Reinvented CLA Affiliate Program Aims for More Meetings in More Places, Less Burden on Volunteers
Over the past several months, you’ve seen a couple of columns from recent CLA Board Chairs Jim Whitmore and Ron Kelley, talking about the strategic planning being done at the Coin Laundry Association and the renewed vision for the CLA’s future. When we conducted the research in the course of this work, it was clear that laundromat owners are craving more opportunities to meet with peers to share best practices and to socialize with other laundromat owners.
With this mandate in mind, we took the opportunity to review how the CLA’s venerable affiliate program works and what could be done to make things better for both the invaluable volunteers behind our chapters and for local laundromat owners looking to connect. An all-star committee composed of current and past affiliate presidents, as well as representatives from the distributor and manufacturer communities, was assembled to study the issue and make recommendations for improvement. Earlier this year, the CLA Board of Directors approved the committee’s preferred roadmap for reinventing the affiliate program to better serve our members.
Here’s a look at the main components of the new plan:
More Meetings in More Places
With 15 current affiliates, the CLA’s current program certainly covers a lot of ground. However, many markets lacking volunteer support and formal affiliate structure are left without regular meetings. Under the new plan, the CLA will not only put on as many or more meetings in the current affiliate territories, we also will begin establishing regular meetings in areas where we’ve been absent in recent years. This effort is already underway, following several meet-ups in Atlanta, New York City, northern New Jersey, and the metro Washington D.C. area in recent months.
Ultimately, we’d like to see every CLA member coast-to-coast with a “local” meeting to attend nearby. This will take some time and will grow over time, but it’s an achievable goal.
Simplify the Structure
Currently, CLA affiliates are established as separately incorporated, 501(c)(6) nonprofit corporations. This places our volunteers as corporate officers with all of the fiduciary, legal, and governance responsibilities that come with running a tax-exempt organization. For today’s busy store owners, this officer role has become increasingly time-consuming, and the corporate requirements only get more cumbersome. This work comes in addition to significant responsibilities for banking and financials on behalf of each chapter. So, we looked at ways to simplify.
A review of best practices in nonprofits today offered several high-profile examples of national associations that brought their chapters in-house to be managed and supported by their headquarters’ staff. The local corporation dissolves with the national association taking on the ongoing responsibilities. Legally, the local community of interest becomes a “section” or committee of the national group. We think this approach is a good fit for the CLA and its volunteers.
By the CLA taking on the responsibility for putting on the meetings centrally, we have a solution for keeping the best aspect of the current affiliate program, while shedding all of the requirements that come with the current structuring as separate corporations – which mandate keeping minutes, conducting elections, filing tax returns and corporate annual reports, and purchasing directors and officers (D&O) liability insurance, among many other administrative obligations.
Give the Volunteers a Break
With the dissolution of the separate nonprofit corporations, volunteers will be spared the responsibilities they’ve had as corporate officers. The local chapter boards will have the opportunity to guide our efforts by evolving into advisory councils with input on everything from meeting locations and educational topics to grassroots responses to legislative threats.
You can argue that volunteers serving on advisory councils can better direct their volunteer time toward outreach to and recruitment of local members and gearing up for future grassroots legislative efforts. This change also paves the way for more laundry owners to get involved at the local level, making the CLA stronger from the ground up.
Drive Better Content and Better Communicate CLA Activities
The research also revealed that you place a tremendous value on the educational value of meetings beyond your appreciation for networking with peers. By taking on a national slate of dozens of meetings, the CLA will not only add some efficiency to the scheduling and execution of meetings from coast to coast, but it also can cultivate and share the best speakers on the topics you most want to learn more about.
We also learned that we currently don’t do enough to keep you apprised of what the CLA is doing throughout the year. Regular updates on legislative efforts, CLA Board meetings, industry research, and the latest on LaundryCares Foundation activities will be a standard part of the program at all upcoming meetings.
Secure the Local Funds and Stop Laundry Tax
You may be aware that, for members of CLA affiliates, a portion of your dues is shared with the local chapter as a “subsidy” for local activities. By winding down the local chapters as separate entities, the CLA can retain that portion of the dues and reinvest those dollars in staffing and support of the new program. We will need to add to our team in order to deliver on the new program’s promise.
Of course, our current chapters have retained a portion of those monthly subsidies to support meetings, save for future legislative efforts, and for the proverbial “rainy day.” With the local corporation winding down, many affiliate leaders have asked, “What happens to the money?” Good question. Local groups will contribute those funds to the national organization, with the important caveat that those funds will be earmarked for restricted use as designated by the local group. Most will restrict those funds for future legislative response and lobbying efforts; hopefully, some will set aside some dollars to support the LaundryCares Foundation as well. The CLA will work with its independent auditors to offer ongoing, transparent reporting on the future use of all contributed affiliate funds.
As we have for years, the CLA will continue to lead the fight against sales tax on self-service laundries. The local nest eggs restricted for this purpose will help fund these efforts, along with the Stop Laundry Tax fundraising conducted by the national organization. The local laundromat owner’s engagement in the legislative process will continue to be a critical factor for success. The CLA will ramp up to provide even more support toward keeping sales tax out of the laundry business.
Encourage More Participation
Each and every affiliate volunteer we spoke to wishes more laundromat owners would attend meetings. Beyond “the more the merrier,” our members want to build the broadest community of interest possible. With this shared goal in mind, the CLA will expand the marketing for local meetings and work hard to build regular meeting attendance.
What’s more, the CLA will update its policies for vendor participation in meetings and reset the rules of engagement for all meeting attendees to avoid any conflicts of interest or perceived bias at local meetings.
Use Technology to Improve the Experience
This initiative to reshape our affiliate program in not happening in a vacuum. The CLA also has committed dollars to rebuilding its technology tools – including database management, websites, and marketing automation. In short, we will be improving the user experience at our websites and making it easier for you to register for meetings, stay current on association happenings and engage with your peers online.
As a future initiative, we also are exploring ways to stream local meeting content for broadcast to members across the country and around the world. Your membership becomes even more valuable with opportunities to virtually attend meetings and capture more ideas for improving your laundry.
If You’re Not Evolving, You’re Falling Behind
Reinventing our affiliate program is the centerpiece of a larger effort to remake the organization to better serve the industry going forward. In the coming months and years, you will see several new initiatives identified in our recent strategic planning. Expect to see 2018 include the investment in new technology tools, as well as a revamp of our member benefit package for laundry owners. Soon, you’ll also see an expansion of the LaundryCares Foundation initiative. In 2019, we are planning for new initiatives to support the growing wash-dry-fold market and the introduction of online training resources.
We are starting with the CLA Affiliate Program because engaging and educating our members comes first. The makeover outlined here will result in more meetings for more members in more places. We will greatly reduce the current burden on volunteers and enable them to focus on connecting with other members. As a CLA member, you can expect more opportunities to Connect. Learn. Grow.