NATSAP RESPONSE TO DUSTIN TIBBITS ESSAY
Mar 16, 2011, 19:47
By Glen Zaugg
NATSAP Continues To Serve As The Standard-Bearer Of The Residential Therapeutic Treatment Field
(Glen Zaugg is the President and CEO of Heritage Schools, Inc. in Provo, Utah and has just begun a two-year term as President of NATSAP, the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs. This essay is in response to an essay by Dustin Tibbitts published earlier this week titled THREE WAYS NATSAP IS BROKEN AND HOW TO FIX IT which appeared on Strugglingteens.com and parent-empowerment-blog.com).
Dustin Tibbits, President of InnerChange and the Executive Director of New Haven, a longstanding member of NATSAP, recently posted a well-written, heartfelt, and conceptually accurate essay expressing his much-evident, deep feelings and care about his and our organization, our directions, goals, achievements, and challenges. In large measure, we agree with many of his assertions, including those describing membership involvements, best practice standards enforcement, and our proactive representation of our industry in terms of government relations.
NATSAP has clearly had many successes and has met many formidable challenges in its still relatively short history (1999). But there is much yet to achieve. And we're glad he has raised these points and focused some additional attention to them. I'd like to elaborate on them and offer some additional information as well. It is important to emphasize that NATSAP's Board continually addresses virtually all that he has mentioned, grapples with difficult issues, and has implemented numerous initiatives. Perhaps we could do a better job of communicating many of these actions to our membership and the public in general, and perhaps this essay is a beginning in that regard.
So let's address each of the points he raised, along with several additional ones:
Dustin makes a good point when he describes NATSAP's rapid growth in our first eight years, and a leveling off of membership in the succeeding four years. It is quite common for any new membership organization to have initial rapid growth, followed by a plateau. NATSAP is no different. That is why we are actively engaged in a membership promotion campaign. We have been, for nearly a year, developing lead lists of qualified, prospective members, and continue to do so. We have attracted several quality programs to NATSAP thus far, but we are just beginning. It is an ongoing process.
In the last two years, the economic downturn in this country has hit many of our members particularly hard. Parents have had fewer options regarding funding sources, and consequently, more than a handful of programs have closed. We have added enough new members to stay even and now are taking steps to add more and continue the steady growth of the organization.
Dustin also astutely notes that member participation within NATSAP is very low. We couldn't agree more. Two years ago, we began a new process whereby committees are chaired by non-Board members, in order to allow more people to become active in NATSAP and to cultivate future leaders. It has not been easy finding people to serve on committees, but we have accomplished a good deal in that regard. We would like to see even more involvement.
Dustin also noted that only about 20% of our members are taking part in our research initiative. That 20% figure carries over into all communications within NATSAP. Our records indicate that only 20% of NATSAP's members even open their email from NATSAP, let alone respond to calls for action. If 80% of our members don't even read what we send them, read about opportunities to participate on Committees, to run for NATSAP offices, to submit newsletter articles, to speak at conferences, then how would they know about all the activities that NATSAP is engaged in? The answer is, they don't. And Dustin has hit upon the most formidable challenge we have.
It is not Chairman Miller introducing adverse legislation. It is not the economic downturn causing our programs to have too many empty beds. It is a low percentage of our membership truly participating in NATSAP-sponsored activities, be they committees, surveys, or member benefit programs. That is the real challenge facing NATSAP, and many other associations, as well. We agree that through mutual understanding, better two-way communication, and more opportunities for members to interconnect, this challenge can be met.
Dustin proposed several ideas for gaining greater member participation. More emails, newsletters, phone calls, and Journals. In addition to NATSAP's regular quarterly newsletter, we introduced our government relations bulletin, The Youth Advocate, in 2010. We publish our Journal based upon the number of accepted articles we receive, which for the last several years has been one annual edition. Our staff made visits to eight individual programs last year, with at least that many scheduled for this year, as well as weekly calls to member programs just to keep them engaged.
In 2010, we also distributed a survey to our members to ascertain whether the services provided by NATSAP were meeting their needs. We received some very good feedback, although again, the percentage of responses was relatively low.
