As VRMA heads into 2020 and its 35th anniversary as an association, it’s an ideal time to reflect on its past and position the association for the future. As a non-profit trade association, people don’t typically consider the risks inherent in a group like this. However, making it 35 years isn’t easy.
It’s a different business model than that of our members, but there are many similarities: We provide value to our members, while you provide value to your owners and guests. We strive to create an amazing experience for our conference attendees, and you do the same for your guests. We both work to educate consumers on the benefits of vacation rentals. And, just like there is with your businesses, there is risk in creating these deliverables at the association level.
There’s the opportunity cost, to be sure. How would VRMA and its Board of Directors’ time best be spent? That question certainly resonates with me as the association’s executive director. One of my main roles is to make the volunteer experience for our board members and committee members a valuable and meaningful one; that typically ensures engagement and investment, which in turn creates value for the association and our members. So, I want to be efficient with everyone’s time. This means when we make decisions around resource investment, we want those choices to be supported both quantitatively and qualitatively.
Which is why, as I’m writing this, we are preparing to send out our 2019 member needs assessment, which is similar to the outreach many of you do to gain feedback from your guests and owners. What’s working for our members? What can we be doing better? What opportunities are we missing? The input we get goes straight to the board and will help educate and inform the strategic planning session we will conduct this summer. The strategic plan will drive many of VRMA’s decisions and programs over the coming years. Obviously, there is risk in that. We mitigate that risk with data and consensus, which enables us to look back confidently on our decisions.
Of course, no initiatives are guaranteed successes. There are always variables and unanticipated external factors that can completely alter even the best-laid plans. The article by Mark Taber in this issue focuses on what this means for practitioners in the industry. For the association, we have general business liability insurance as well as directors and officers liability insurance to protect our board members. We also have cancellation insurance for all of our events in case of disaster. But, for the business of the association — and it is a business, despite the term “non-profit”—
we are focused on being prepared for a rainy day. That is the driving force behind our efforts in recent years to rebuild our reserves.
Our reserves are essentially a rainy-day fund, and also an opportunity to invest back into our members. In the association world, it is considered a “best practice” to have 50% of your annual operating expenses in reserves. VRMA achieved this milestone this year for the first time. This serves as risk mitigation against economic downturns and unanticipated market forces. It also gives association leadership confidence in their decisions and ensures that our data-driven choices have stable financial backing and the appropriate amount of time to succeed. Stability can buy a certain degree of patience.
VMRA continues to move forward, shielding itself from risk as much as possible but not afraid to take chances to deliver exceptional value to our members and attendees. We’ve found a good balance, and we aim to keep that moving forward. Let us know what you’d like to see from VRMA. We’re always open to new ideas.
From Arrival Issue 3, 2019.