Some quesitons and answers …

Recently I had a great conversation with a long-time harmonica friend about the SPAH election. He shared his take on the tone of the campaign and the approach suggested by Warren and me. He said, “Your campaign statements … painted Winslow (via his association with current management) as a conservative stick-in-the-mud.” Winslow, is a nice man, he has done a great job with the entertainment, and it goes without saying he’s an accomplished player. With all due respect, his campaign motto speaks volumes about his management style, “Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are now.”

On the surface that approach sounds sensible. Yet, that is exactly the policy that has led to a decline in membership and relevance to the harmonica community. It also bespeaks an aversion to risk that does the organization a disservice. Where would any of us be as musicians and human beings if we never ventured beyond “do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are now”?

Whoever runs SPAH for the next three years must have his feet planted firmly on the ground, but he should also be willing to try new things. He needs to have faith in his ability to reach beyond the organization’s grasp. Otherwise, we’ll stay just where we are.

Warren and I hope to build upon the foundation laid by the members and management teams of the last 50 years. We want to create a more transparent and financially secure SPAH that does more to accomplish its mission than hold an annual convention

This effort requires expending resources on membership development, creating mutually beneficial partnerships with industry stakeholders, and a capital drive program. Thus enriched, we’ll be in a position to make SPAH better than ever.

My friend suggested Warren and I “were willing to take large financial risks to expand SPAH’s reach, with references to all that money just sitting there in the bank.”

We have no intention of taking a hammer to the piggy bank. Our statements were more nuanced. Read SPAH’s BoD meeting minutes for the last four years and look at the tax returns which describe many of the organization’s business expenses. A pattern emerges. The current management team, of which Winslow is a member, has devoted neither money nor intellectual capital on membership development. They have likewise spent very little on infrastructure.

The SPAH convention has been successful for a long time. But it’s coasting on inertia. Unless we make a consistent effort to attract and retain members, it won’t be forever. Indeed correlating convention attendance with membership numbers over the last four years reveals interesting insights.

Without tangible membership benefits, convention locations are critical because  membership increases when the convention is held in areas with a strong local harmonica scene. Sacramento was case in point. Our membership numbers and convention attendance curves bulged. Why?  Primarily because there are a lot of harmonica players in California who could drive to the convention. To the best of my knowledge, Winslow has expressed no intentions of addressing this issue.

So yes, we might use some SPAH funds to pay for marketing efforts but as an adjunct to other strategies–not as step one. For example, there’s been a long standing practice to send many members on site inspections. When there, the organization treats  local club reps and themselves to dinner. This past year, we spent some $1,500[1. This number was originally misstated because I relied on my middle-aged memory instead of my notes. According to an email from Tom Stryker dated 11/10/2011, the expenses were as follows, “Winslow, $380.00 Airfare, Tom $380.00 Airfare, L.J. & Elizabeth  $300.00 Vehicle expense at gov. rate ($.75 per mile)”] on that program.

Site inspections aren’t really necessary any more. That work can be handled over the Internet and by phone. Trimming this expense will not affect the quality of the convention but will free up the funds for other programs like membership development. To the best of my knowledge, Winslow does not intend to discontinue that practice. Likewise, our conventions are only held in cities with local clubs. That model made sense when there were many more clubs. Now that practice limits our choices of cities and our ability to sustain growth.

My friend went on to say, given the apparent choice between, me and Winslow,  he said he, “Went with the stick-in-the-mud ;-)” It was both an honest answer, and in keeping with his gentle personality, a wry way of chiding me for some of my earlier campaign statements.

If all voters heard was the  “entrepreneurial vs. paralysis by analysis” trope, they missed the important points of our case.

Elections present a challenge to those who want to make a responsible choice, particularly in an organization like SPAH.  Most members are (rightfully) there for the party and do not care about the business end of the organization. Or as I like to say, few people want to know what goes into the sausage so long as it consistently tastes good. Therefore, emotions and friendships become the biggest factors in their decisions.

The SPAH election is not about whether the convention will “taste the same,” it will. It’s not about who is the better harmonica player or who has been around longer, or who has more friends or who “deserves” it.  It’s about deciding who will be the sausage chef, which is to say, who will do the  best job running the business and whose ideas, if executed, will most benefit the organization on the short and long term.

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