The Financial Health of Our Organizations: COMTA

Thank you for your interest in my annual reports on the financial status of the major non-profit organizations of the massage therapy profession. I am not an accountant or a financial expert. This information was taken directly from FORM 990, the Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax, which is published on Guidestar. This filing is for COMTA‘s fiscal year ending 2-29-2012. Non-profits are on a different tax filing schedule than the rest of us.

COMTA, the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation, seems to be losing ground both financially and as an accreditation body. According to their website, they are down to just 68 accredited schools. It has always been distressing to me that more school owners and program directors don’t seek out accreditation, and I don’t believe they’ve ever had more than 100 accredited at any one time. The backward trend is not a good thing.
COMTA is a smaller organization than most of the other non-profits, because of the nature of their work. They are not a membership organization and they don’t have a big staff.

COMTA’s Executive Director doesn’t receive anywhere near the amount of compensation of those in comparable positions in the membership organizations; Kate Ivane Henri Zulaski’s salary is currently listed at $80,426 in reportable compensation from the organization, and an additional amount of $12,000 is listed as compensation from the organization and other related organizations. However, that is a pretty big jump from three years ago, when it was slightly over $57,000. Since the organization seems to be on a downhill slide at the moment, $23,000 worth of raises in three years seems a little bit optimistic while revenues are going down. Their October 2013 update listed 13 schools that have voluntarily withdrawn; the March 2013 lists three others, plus one school that closed, for a total loss of 17 schools this year.

COMTA  grew out of the American Massage Therapy Association’s (AMTA) Program Approval Review Committee and the Commission on Massage Training Approval & Accreditation (COMTAA) organization. In 2002, COMTA was recognized by the Secretary of Education to accredit non-degree and degree granting institutions that offer massage and/or bodywork training programs. In 2004, COMTA separated itself from the AMTA, becoming an independent organization. COMTA was subsidized by AMTA for a number of years. However, according to Larry LaBoda, Chief Financial Officer of AMTA whom I spoke with yesterday, they are no longer contributing funds to COMTA.

Other than Zulaski, COMTA  employs only one staff member. Site visits are carried out by volunteers who get their travel expenses paid and a $100 per diem. It’s great that volunteers will take time away from their offices to do the visits, as most would probably make a good deal more money if they stayed at home and did massage. Even though site visits are made by volunteers, COMTA does have to pay for their travel, and that is their heaviest expense. For the past two years, that has held steady at slightly over $122K per year. In 2011, COMTA spent over $11K on conferences and conventions; in 2012, that was down to a little over $8K–approximately the cost of a booth at 1 or 2 conventions.

In 2011, COMTA showed net revenue of over $511K. In 2012, that was down to a little over $441K. In 2011, total expenses were a little over $453K. In 2012, expenses were a little over $421K. Revenue less expenses in 2011 were over $57K; in 2012, that was down to a little over $19K.

Non-profits are just that–organizations that are not in business to make a profit. It does serve them to keep several years worth of operating money on hand, in order to sustain the organization. They are showing a net asset/net fund balance of a little over $170K. In the general scheme of things, I don’t think that’s enough. It’s not equal to one year’s worth of expenses.The fees for accreditation are not cheap; you can see those by clicking here. Personally, I want to see COMTA survive, and thrive. I’d like to see a lot more schools recognizing the value of accreditation.

In addition to the expense, I often hear the argument sometimes from school owners that “I don’t want anybody telling me how to run my business.” It isn’t about that. It is about having good policies and procedures and enforcing them–and documenting them. It is about saying “here are some good standards, and I’ve chosen for my school to meet them.” COMTA’s Self-Study Report is freely available on their website, and I would encourage any school owner to utilize it to see how you’re stacking up.

5 Replies to “The Financial Health of Our Organizations: COMTA”

  1. Why should anyone care about the decline of COMTA? Here are several compelling reasons:

    1) One of the hallmarks of a full-fledged profession is having an accreditation agency that is of, by and for that discipline. Fields such as physical therapy, acupuncture, nursing, occupational therapy, naturopathy and chiropractic have their own accrediting bodies — and all schools in each of those disciplines are accredited by their respective agencies. It is the way that educational standards are promulgated and maintained. Instead of state occupational licensing boards trying to regulate education in a particular field, health care licensing laws generally rely upon accreditation status.

