Back in the early 1990’s, when I was much younger and extremely naïve, I was on the outside of the SCAA looking in. I had heard some good things, but my personal experience was that there was a lack of respect and caring. What did I do? Being a young, feisty new publisher, I wrote an article about the organization expressing my concerns.
Well that started my journey into the inside of the association. The result of my “rant” was being invited to the SCAA committee meetings in Minneapolis, MN and getting to see first hand the passion of the volunteers. Then, as well as now, it is the volunteers who are the heart and soul of this organization. It was an amazing eye opener and I was sold. I became a dedicated volunteer next 15 years serving on, co-chairing, and chairing committees.
Unfortunately, politics happen. Changes in leadership, changes in attitude happen. Being a volunteer is a tricky thing with the SCAA. One day you are on a committee, or even co-chairing the committee, and the next, you find out your committee no longer exists and you are not invited to the annual meetings. Yes, you must be “invited”, or you are simply not welcome to attend. It doesn’t matter if you have already purchased your non-refundable plane ticket, your name is “not on the list”, and you simply are not invited. I know of at least three of us “old timers” who have experienced this very thing, and I assume there are more of us out there.
Okay, I really do understand there comes a time to make way for the next generation. New volunteers who want to give back to the industry. New members who simply want to become “involved.” Unfortunately, it appears that some things never change. Just this summer, a brand new member of SCAA and Roasters Guild was excited about the opportunity to volunteer after I had encouraged her to “get involved.” It went something like this….
- Call the SCAA and let them know you want to help! (She did, no response.)
- I called the SCAA and let them know of this member’s desire. This member has a particular set of skills and background to be truly useful in the upcoming Seattle Events. I asked if someone could call her, as she had no response from her first attempt to volunteer. I was promised this would happen.
- She was telephoned and told that no such committee exists. She was not offered any suggestion for how she could become involved. She didn’t mention this to anyone, thinking this is just how the organization is. I found out weeks later about this and was embarrassed that she had been treated in such a way. I made another call to the SCAA staff member, again asking she be invited to volunteer (you know… give her time and money to help the association). Result: one voicemail and zero follow-ups again.
- Finally, while I was at the committee meetings this last weekend, I was able to find a staff member who actually did appear to care about members and even appreciate the offer of help. Dorit, you rock! The end result, I believe she will now be allowed to volunteer. Success! I promised her that once she was actually involved, she would see the passion of the volunteers and it would be a rewarding experience.
So how did I end up being invited back to a committee? The same way I was invited to my first committee experience back in 1995. I sent “rant” out into the SCAA universe, but this time only as an email cc’ing the SCAA Board and Roasters Guild Council. It seems the only way to “help” the SCAA is to make a public complaint. I could go on for awhile with this topic, but thankfully for all of you, our space is limited. However, given my contact with so many members with this central theme of lack of appreciation and more, I would encourage the SCAA leadership to explore this appreciation topic in greater depth.
Questions I would love to see addressed by the leadership of the SCAA:
Why is it so hard to volunteer and what happened to common courtesy?
Here is a quote from another Old Timer I spoke with just yesterday, “I was a committee chair. I called the SCAA office… to find out when their planning session was and I talked to a staff member. He said… oh, um, well it’s coming up on such and such but you are not on a committee. I said oh really, I am on that committee. He said no, we disbanded that committee. No notice, nothing. We worked our butts off on that committee. Why would they get rid of the committee and not notify the sitting members?”
As told to a current member thinking about running for the board by a current board member in the last 30 days: “If you think that getting on the board of directors is a democratic process that is elected by the members, you are wrong. The candidates that run ARE the candidates that are going to get elected.”
When was the last time the SCAA appreciated its Exhibitors… those companies that account for the largest percentage of your income?
Here is a comment from a former exhibitor, “Not only were we an exhibitor,we were also a dues paying, card carrying member of the SCAA. The callous and cavalier attitude of the SCAA staff forced us to decide never exhibit again with SCAA, nor continue our allied membership. And this was after being a member and exhibitor for several years.”
A former potential exhibitor told us, “We have chosen not to join the SCAA because you would expect leadership in the industry. After several attempts, we were not able to find out within even a 10 percent margin of error how many coffee shops there are in the USA. If anyone should know, it should be them. If they won’t provide the leadership, we should. We will not be joining.”
How about this comment,“We have exhibited at many of the related Coffee and Food Service shows (not only the SCAA event) over the years, where the SCAA has had a booth exhibiting what they do, membership benefits and that sort of thing. Not once, in all those years, despite our posting a printed place card showing our membership, did anyone from SCAA stop by the booth to just say hello, or ask if there was anything they could do for us, or just show their thanks for the supporting membership etc. Nothing.”
And this comment, “We have felt for a few years now that the organization really did not care too much about the exhibitors, despite exhibitors being the lifeblood of any tradeshow/convention. And now they want payment two years in advance!!! No way. I run a business, I have my own bills to pay, salaries to pay etc. They think I am going to tie up money two years in advance to be a simple exhibitor? Nope, not going to happen here. NO show is that good!”
