From The Executive Director
A Year in the Life of OARS
"What could be so hard about keeping a membership database?" It was that question posed to me a few months ago that told me I should share a brief summary of the activities at the Office of the American Rhododendron Society.
The renewal season is now well underway, and if you haven't done so, now is a good time to send your dues to your chapter membership chair. Renewal information comes to OARS via fax, email, and sometimes even regular mail. Many members renew directly through OARS, and credit card processing is handled for all members directly through OARS. Most processing is done between the first of September and the end of December by our very-part-time assistant Denniece Waters, but the activities here continue at a busy pace throughout the year. Besides processing, autumn is a brisk time for book sales, chapter requests for information, the fall Board of Directors meeting preparation, and assisting new chapter Board members with a myriad of questions. Newsletters are collected and reviewed for seventy-one chapters, which will later be sent to the Alderman Library for archiving. Monthly statements and membership lists are prepared for all chapters.
While your chapter volunteers are still sending in corrections and late renewals in mid-January, OARS is beginning to print the annual supply of Plant Care Guides and Hang Tags, for use by your chapters. For three years the Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust has provided these for your use. Growers around all English speaking countries are using the information. Notification is sent to our growing lists of growers around North America, Great Britain and Australasia, and distribution follows throughout the spring.
In February we reach our half-fiscal-year mark, and half-year financial reports are reconciled and approved by our accountant, Tom Martin. Budget & Finance Committee Chairman Ted Stecki begins to work with OARS to project our financial needs for the following year, and your chapters begin spring shows. New memberships come in at a brisk pace during the spring. All new members receive a new-member packet from OARS, including our Fundamentals of Rhododendrons and Azaleas, a list of our Board members and committees, chapter presidents, welcome letter with publications we offer, our decals, a care guide, and emergency hang tags to place with the doctor's phone number, in case of a rhody emergency. Our 800 number is especially busy in the spring as the public is alerted to the beauty of our favorite plant. Calls and email flood Rhody Central. Our nest of beneficial spiders becomes busiest at this season. Remember, these are our volunteers who have taken our mission to a higher level, offering to help with every question conceivable, and provide education about the genus.
As your chapters improve the Proven Performer lists, these are added to the files here at OARS, and sent to members of the public wanting to successfully grow rhodies and azaleas in your area.
The IRS doesn't want us to get bored either. Your chapter's recognition as a proper not-for-profit organization in the United States is due to our umbrella which incorporates forty-four of our chapters into this status. Each year your chapter treasurer is notified and must complete forms which are compiled by OARS and submitted for approval by the IRS. Meanwhile, we try to start our insurance renewal in the spring. Your chapter's liability insurance is probably tied to the master policy of the Society. Each year our policy has changed.
Each quarter, OARS notifies our Journal ARS Editor, Sonja Nelson, with our database of new members, memorial donations, gifts to the Society by districts, chapters, personal donations, commercial members, medal awards given, and changes in our huge staff of volunteers who represent all chapters; these include our officers, district directors and alternates, committees, and special ad hoc projects. OARS is responsible for getting our electronic mailing list to our publisher in time each quarter.
Throughout the year, OARS maintains our book offerings, shipping and management of the publications. When funding provides, we ship membership lists to members requesting them.
OARS maintains our calendar of conferences, and assists conference organizers in any way possible. Our laptop computer and digital projector accompany me to all conferences to be used by the Board, committees, and any speaker needing assistance with this delightful equipment, granted to us by Jack and Ann Root.
Meanwhile, OARS acts as staff support to any of our twenty three committees needing assistance, including creating databases for such projects as the Rhododendron of the Year Award, lists of prospects to whom we mail introductory information about the Society, and we produce the data for www.arsoffice.org. With the ever-able help of Webmaster, Bob Weissman, we keep communications information accurate and up-to-date for our Board, committees, presidents, and membership members. Bylaws, Policies, District Director elections, and chapter Boards are all maintained by OARS.
The first of July we mail out the 40,000 pieces of material to chapters, representing our renewal information for the coming year. The Eureka Chapter has faithfully assisted in this mailing, after OARS has created the new material for mailing. Our hometown volunteer Ashley Waters keeps our new-member packets and prospects packets in fresh supply.
OARS also mails out a special October Bonus letter each July, alerting members whose memberships have expired in the current year that they may rejoin us for the next year and receive the October Journal ARS as a gift. This is an exciting time, as it also brings forth members who have paid dues to the home chapter, but OARS and home chapter never communicated. By the end of summer, we generally have your name spelled correctly, and we apologize if you are reading this and have found your name in our memorial column. We maintain over 10,000 records in the database, archiving old records every three years. We also maintain our non-chapter chapter here at OARS, caring for over 200 memberships.
At the end of August our delightful accountant, Tom Martin, will once again do our annual review with the information provided by our accounting system maintained by OARS. Life member records are adjusted, and census reports are created.
Your Executive Director is also in-house tech support when our equipment stops humming. With emergency service available from members Chuck Briggs and Don Smart, we are able to guarantee a minimum of emergencies.
Sometimes things can get a bit hectic, but remembering there is nothing life-threatening about life in the Rhododendron ER, we keep a sense of humor. With over 300 active chapter and Society volunteers dedicated to our mission, it's possible to keep our OARS in the water. Particular thanks to these people who bring the focus of our mission to fruition, sending the world what you have created within your chapter.
Maybe giving is more fun than receiving - you do it everyday in the American Rhododendron Society. It's the true meaning of being a member.
Office of the American Rhododendron Society "OARS–Rowing for You!"