Chamber problems were no mystery to board of directors
- Mary Closson
- West Linn Tidings - Opinion
The article in last week's Tidings, 'Money Problems Force West Linn Chamber to Shut Down' was a poor representation of the accomplishments of the West Linn Chamber of Commerce during my tenure and the hard work of individuals to keep the organization afloat.
During my time as the executive director, finances were discussed in detail, particularly throughout 2007. We added six new board members in 2008, and of course they did not have the opportunity to get up to speed on chamber finances before I resigned effective Jan. 31.
All board members serving throughout 2007 were aware of our tight cash flow and our $10,000 line of credit. At board meetings we reviewed and discussed financial reports with those that were present. We talked about the need for additional income streams and asked board members to become more involved with fundraising efforts. The chamber was never flush with funds, but the assessment of the board was that through increased membership and by hosting relevant events, we would be able to grow into a viable organization.
It is not uncommon for a small non-profit to operate with tight cash flow and the West Linn chamber was no exception. Anyone who observed the chamber over the past few years knows that it was slowly building momentum but that it had not yet reached financial stability.
The chamber finance committee met monthly and closely monitored cash flow and financial statements. During board meetings, board members were advised of the monthly finance meetings and were encouraged to attend. No one ever did.
In November 2007, the board elected Mark Hanson as president. That same week I sent him an e-mail asking him to attend our November and December finance meetings so he would be prepared to take the reins of the chamber. He attended his first finance committee meeting in January 2008.
Many mis-statements were made in last week's article about shoddy bookkeeping practices and financial mismanagement. When I left on Jan. 31, I encouraged the new management team to call me with any questions. They never called. Regarding our bookkeeping practices, Julie Stoltz has an MBA from Marylhurst University and teaches QuickBooks courses. We were fortunate to have her skills and contributions at the chamber. I have personally seen Stoltz' accounting files. She was always able to locate invoices and matching payment records or bank records within moments of my asking for them.
During my resignation meeting with Hanson, I made recommendations to ensure a smooth leadership transition. This included my support of Administrative Assistant Terri Morley as daily operations manager and Julie Stoltz as bookkeeper. Instead, the decision was made to bring in Patti Galle as the interim executive director. Unfortunately, Galle had not been involved with chamber management prior to that time. Instead, what occurred was a tough transition involving several uninformed people who jumped to conclusions. If they had retained Stoltz and not waited until late February to meet with her, much of this misunderstanding could have been averted.
We always made it a priority to cover basic operating expenses including utility bills, rent and payroll. Regarding federal income taxes, I had contacted our CPA firm who was instructed to work directly with the IRS on our behalf to research the bill. I had a very proactive relationship with chamber vendors including the Oregon Golf Club and Community Newspapers and discussed issues regarding their billings as necessary.
In regards to monthly membership, renewals were a regular and much needed source of cash flow for the chamber. In a letter sent to the chamber's executive committee dated Feb. 20, Stoltz specifically asked why February's member renewal invoices were never mailed. Total value of those invoices: $4500. Collecting these membership fees would certainly have boosted the chamber's cash flow.
Last week's article included a statement alluding to inflated membership statistics. During my tenure as executive director, a great deal of attention was given to the chamber's aging report which provided a list of members whose renewals were 30, 60, 90 or 90+ days in arrears. It was not unusual to see an aging report reflecting unpaid dues totaling $10,000 to $15,000. Many small business owners pay fixed expenses first and membership dues are paid as their cash flow allows.
The majority of West Linn chamber members ultimately paid their dues. My policy was to offer members payment plans when necessary and they appreciated this flexibility. If we were in regular contact with members who were in the 30, 60 or 90-day aging stage, they were included in our membership count. I am confident in the membership statistics I reported with a variance of 30 to 40 members and this can be confirmed by checking the chamber's latest membership directory published in December.
I led the chamber through a huge growth in membership and established strong rapport with the business community, city leaders and regional partners. In a memo written to the chamber's executive committee in December 2007, I voiced my concern at the lack of engagement of several chamber board members. I expressed my hope that the incoming board members would help create a new dynamic of leadership, vision and commitment to the development of the chamber. I will continue to hold that vision.