The Financial Health of Our Organizations: AMTA

For the past few years, I have been reporting on the financial health of the non-profit organizations of the massage profession. I am not an accountant or a financial expert. My information comes from Guidestar, a clearinghouse for non-profit information that is available to anyone. Non-profits may post their filings on Guidestar, and if they don’t do it, the IRS will do it for them. My annual reports do not include ABMP; they are a for-profit company that claims membership of more than 80,000 massage therapists, about 25,000 more than AMTA. Non-profits operate on a different filing schedule; the date of this filing was for the fiscal year beginning March 1, 2012 and ending February 28, 2013.

AMTA appears to be in a stronger financial position than last year’s filing, due to a huge jump of almost $1 million in their investment income. Let’s all hope that bodes well for investments in general in the US. Just two years ago, their investments had actually lost over $34K. According to the 990, AMTA actually lost 1030 members from the previous year, with the membership standing at 55,368 people as of February 2013. They are listing 79 employees, down 5 from last year. However, the organization still lists 850 volunteers, the same as last year.

Total revenues increased by over $824K. Salaries and other compensation went up by over $258K, in spite of the small reduction in employees. Overall, expenses increased by about $219K, so there was a little belt-tightening elsewhere. The bottom line, of revenue minus expenses, looks much better than last year, with an increase of over $605K.

The biggest expenditures for the organization are staff salaries, with 6 individuals listed who receive more than $100K a year in compensation. Then-Executive Director Shelly Johnson received a little over $265K. CFO Larry Laboda received over $149K, while current ED but then-Deputy ED received almost $160K. David French, listed as the Director of Marketing, was paid over $105K; Mark Tyle, Director of Chapter Relations, received over $108K, and Jocelyn Pysarchuk, listed as Director of Knowledge Transfer, received over $102K.

The 12-member Board of Directors at AMTA is also compensated in amounts ranging from $5K-6K for members-at-large to almost $40K for the President.

AMTA paid over $800K to Daniel J. Edelman, Inc, their public relations firm. That seems like a steep amount of money to me, and I wonder what they are doing that a Director of Marketing couldn’t do, or vice-versa. Outsourcing is okay, but I’d like to know the differences in what is handled in-house and what is not. That’s a question for one of my future interviews with the management. AMTA did undertake a big campaign to educate the public and raise awareness about massage this year with the traveling van and appearances all over the country. I certainly do not begrudge them spending that money; it was well-received and got a huge amount of media attention.

Other than investments, AMTA’s primary source of income is of course membership dues, which brought in over $11 million.

AMTA spent $72K on lobbyists last year, and personally, I’d like to see that figure raised in the next year. I recently called on AMTA and the other massage organizations to make a concerted effort to get the NCBTMB removed from all statutory language in the regulated states, and that’s going to require lobbying money. I suggest that they spend it in the interest of straightening out some of the mess that the massage profession is in.

Office expenses are more than $1.2 million. That’s a lot of paperclips. AMTA also spent more than $490K on travel. Hopefully, that’s economy class. Many massage therapists are struggling in our present economy.  I realize we can’t hold the national convention at Motel 6, but every year I hear from dozens of people who wish they could attend, but don’t, because of the cost.

I personally have enjoyed my years with AMTA. Our state chapter (NC) is one of the larger and more active chapters, and I haven’t missed one of the national conventions in years. The fellowship and volunteer spirit and continuing education opportunities there are alive and well; I’m sorry to see the organization is losing members instead of gaining. May that turn around as much as their investment income did. It doesn’t look like this organization is in any danger of going away anytime soon.

An Interview with Bill Brown, New Executive Director of AMTA

Bill Brown became the new Executive Director of the American Massage Therapy Association on May 17, following the retirement of former ED Shelly Johnson.

