The Financial Health of Our Organizations: COMTA

This is my third year of doing an annual report 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.

COMTA is the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation. Obtaining accreditation from COMTA is a voluntary and rigorous process that few schools choose to go through; of the hundreds of massage schools and programs in the US, less than 100 have the credential. It is a banner of excellence, requiring that the school do an in-depth self-study and meet high standards meant to insure that they are offering a program and learning environment of the highest caliber.

Non-profits are on a different filing schedule than the rest of us; this form covers the fiscal year of COMTA from 03/01/09 to 02/28/10.

COMTA’s revenue increased by $167,345 over the previous filing. While they still showed a deficit overall of $98,102, it is a vast improvement over last year’s deficit, which was in excess of $277,000.  I guess this does go to show my ignorance on the financial matters of non-profits…COMTA isn’t the only one operating in the red, and you just have to wonder how our non-profits keep on going whenever they’re showing such losses. Presumably, some of that money comes from savings and other assets. COMTA’s assets have dropped by almost $100,000 in the past year, leaving them with net assets of a little over $93,000.

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. Their 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, including benefits, is slightly over $57,000. Only one other executive salary was paid, and that amount was a little over $14,000 to former interim director John Goss. COMTA also 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.

This is the second year in a row that COMTA did not receive any grant money from AMTA, and presumably will not be receiving it in the future. The future of COMTA, and their financial stability, is dependent on their ability to bring in income from their accrediting services and their ability to cut expenses to the bone. Their office expenses more than doubled this year; the costs of conference and workshop attendance also increased by almost $14,000. However, I won’t criticize the conference attendance; I think that’s a necessary part of networking and it gives them the opportunity to recruit new schools.

I’d like to see COMTA enjoy a substantial increase in the number of schools and programs they accredit. And of course anytime you’re working to increase business, you’re going to see a subsequent increase in costs. It costs money to recruit through marketing efforts, it costs money to train volunteers, and it costs money to do site visits. It’s a worthy credential that 93 schools and programs currently have. COMTA is the only accrediting body focused on the massage profession. There are others accrediting agencies, but some of them accredit everything from airline pilot schools to lawn mower repair programs. I appreciate the organization being focused on massage education.

The economy has been tough for all non-profits, and COMTA is no exception. Schools and programs that may want the accreditation have probably held off due to the recession. May next year be better for them and for us all.

Disclosure: I have taken the COMTA Peer Review training and will conducting my first site visit at the end of this month.

Interesting Changes in COMTA By-laws

I reported in my May 5 blog that COMTA volunteer of more than ten years, John Goss, had been removed from his position, during a meeting he was unable to attend. That led to my reporting a personal experience I had with the organization; I heard through the grapevine that the officers were upset that I had given them negative publicity. I don’t owe them an apology, and there will not be one forthcoming.

I haven’t felt any need to revisit the issue, but an interested party sent me a copy of changes that COMTA had made to their by-laws, effective April 16. I received them while I was on vacation, am just now getting caught up on my correspondence, and I must say, it looks as if they might have been changed in anticipation of getting rid of Mr. Goss.

Here we have an interesting change:

Section 3.12:  A Commissioner who is present at a meeting of the Board at which action on any matter is taken shall be conclusively presumed to have assented to the action taken unless his or her dissent shall be entered in the minutes of the meeting. Such right to dissent shall not apply to a Commissioner who voted in favor of such action.

According to a COMTA insider, who prefers to remain anonymous, the minutes never record votes by commissioner per se unless that commissioner asks that his/her vote be specifically recorded, and since few know this, this section seems intended to silence dissent.  Basically, it says that if you were there, you assented—regardless of how you voted unless it is specifically recorded in the minutes.  The ByLaws do not require votes to be recorded on a roll-call basis.  Seems this is needed before Section 3.12 can be enforced.

Then we have these:

Section 3.14: …In addition, a Commissioner may be removed without cause by an affirmative vote of two-thirds of the Commissioners then in office.

and to top it all off:

Section 4.2:  … Any officer may be removed by the Board of Commissioners at any time with or without cause, whenever the Board of Commissioners believes the best interest of the Corporation would be served thereby.

I stated in my earlier blog that Goss was known for asking hard questions and holding members accountable.  When I contacted COMTA leadership for a quote, before printing my blog about Goss, I got the answer that he was thanked for his past service and wished well in the future.  Later on, COMTA Chair Melissa Wade e-mailed me that due to confidentiality, they could not tell me why Goss was removed, but assured me that if I was elected to the Commission I would have access to the file. Obviously, that’s not happening.

It looks to me like the amended section 4.2 will allow the Commissioners to remove anybody that disagrees with them, or makes them mad in anyway. When you put yourself in the position of being able to remove someone without just cause, what does that translate to? We can remove you if we don’t like your tie? Your attitude? Your questioning our authority?

Board documents, such as practice acts, rules, by-laws and guidelines of any board are living documents, subject to change as time and experience show a need. Hopefully they are always changed with an eye to improving the public protection, service to stakeholders, or whatever the particular entity is charged with doing. I’m not sure that’s the case here.

I’d like to remind the folks at COMTA that big egos at the top, a lack of transparency, poor service to stakeholders,  and changing by-laws to suit whomever is in charge at the time, are the very things that came within a hair’s breadth of bringing down the NCBTMB. I wouldn’t get too carried away with making changes like the ones above. As the present NCB leadership who inherited just such a mess to clean up can attest, it’s not going to serve your organization well at all.

Laura Allen

COMTA: A Contradiction?

COMTA (Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation) is in dire need of volunteers, so why did they just get rid of a good one? I’m referring to John Goss, who has served COMTA for 10 years in several capacities, including a stint as Interim Executive Director. Last week, during a meeting he was unable to attend, Dr. Goss was unceremoniously dismissed from the Commission.

I contacted Kate Henrioulle, Executive Director, and Melissa Wade, the Chair, and they both gave me the same answer: “COMTA thanks John Goss for his past service and wishes him well in the future.”

A COMTA volunteer who spoke on condition of anonymity said “John was known for asking hard questions. They didn’t like that. He was accused of “impeding the work of the Commission.” That’s too bad. Board members who ask hard questions are usually the ones who demand transparency, who hold other members accountable, and who get a lot of work done. Dr. Goss has, in the words of my source, “given a ton to COMTA over the years.”

Another COMTA insider said “The Commission is not articulating a vision or speaking with any authority or inspiration; it’s all about doing “stuff” and getting more income from higher fees.  What about the stakeholders’ returns on investments (financial or temporal)?”  The same person stated that the staff communications at COMTA are an embarrassment, replete with typos, poor grammar, and inappropriate language. “If I were on the receiving end of one of those reports, I’d be wondering what business these folks have telling me what I should be doing,” stated the source.

I’m in service on the North Carolina Board, and I ask hard questions, just like John Goss. I’m all for transparency and accountability, and I don’t believe in compromising if it’s at the expense of the stakeholders. You can ask the folks at the top of AMTA, ABMP, the NCBTMB, and the Federation. Open and direct communication is the way I roll, and I will be a thorn in their side when I don’t get an answer. And when they give me some party line, I call it like I see it.

It does seem to me that COMTA has been stuck in neutral for awhile. 8 years into their existence as an accrediting body, and they have accredited less than 100 schools. And they are in need, indeed, of volunteers. Henrioulle asked me to pass along this link and encourage those who would be interested in acting as peer reviewers to get in touch.

Disclosure: I am currently a candidate for Commissioner for the upcoming COMTA election.

Laura Allen