The mission of the Utah Chapter of the American Fisheries Society (Chapter) is to promote conservation, development and wise utilization of aquatic resources in Utah. According to Chapter Bylaws, our mission should reflect the mission of the American Fisheries Society, which is “to improve the conservation and sustainability of fishery resources and aquatic ecosystems by advancing fisheries and aquatic science and promoting the development of fisheries professionals.”
The Chapter has identified a need to develop a formal business plan in order to be a more sustainable organization, foster greater engagement with its members, as well as garner greater support for its actions from Chapter members and their employers. At the March 2012 annual business meeting, Chapter members voted to form a special committee to develop the plan. Members of the special committee included: Craig Walker, Drew Cushing, Krissy Wilson, Michael Slater, Paul Burnett, and Ben Nadolski.
Recent events have highlighted the need to develop a Chapter business plan and enhance support for Chapter actions. Several contributing factors were identified.
1) Historically, a majority of annual meeting participants and Chapter members have been employees of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR). Because a large number of Chapter members are UDWR employees, the group is vulnerable to administrative and financial decisions made by UDWR leadership.
2) State and federal agency leadership have expressed concerns about the considerable costs continually incurred by supporting employees to attend Chapter and other annual professional meetings. State and federal budgets have tightened considerably and there is greater public scrutiny on expenses generated by large meetings. For example, UDWR leadership has made the Chapter aware that annual meeting costs covered by UDWR need to be reduced. The Chapter recognizes that it is mutually beneficial for both itself and employers of meeting participants to reduce meeting costs.
3) Some activities of Chapter members have been perceived as conflicting with the goals of agency employers or politically sensitive.
4) Chapter leadership seeks to continue holding meetings at independent, non-agency, meeting locations. Meeting outside workplace environments fosters emotional engagement among Chapter members in open discussions about issues related to fisheries and aquatic species management.
The Chapter serves many functions at the state level, which includes organizing and hosting the Chapter’s annual meeting, funding special projects, and providing support to students through scholarships. The annual meeting typically consists of a plenary session, formal presentations by Chapter members in symposia covering broad topics and a platform for Chapter members to network. The annual meeting also serves as the primary fundraising event and primary expense for the Chapter and allows the Chapter to continue to provide assistance to members as noted above.
Annual meetings previous to the 2012 meeting have cost the Chapter between $6,000-8,000 for an event location, catering, and audio/visual costs. Chapter members or their employers were typically responsible for membership dues, travel, meeting registration, and accommodation (e.g., room and on-site meal) expenses. Given Chapter membership is primarily comprised of state and federal agency employees, whose attendance is supported by their employers, member attendance is often reliant upon agency approval and support. The Chapter has, therefore, recently placed considerable emphasis on redistributing meeting expenses in an effort to increase employer willingness to support employee meeting participation. Cost redistribution efforts undertaken by the Chapter mean that (1) registrants are responsible for membership dues, (2) employers are responsible for registration and per diem costs during travel for each attending employee, and (3) the Chapter covers all food and lodging during annual meetings.
Traditional sources of revenue for annual meetings come from the following sources:
1) membership dues,
2) in-meeting fundraising proceeds,
3) meeting registration,
4) periodic hosting of WDAFS to generate revenue ($15,000 to $20,000) to subsidize annual Chapter meeting,
5) university workshops, and
6) agency reimbursement of meeting expenses (e.g., UDWR support of meeting registrants; excluding wage payment during attendance, averaged approximately $20,000 annually).
Under the new model, funding comes from:
1. increased membership dues ($5 to $25),
2. sponsorships from agencies and other organizations that support the Chapter mission,
3. organized event proceeds (e.g., fishing tournament, trap shoot),
4. maximized in-meeting fundraising revenue,
5. selection of meeting location/timing based upon annual budget and projected attendance,
6. meeting registration, and
7. diversified and increased attendance from “nontraditional” participants (e.g., other natural resources professionals, anglers, and vendors).
Under this model, agency reimbursement is limited to registration fees and travel expenses (e.g., mileage). The success of these efforts in offsetting per-individual meeting expenses served as the primary reason for moving forward with development of a more formal business plan for the Chapter that allows for expansion of traditional revenue sources.