Brown has been with the American Massage Therapy Association for 8 years, the past two and a half as Deputy Director. He has a degree in Political Studies from the University of IL and is bringing a lot of experience to the table in association management, and industry and government relations. Prior to joining AMTA as the Director of Industry and Government Relations, he worked in industry relations for the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, as the Director of Government and Regulatory Affairs for the International Interior Design Association, and as the Director of State Government Affairs in the IL Office of Banks and Real Estate. I recently had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about his background, philosophy, and how he sees the organization moving into the future.

1. Tell our audience something about your background, like where you were born and raised, where you went to college…inquiring minds want to know!

 I think this is actually the hardest question, forcing me to talk about myself.  So here it goes.  I was born in Erie, Pennsylvania and moved to the Chicagoland area when I was just a youngster and grew up in Illinois.  My parents were small business owners and worked in a small printing company.  I moved to Springfield, Illinois when I started my career working in state government.  I worked in the legislature, as a regulator and for local government before taking a short break to run my family’s printing company for a couple of years while my father had some health issues.  After we sold the company allowing my father to retire I went into association management.  I began working in government relations setting up new programs for two associations.  When I came to AMTA I really wanted to find a place to grow and be able to utilize my skills — and found much more.  AMTA has provided a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere that I hope everyone can experience some day.

2. When you were job-seeking, what was it about AMTA that jumped out at you that initially made you want to come to work for the organization?

AMTA has a good reputation and organizational stability.  That isn’t always true for associations.  I also saw an opportunity for long term growth with the association, and the potential of having a positive impact.

3. When you earned your degree in political science, were you thinking of getting into politics on a broader scale such as running for public office or working for the government? Or do you think that might be in your path in the future?

I’ve always wanted to make a difference in what I do.  Public policy is important to me, but I really see myself able to make a difference working in an association.

4. If you had to describe AMTA in one word, what would it be, and why?

Not to dodge your question completely, but I want to give you three words – massage therapy profession.  AMTA’s board, its other volunteers and our staff take our mission seriously. We are about serving our members (massage therapists, students, schools and educators) and advancing the profession.  So, AMTA wants to improve opportunities for all massage therapists in the profession.  We see AMTA as working to represent and advance the entire profession, whether it is working with our members, the public, other healthcare providers or employers.

5. As you’re settling into your new position as Executive Director, do you have any immediate pet projects you’d like to implement?

My primary responsibility is to implement the decisions of our board of Directors.  Our board has many ideas to serve our members and advance the profession.  I direct our staff to execute them to the best of our abilities.  That means providing excellent customer service and promoting a sense of inclusion.

6. What do you perceive to be the biggest challenges facing massage therapists today?

Our members tell us what is most challenging to them.  A challenge we hear most often is trying to make a good living as a massage therapist in a tough economy.  The right to practice and public acceptance of the real value of massage therapy and being treated as professionals are also important challenges today.

7. What do you think AMTA is doing to help therapists meet those challenges?

AMTA and our Board of Directors are especially focused on trying to bring new clients to our members.  That’s why we began our multi-year commitment last year to our Consumer Awareness Program.  We are proactively approaching national and local media and the health care community every day to educate them about the benefits of massage therapy for health and the importance of finding a qualified massage therapist. We encourage consumers to look for an AMTA member for their next massage.

We provide a wealth of continuing education, so massage therapists can advance and grow professionally.  Many of our continuing education classes are offered free to our members.  We have an online Job Bank and new student scholarship program that will be both expanding this year.  And, our chapters provide advantages for massage therapists they can’t find anywhere else – networking, support, continuing education, a chance to impact the direction of the association, and a very successful mentoring program. All of these address the challenges in the profession and for massage therapists to be successful.

8. AMTA has been participating in the Leadership Summits with representatives from the other professional organizations since they began. What, if any, value do you think has been the outcome of those meetings?

