May 1, 2008 One year updateThe Association's official opening day was May first, 2007 on International Workers Day. A full and eventful year has now past and this is a report on our progress and achievements to our membership. Much of the events are behind the scenes, and not immediately evident.
MembershipThe Association now has three thousand registered members. That is an astonishing success for a new Association serving a relatively small demographic, and represents primarily word of mouth promotion. Our paid membership is significantly less, but the revenue from membership has proved sufficient to meet basic needs to this point. Some of the revenue we received last year was from agencies purchasing memberships for their travelers as a benefit or promotion.
Non profit status
Our 501(c)(3) application was completed and filed with the IRS in February 2008. This allows the IRS to make a final determination on our non profit status. Non profit status is important for several reasons: Having it means that no corporate income tax is due on any money we do not spend. It also permits donations made to us by individuals or companies to be fully tax deductible (Note that membership dues are already fully deductible as a professional expense). There is also some prestige and political value associated with this status. And finally, it means that all income must be directed to the benefit of the membership. One implication of this is that the Association has no market value, no possibilities to be sold for the benefit of a few "owners". The owners are the membership.
This filing was a major accomplishment, taking some 60 hours of volunteer labor. Even that was very efficient as the IRS estimate of time required was over 500 hours! Of course, our Association is significantly less complex than most non profits, and this should result in an easy verification of our status by the IRS.
After an exhaustive search, the Association has found a chief legal counsel. This represents an important cornerstone of the Association mission. Several critical and needed legal articles are now in the pipeline and will be published shortly when the research is complete.
The Association has not had any requests for service on contract disputes such as a withheld last paycheck, or penalties paid in error. Since these may not come up in a reasonable amount of time with our existing membership, we are keeping our eyes open in the general travel community for test cases. Test cases will start to build our credibility with the industry, improve standards, and provide us with the knowledge base to expand our activities. Our knowledge base will also allow us to structure our provided legal benefits to our paid membership more effectively.
A major legal initiative planned for this upcoming year is a model contract for agencies to use. This is a contract designed to be fair for all parties involved, the agency, traveler, and even hospitals. Most contracts tend to be written for the benefit of only the agency and to the detriment of the traveler in the event of a breach of contract, even when through no fault of the traveler.
Agencies may submit their own contract to the Association general counsel for certification as a "fair contract". This will allow the Association to maintain a list of qualifying agencies that have (on their face) fair and understandable contracts. Besides saving travelers from trying to determine on their own if contracts are fair, this initiative has the potential to change the entire industry for the better as peer pressure and competitive pressures force agencies to improve their business practices.
Challenges we face
Our paid membership base needs to be expanded to meet our revenue requirements for basic operating expenses and our initiatives and services going forward. This will require active promotion, something we have not engaged in to date while building membership services. This will include marketing to agencies to purchase memberships for their travelers, and may include active advertising, paid or requests for announcements. We believe that we have enough of our core services have been established sufficiently that paid membership represents a good value and can be promoted in good faith. This has been true most of the year, but major promotion works better when the benefits are crystal clear. And the volunteers that these efforts will depend on should have more time this coming year.
Our site is working well to meet our basic needs. Despite this, it probably needs to be replaced entirely. It turns out that the basic structure is invisible to search engines such as Google and is not readily modified. We have a large amount of unique content that is not found elsewhere, as well as being the only Association for healthcare travelers, and having it searchable will increase our traffic and potential membership tremendously. This will cost several thousand dollars and we will have to identify an appropriate developer and raise the funds.
Our forum was conceived as an adjunct to our educational mission to discuss Association issues. It may also prove to be of value to deliver legal services and communication between members and our legal counsel. However, it has been the major source of dissatisfaction of some members.
It requires a separate registration process that is indeed frustrating for the members who wants one sign in process. And there is a glitch that does not even allow reading of existing posts until logged in separately. Which even effect easily going from the link at the bottom of this editorial to the relevant discussion thread. Solving both those issues would result in higher traffic and ease of use.
We may look to replace this forum entirely when we replace our main site with one that can be better integrated and easier to use.
Our membership does need to be supportive of our mission though. Our forum is not meant to replace other existing traveler forums. It exists for discussing relevant Association issues. It is not intended for discussion of topical and fleeting subjects such as current good/bad recruiters, agencies, and hospitals. Other forums such as Travel Nurses & Therapists do that very well. Posts about current legal issues, political issue, and content that will stand the test of time or otherwise support our mission is what we seek. Think about other professional organizations that you are familiar with, our presentation should be similar.
Almost all of the work performed in creating and maintaining the Association is done by three or four volunteers in their spare time. The Association has not done a good job in attracting or motivating additional volunteers. We have a pretty good knowledge base posted, but creating more content appealing to different levels and needs of our members would be invaluable to creating value to a diverse group of travelers.
Additionally, political efforts really need a good volunteer base. There is an upcoming Traveler's Convention in September 2008 that the Association is assisting in promoting that will have some workshops/committee meetings on such subjects as compact licensure and union development. The content that comes out of these meeting will be posted here and may form the nucleus of political action committees here. Future conventions may help provide ongoing work and a volunteer base that can be leveraged with the help of Association resources.
Published May 1, 2008 by the editorial staff of PanTravelers.