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Comptia no longer lists how many members are in the association because it has changed the way it defines its membership, said Venator and Thibodeaux. The association now counts companies as members, not locations.
So, three years after Comptia awarded Venator a $1 million bonus for hitting a membership target, the association has discounted that definition of membership. When asked whether that change undid all the work he did to reach the bonus, Venator said "yes and no." He added, "If you look at the participation income and you see the member vs. nonmember participations and certifications, clearly all those members of VentureTech and [TechSelect] and others were using the fact that they were members to get the discounted price to put all those people through A+ and Network+ and other things. Especially in cases where the vendors were requiring it."
Venator said one reason Comptia had counted individual locations, was that, at the time, members of the board believed a larger number might show more influence in political circles, because the membership number represented a more accurate picture of local employers.
"[The bonus] was specifically structured and voted on by the full board after it was vetted by an outside compensation consultant as well as vetted by a CPA firm in terms of fairness and whatever other questions they asked," he said.
Comptia expected to recoup the $1 million and more through increased subscription dues and certifications. The bonus was awarded while the amount that Comptia received from "dues, assessments and similar amounts from members" dropped slightly from $2.20 million in 2005 to $2.18 million in 2006, according to IRS 990 filings, yet overall revenue increased by 2.2 percent.
"The reseller increase was very important to the group as we were going forward. The membership increase was driven by more than dues and subscriptions," Wittry said. "We were looking to represent the community and to have a more representative size of the community involved."
One way Comptia increased its membership was to offer umbrella memberships to numerous organizations.Under an umbrella membership agreement, a distributor or vendor would pay a fixed fee to automatically enroll all of the members of its community in Comptia.
But some groups were as varied as Sears, which required its Sears Connected Home installers to earn Comptia's Home Technology Integrator (HTI+) certification, and the Easter Seals could hardly be referred to as resellers, according to a former employee.
Under the umbrella agreements, many solution providers were surprised to learn they were members of Comptia, the source said. "These people got memberships without knowing they were members. It brought no value to the organization or the membership. It diluted the value and credibility of our trade association," the source said.
A former Comptia employee characterized the board mandate to increase membership under Venator as a bid to "enrich Comptia" with active, engaged, dues-paying members. "He didn't follow the spirit of what the board truly wanted him to do," the source said.
At one point, the average cost of membership was down to $5 per member because of all the blanket memberships, said the same source.
Tech Data and Synnex said they are no longer active Comptia partners. Ingram Micro said it does offer VentureTech members a 33 percent discount on Comptia's membership dues.
In addition, Comptia is no longer interested in umbrella relationships because they are rarely effective, Thibodeaux said.
"Regardless of the best intentions, those tend not to work over the long run. A huge run-up would tax the ability of any group to service those members effectively," Thibodeaux said. "We also tried that at CEA. We would bring in numbers but it was difficult to bring in those renewals. Unless you reach out in a high-touch environment, it can be difficult. It's not a surprise that some people didn't renew."
It's difficult to provide outreach to all the umbrella members to show them the value proposition of the association, he said.
"It's difficult for a small business that's running lean to even afford a $250 dues fee. They're going to want to see the value."
Associations often wrestle with umbrella memberships, Thibodeaux said: "I want everybody to make a conscious decision to join. It's more work, but it's more rewarding because you have an engaged group."
Full disclosure: Everything Channel,which owns Channelweb, publishes CRN and is part of United Business Media, has participated at various times with Comptia initiatives and business ventures.
O'Malley did not know how many active dues-paying members the association has at this point in time. "I don't have those numbers off the top of my head, and I'd hate to speculate on that," he said.
While some for-profit corporations have come under scrutiny for executive compensation, neither Venator nor Thibodeaux see any reason to examine the tax-exempt status of industry associations sitting on large piles of cash in this economic climate.
"Now, more than ever, people rely on associations, technology or not," Thibodeaux said. "Should a hospitality association have to give up its tax-exempt status now? It's about the money that's poured back into the industry to allow for these times. To single out IT industry associations for [losing their] tax-exempt status would hurt the industry."
Industry associations benefit members more than for-profit companies because they can be more objective toward their mission, Thibodeaux said. "A lot of companies want to talk [about] only their products," he said.