First and foremost are the collaboration and fostering of relationships and camaraderie among the various massage therapy organizations.  This is vital if we want to make the profession better and more beneficial for everyone.  We each have a better understanding of our respective roles in the approaches to the profession.  And, of course, the Entry Level Analysis Project (ELAP) is a very positive outgrowth of these meetings. The closer we can work together the stronger the profession becomes.

9. As one who is very experienced in government relations, do you plan for AMTA to be more proactive in the individual states on that front, such as lobbying against detrimental legislation?

We will be continuing our board-approved approach to government relations.  There is a lot to do there.  That means supporting our chapters’ work, and understanding the unique characteristics and needs of each state.  We will continue to be proactive on licensing, because our goal is to have fair and consistent licensing in all states that can lead to future portability of massage therapy practice. 

10. Some massage therapists avoid joining any organizations because the perception is that they are all about cliques and politics. What would you say to those people to change their mind and persuade them to join AMTA?

 I believe they will like it.  AMTA is about our members.  We listen to all our members and develop products, programs and services that benefit all of them.  If someone is unsure about joining AMTA, I want them to come check us out.  There are many ways to participate in AMTA and to engage with others in the profession.  Do you want to mentor new massage therapists or do you need a mentor?  Look at AMTA.  Do you want to network with massage therapists and learn from them?  Look at AMTA.  Do you want to see your association actively promoting its members to the public and trying to get you new opportunities for new clients?  Look at AMTA. I believe that if a massage therapist experiences AMTA they will join.

11. Is there anything else you’d like to say to all the massage therapists out there?

Give us a try and I believe you will want to be a part of the family.  I realize there are choices out there but I truly believe in AMTA and our members, and that we are the right choice for massage therapists.I feel the same way about massage therapy.  We want more people to experience massage therapy for themselves because when people that try it, they see the value and what it can do for their health and overall wellness and come back for more.  


Report from the NCBTMB Approved Provider/CE Meeting

I just got back from Chicago, where I participated in the Massage Approved Provider Panel convened by the NCBTMB. I have to say it was one of the best meetings I have ever attended. Everybody left their egos and their agendas at the door…not one single moment of tension or dissension occurred, in spite of the fact that competing entities were represented.

I spent the weekend sitting next to Bill Brown, Deputy Director of the AMTA. I’ve heard through the grapevine that Bill has wanted to strangle me a few times over my blog, and I’m glad he got the opportunity to know me a little better. I might have managed to convince him that I have a few redeeming qualities and I’m not just the crazy blogger he thought I was.

Cynthia Ribeiro, President-Elect of AMTA, was also present, and what a class act she is. I had supported Cynthia during the AMTA election, and there’s no doubt in my mind that was the right move. She is one fine lady who has made many contributions to our profession, and had a lot to contribute to the task at hand this week.

Bob Benson, Chairman of ABMP and Anne Williams, Director of Education for ABMP were there. Bob brought his considerable business acumen to the meeting. I’ve worked with Anne before and she’s just a go-getter who shares my philosophy of “make it happen.” She has a great sense of humor, too. There was a lot of laughing this week, which is always a great ice-breaker and good for the cohesiveness of the group.

The facilitator, Drew Lebby, provided exactly the right balance of keeping things moving, listening, and explaining. We had breakout groups and larger discussions and the whole meeting just had a great flow. Having been in meetings with some very boring facilitators in the past, I thought he was wonderful and I would highly recommend him to groups who are looking for a great facilitator. He has 35 years of experience at it and it shows.

I heartily applaud the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards for sending Kathy Jensen, VP of the FSMTB, and kudos to the NCBTMB for inviting the Federation to participate. Since the MBLEx has taken a huge chunk of the NCBTMB’s exam market share, and the Federation has also recently announced plans to jump into the CE approval arena, I can think of past administrations at the NCBTMB that would have spent the time sniping about the Federation as competition instead of inviting them to attend, all the more reason why I appreciate their willingness to play in the same sandbox. That theme was reiterated by Ribeiro and several others this week–this isn’t about your organization, or my organization, or who’s the biggest or the best–it’s about massage and increasing the quality of massage education.