    Massage Therapy cannot and will not become a true profession unless we have OUR OWN strong accreditation agency. The other six agencies that currently accredit massage schools are all broad-spectrum vocational accreditors that focus on the institutional aspects and not on the specific programs.

    2) COMTA is the only accreditation agency that has established and validated competency-based curriculum standards for massage therapy education. These standards have been utilized by its accredited schools for more than a decade, and represent a proven and practical template for developing competent entry-level therapists. The findings of the MTBOK and the forthcoming ELAP are merely theoretical. COMTA’s educational standards work across a wide range of types of massage programs with different missions and philosophies.

    3) COMTA cannot pull itself up by its own bootstraps in the existing landscape. It must have the ongoing financial support of the three resource-rich organizations in our field: AMTA, ABMP and FSMTB. AMTA had previously pledged financial support of COMTA “in perpetuity”, but rescinded that commitment in 2008.

    4) While only about half of all massage schools are accredited at present, only about 5% are accredited by COMTA. Without a common educational standard, there is no way to create the kind of consistency of training that will raise the quality level of massage therapy practice received by the public. Accreditation by COMTA (whether institutional or programmatic) will improve the quality of massage education across the spectrum of our field, and the process is achievable by schools both large and small.

    We have a long way to go to become a true profession, and supporting COMTA and its standards will move us in the right direction.

    (As a disclaimer here: I’m the co-director of a small massage school that’s been accredited by COMTA since 1999. This ongoing process has allowed us to become a much better-functioning institution, and we have been able to maintain our uniqueness throughout.)

  2. Hi Laura,

    I really appreciate your efforts to help members of our massage community understand what is happening with our organizations. I have a few clarifications to share about the financial reports that you see in GuideStar and what they mean specifically for COMTA.

    First, our fiscal year ends in February, so when you see the “year” on our reports it’s not always the same as the calendar year. It can be a bit confusing, especially since in some parts of the report it IS referring to the calendar year. So comparing something from one year to another can be tricky. To further confuse things, our accounting in 2008-2009 was a little less accurate than it should have been. As we found errors later in 2010 and 2011, we had to make corrections. These corrections didn’t change the past reports, but they can make the differences between years seem more drastic.

    I started working for COMTA in the Spring of 2009, so when you look at the report for 2010, the amount is much smaller than the other years because I didn’t work for the agency the whole year.

    Second, for the highest paid persons for an organization, the amounts noted in the reports are not just gross salary. The amount also includes the costs for other benefits that are paid for on behalf of the employee, such as health insurance premiums and 401k (retirement) matching. These other factors may increase (or decrease) periodically, without any change in the amount of salary that the organization had decided to give the employee. In our particular case, health insurance premiums regularly increase about 35% per year (I try to combat this by periodically changing plans or carriers). And I increased my contributions to my retirement at some point, which then increased the amount COMTA was matching (which then is added to the amount paid in the report). But our retirement matching decreased in 2011, plus we had a period of no matching at all.

    So, when you look at the amounts you need to be aware that some of the ups and downs have nothing to do with the board of an organization giving bonuses or increases.

    Now, that being said, I did get a raise and a bonus in Spring 2011, on my two-year anniversary. My salary hasn’t changed since then. We’ve been focusing on reducing expenses in every way we could, and salary increases just haven’t seemed appropriate.

    I have been working diligently to get COMTA onto a more stable and sustainable financial ground. You are right to point out that our reserves are fairly low. We try to keep our fees as minimal as possible and keep accreditation attainable for small schools. We’re currently working on possible changes to our fee structure to have more stability for COMTA as well as more predictable and even fee payments for our schools. When we post the fee changes, I hope you and our other community members will remember to contact me directly with any questions.

    Thanks for creating a place to have this discussion.
    Best regards,

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