A past exhibitor shares their story: “Last year, our company suffered a terrible period of time where due to illness and an accident, our trade show staff was just decimated. We had to cancel our show participation just prior to the cancellation deadline, as we were just not in a position to adequately staff our normal booth. We sent in all the required paperwork etc., in the manner required etc. We never got a confirmation, or any reply back that the paperwork and cancellation request was received, accepted, or anything for that matter. The only way we were able to confirm it, was that on the show floor plan layout, our booth had been reassigned. But nothing sent to us confirming etc. We had to contact repeatedly to get any response. On top of that, the refund never came, and we were told we had to contact someone else in accounting in their office!And then the person we contacted, shuffled it off on someone else. Incredible. We were already dealing with major hassles due to the illness and accident recovery of our staff, and these clowns couldn’t even acknowledge a cancellation as per their own requirements, and they were too lazy to walk the paperwork across their own office.”
A member comments, “I belong to two other associations. When I need their help I can find staff more than willing to help. They make me feel like they are working for me, what a great feeling right? When I call the SCAA, I feel like I have reached the wrong number. As a “First Responder,” I gave to them even when it was hard for us to do so. But to give was what I felt was the right thing to do. Does anyone even know what a “First Responder” is anymore and what they did to save the SCAA? Why do I feel like I need to watch my back when I attend ‘The Event’?”
I think it is high time the association leadership understands that SCAA’s “The Event” is NOT the only option out there. In fact, one former exhibitor states, “I have exhibited as a Roaster in my own home town and it generated little results. My impression is the attendee at the SCAA show is the roaster and the attendee for Coffee Fest is the retailer. It just makes more sense to exhibit at Coffee Fest if you sell to retailers.”
SCAA: It is time to respect and appreciate your exhibitors, or lose them to another show.
And this particular comment is very telling. Imagine how this current exhibitor must feel to have this response to my question of their opinion of the SCAA staff: “I can’t really go there. It’s a pretty brutal organization. Been there and learned that impetuous actions with folks like them bite you back. Next thing you know you’re in a booth between the bathrooms and the food concession.”
Favoritism… Are you treating your members equally and fairly?
Is it really okay give all of the exposure and/or opportunity to one particular member of the company when there are 5 or 6, or more that are in the exact same category and can provide the exact same service? Since when does the SCAA staff get to say, “We like that relationship. We don’t have any record of how it happened, but we like it and will not but out a bid or RFP, or even bring it up with the board. It is our decision.” Even when asked about the opportunity for the organization to review if this is the best fiscal choice to be made for the SCAA Budget. This empowered attitude of “we will do what we please and there is nothing you can do about it” is a recipe for disaster and can only be fixed if the attitude changes from the top down.
SCAA Mission / Strategic Plan… when did it become all about the money?
I found the following on the SCAA website: “It’s important to remember that SCAA is a non-profit, which exists solely for the benefit of its members.” And yet, at every turn what I actually hear about is bring me the money. The current strategic plan presented by the SCAA President of the Board had the following three top objectives: increase revenue, diversify income, and increase net assets. Sorry, but where was the focus on actually benefiting members? I really do understand that the association, or any organization, must be fiscally responsible to be able to continue to serve its mission. However, without a focus from the top down on appreciation, the decisions seem to have become, how can the SCAA make money, not focus on its members. To me, this is very short-term thinking. Without members, there is NO SCAA.
And as long as I seem to be on a once every 20-year rant, when did it become okay for a trade association whose mission is to benefit its members, to become competition to their own membership. It seems like more and more I am seeing SCAA selling things their member companies used to sell. Again, it goes back to the attitude… If they exist to make money (funny for a non-profit?), that this makes sense. What was the strategic plan focus on again this year: increase revenue? What about increasing revenue for their members?
It would be easy to think, “oh the heck with them!” But then I experience a few staff members that actually DO care. And I hear them speak directly about member value. Ildi Revi, just presented an amazing IDP class in Seattle, WA and her commitment to members is something to be applauded. The resources of the SCAA are truly amazing. Or rather, they can be, if you know how to find them and ask the correct people. So no, it is not time to throw out the baby with the bath water. But rather, maybe it is time for leadership to examine their attitudes so that the entire organization can be more like those few individuals that are dedicated to benefiting membership.
And back to the beginning: Appreciation
Appreciation… CoffeeTalk truly appreciates all of the amazing work being done in this industry to give back. This is precisely why we began dedicating our July issue each year completely to Making A Difference years ago. It is important to give back. Whether it is your organization’s members, groups within the community, and/or those in need.
The Making a Difference issue as you may know, highlights the various nonprofit organizations around the world striving to make a difference in the coffee community. These organizations put their own needs aside, and they help others first without expecting to receive something in return. Each nonprofit organization featured in this issue submitted a full-page story. This enabled them to not only spread the word about their cause, but it allowed readers and members of the community to join them in their mission and help make a difference.
We are proud to announce the winner of our 2013 July Making a Difference view/click contest and the recipient of a $1,000 personal donation for their cause from CoffeeTalk owners Kerri & Miles: Pueblo a Pueblo: Maternal Child Health and Education. This program is designed to reduce the exceptionally high maternal and infant mortality rates among the T’zutujil Maya in Santiago Atitlan region. MCH creates a consistent, one-to-one partnership between international sponsors and Guatemalan families, giving mothers and their children crucial medical and education support.
You can check out these stories, as well as the several others featured in this year’s issue online in the back issues section of the website.
It is when a small spark is lit that a fire of change can spread. Please, be inspired and make a difference.
Kerri & Miles