COMTA was also represented by Commissioner Randy Swenson. Several state board members were in attendance, as were approved providers and a couple of nationally certified massage therapists.

The AFMTE was not represented, although they were invited to participate, and as a founding member of that organization I personally found their refusal to attend distressing. This meeting was about education, and in my opinion, they should have been there. I contacted Rick Rosen to give him the opportunity to explain their absence, and his response was that since the AFMTE has decided to partner with the FSMTB in developing their CE program, he felt it would blur the issue and divert their focus to attend.

Nice try, Rick, but since the Federation was invited, and in fact chose to participate in the meeting, I don’t buy it. The mere term “Alliance” suggests that you are representing education, and not just one faction of it. The Alliance could have made some great contributions to the meeting and you missed out on a good opportunity to do so. Rosen is of the opinion that the Federation should replace the NCBTMB and the individual states who do their own approvals as the only provider/CE approval entity. We’ll just have to agree to disagree on that issue.

No one has been a more vocal critic of the NCBTMB than I have in the past, and I have defended the right of the FSMTB to offer their competing exam, as I don’t believe that any entity is entitled to a monopoly. I will go further and say that I don’t believe any entity is entitled to a monopoly in any arena, so I am not in support of the Federation having a monopoly on continuing education. They have the undeniable right to jump into the market if they choose, and the marketplace will decide. I am personally not going to be dictated to of which entity I have to throw my CE approval business to unless my state makes it a law that I have to choose one or the other. I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

There are 42 member boards in the Federation and so far, although many states have voted to accept the MBLEx, and some have adopted it exclusively, many others have refused to throw out the NCB exams, and continue to give their licensees a choice in which exam to take. I believe the same thing will happen when it comes to continuing education. Some states will go with the FSMTB CE program, and others will continue to allow providers to make their own choice. It’s the American way. Furthermore, in many places legislative changes will be required in order to switch from one to another or add another approval entity, and we all know that legislation most often moves at the speed of molasses. That is also the American way.

There were a number of problems identified with the NCBTMB’s current system. For one thing, some providers have taken advantage of the fact that once they received approval, they could add on classes at will. Some have ignored the fact that there is a prohibition on classes that are based on a product they sell. Some have ignored the fact that there is a prohibition against classes based on religion and/or spiritual practices. Some have ignored the fact that they need to be genuinely qualified to teach in their subject area.

Bruce Baltz, an NCBTMB Board member, mentioned people who teach NMT techniques suddenly throwing in a class in lymphatic drainage needing to be looked at carefully…sorry, but your attendance at a weekend workshop does not qualify you to suddenly start teaching it yourself. The people who have been guilty of these offenses are going to have a little awakening when some of the changes to the program are implemented.

The suggestions for solutions were great and it was interesting to see that when we broke up into small groups to do problem solving, most of the groups were on the same page. Some of the suggestions included requiring providers to submit videos of their classes, a much stricter and more frequent auditing process, an improved evaluation process where students can go online anonymously and evaluate teachers and class content, a required online class for teachers themselves to improve instructor competence…lots of good ideas that the NCBTMB is going to consider and decide which ones to implement.

Every organization and individual at the meeting expressed a genuine interest in assisting the NCBTMB in this endeavor. Even better, they all agreed that all the organizations, not just a choice few, need to come together once or twice a year for the good of the profession. Bob Benson stepped up to the plate on that front and good for him for doing so…AMTA and ABMP can take a few swipes at each other, but in the final analysis, there is room in the sandbox and he knows it.

All in all, I thought it was a wonderful gathering of some of the best and brightest, with the intent of creating a positive outcome, and I was honored to have been included. Paul Lindamood and his team did a great job in organizing the gathering and assembling the best people they could get. And hey, any meeting that includes keeping chocolate on the table at all times does it for me.