The State of GEAPS, December 2020￼
The State of GEAPS, December 2020
I hope you are having a wonderful and safe holiday season. To say 2020 has been difficult would be an understatement for all of us, GEAPS included. While no one planned for COVID-19, we are dealing with its impact as well as possible. I’d like to thank all of the volunteer leaders in GEAPS for their dedication and efforts to keep our network of agriculture professionals engaged and connected, from our International Board to all of our chapter leaders.
As we enter 2021, the state of GEAPS is challenging. However, the obstacles we face present us with new opportunities – to refocus on our mission, improve member engagement and commit to growing GEAPS. Simply put, GEAPS hasn’t been growing, but as we enter the new year we are optimistic about our future. We are committed to expanding our membership, our value and our impact in the industry.
This message highlights some of the most important items for GEAPS.
Status: If GEAPS faces a real threat to our business, it’s our losses in regular members. This is not a new problem. GEAPS has seen steady declines in membership overall, especially with regular members since 2011. A decade ago, GEAPS had nearly 3,000 paying members. Today we have just over 1,700. GEAPS membership pricing and annual membership dues increases only grew the problem as dues increased 200 percent from 2011-2019.
What we’ve Done in 2020: We stopped increasing dues pricing. We have created incentives for chapters to recruit and retain members.
2021 and Beyond: We will continue to adjust individual membership pricing to help fulfill our mission. We are also currently finalizing new membership models, including company and facility level membership opportunities, to stop our membership declines and start growing our roster again.
Professional Development and Training
Status: Our professional development programs are central to fulfilling our mission to advance knowledge and information. GEAPS distance education program saw large growth from 2008 to 2015, but since 2015 attendance dropped by nearly 50 percent. Similar to membership dues, we recognize that the price increases our courses had over the past 10 years created a program that is not affordable for most members.
What we’ve Done in 2020: We launched a limited set of lower cost on-demand, short courses in our distance education program as we plan to move all courses ‘on-demand’. We launched an entire Professional Business Training e-learning program with more than 200 courses. We also launched seasonal educational webinars with topics relevant to the industry for those specific times of the year.
Our past relationship with Kansas State University is changing and we will no longer only work with one university. We will foster many partnerships in order to expand the content and training GEAPS can offer our members. And finally, GEAPS has designed a custom training program that can bring the training you need to you and your facility, customized to your needs on content, timing and costs.
2021 and Beyond: We are expanding on all of our training offerings. You will see new courses and new programs with more partners, universities and subject matter experts. We will be remaking our most popular content with vastly improved technology for better user experience and engagement. We intend on including more professional development items as a member value item and lowering the prices for others as we bring all of the program administration in-house at GEAPS.
The GEAPS Foundation Professional Development endowment is now fully funded. GEAPS contributed 75 percent of the $4 million endowment. GEAPS will request funding from the GEAPS Foundation to revamp our professional development program and provide all of our members a return on our investment we gave to get the Foundation operating.
Status: Over the past 10 years, GEAPS has been financially sound each year, but we have not been overly efficient with expenses. Successful GEAPS Exchanges allowed us to invest in and build programs with limited value or accessibility to most members, hire more staff and support than needed and still put money in the bank. While that money has been a blessing this year given the loss of Exchange 2020, that trend is unsustainable. We should not be growing our bank reserves while seeing declines in membership, member engagement or member value.
What we’ve Done in 2020: We have overhauled our budgeting and staffing. By the end of this fiscal year, we will have reduced program and discretionary expenses by more than $1.2 million compared to two years ago. We reduced our staffing by 30 percent while still delivering on our strategic plan and maintaining existing programs and launching new programs.
2021 and Beyond: We will continue to budget conservatively for the coming years. We will invest in projects, programs and people that help us achieve our goals.
Status: GEAPS membership has developed into many respects like a Costco card. You buy membership but then still have to pay for all the offerings GEAPS has. The value of our membership has always been largely based on the connections to people in the industry and the relationships, business and personal, that are formed. Many of the services GEAPS has developed are not used by the majority of our members.
What we’ve Done in 2020: GEAPS has a new strategic plan with driving member value as a key outcome and goal. We surveyed our membership, along with non-members, to understand how GEAPS can provide more value to you. We have started work to provide more resources and support to our chapter network – the place most members derive value.
2021 and Beyond: As noted above, some of our new professional development initiatives will be member-only features. We are adapting our offerings to be more convenient, affordable and timely. We are researching new member-only services too, based on the feedback you’ve provided.
Lastly, we are looking closely at our pricing. We know there is value in GEAPS and the services we provide. However, the value of our services has not matched the increase in our pricing over the past 10 years. In the future, you will see more features included with your membership and a more affordable price for added services.
While the state of GEAPS is challenging, we are optimistic about our future and the chance to better serve our members. Thank you for being a part of GEAPS and your continued support of our local and international organizations. Here’s to a much better year in 2021. We look forward to seeing you in February at our virtual conference Feb. 23-25 and in Columbus, Ohio in August for GEAPS Exchange 2021.