I can tell you it’s an exhilarating experience that every good Kiwanian ought to have. If there is anyone who can sell Kiwanis better than Barb, I’d like to meet (and enlist) that person.

Finally, I’d like to mention that I am continuing the same governor’s project as Carla had — the Beatrice Johnson Kiwanis Youth Kamp — so I’ll be raising money for that cause as I make my way around the district.

Meanwhile, let’s all remember that strong local clubs — meaning those with a good core of leaders and a growing membership — are vital for their communities, especially for the children there. So please rededicate yourself and your clubs to serving the children of your one community because that’s where Kiwanis lives.

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