We welcome other ideas and suggestions for encouraging and achieving member participation. It has already been suggested that we provide a members' forum on our Web site, and possibly include an in-person version at our conferences.
We agree with Dustin's assertion of needing to hold our members accountable by requiring member activity. If only it were that easy to make it happen. We are a volunteer-driven association, and simply trying to force members to do certain things, with the threat of cancelling their membership if they don't meet their obligation, is not a proven way of accomplishing goals or growing an association. Members join for many reasons: to be a part of an industry, to support and advance a cause, to learn from each other, to grow, to receive services, and many more.
Dustin's suggestion about treating our alumni "like royalty" is also a terrific notion. They are crucial to our future, and are some of our most loyal supporters. To further exemplify this, for the first time in NATSAP's history, a member of our Alumni Council now has a seat on NATSAP's Board of Directors. We have an ongoing and active Alumni Council, and members of that Council do attend our conferences at no registration fee. However, offering free admission to all alumni to attend our conferences is fiscally irresponsible. If we were successful in attracting 100 alumni to a national conference, it would be terrific for attendance-and would cause us to financially ruin the association by running up expenses with no offsetting income. Taking Dustin's suggestion a step further, if there are member programs out there that are willing and able to underwrite the cost of more alumni attending our conferences, we would be most happy to accommodate them.
We have also looked outside of NATSAP to recognize individuals who have made outstanding contributions. At our recent Annual Conference in Tucson, our most prestigious award, our Leadership Award, was presented to Ken Stettler, Director of Licensing for the State of Utah. If there are others within our member programs who are worthy of recognition, we want to hear from those programs. We want more people involved in NATSAP, and it is our desire to instill a sense of belonging. Whatever opportunities we can create for that, we have and we will continue to do so.
In the last two years, we have introduced supplier-exhibits to NATSAP's conferences as a means of acquainting more of our programs with products and services important to them. Every year, our Planning Committee and Board consider new and different features of our conferences, and whether it's a forum for educational consultants to learn more about programs, or anything else, if it has merit, it will be seriously considered.
Ensuring that Members Uphold NATSAP's Values
Again, we could not agree more with Dustin's contention that NATSAP has to have teeth to its Best Practice Guidelines. Our Board has wrestled with this issue for years. Although it may have been envisioned at one time that NATSAP might operate as a quasi-accreditation body, a decision was made by the Board some years ago not to, on the advice of legal counsel. It was decided that that work was best left to the true accrediting bodies that do this type of work full-time, along with state licensing agencies.
Having said that, the Board, at its most recent meeting in January, created a Best Practices Committee, which is charged with the task of creating methods of true "buy-in" by each of our members, as well as developing procedures for communicating with a member who is perceived as not following the best practice guidelines that they signed on for initially, and to which they pledge adherence on an annual basis. We are presently seeking more members to serve on this Committee, as it has been deemed a high priority for NATSAP for many important reasons.
Take the Lead in a National Dialogue
NATSAP has taken a giant step in partnering with other organizations by virtue of our gathering at our recent conference in Tucson. What Dustin probably isn't aware of, is that SAMHSA, as well as several other organizations that did not participate, were, in fact, invited. The AACRC has partnered with us on taking the lead in the next edition of this community gathering, by offering to host a Summit Meeting in Milwaukee on July 21 and 22. In this meeting, we will get much more deeply into the issues at hand, and develop strategies, alliances, and partnerships with other organizations working in the same space.
Another example of partnering is our recent collaboration with Saving Teens in Crisis Collaborative, an organization set up expressly to raise money for scholarships for families in need. Effectively, Saving Teens has become NATSAP's foundation arm, and over time, this will result in our greater ability to accommodate families in crisis who otherwise would not be able to send their kids to private residential programs.
NATSAP has had solid, working relationships with others for years, including the IECA and the NAPHS, to name two. The Board has recognized the importance and benefits of such ventures, and has stepped up its activities in this regard. This is considered one of the most important areas that NATSAP can and should be engaged in, and it is happening.
Public Relations and Communication
As we speak, we are planning a major revamping of NATSAP's Web site. This has been in the works for several months. We have also had a Facebook page for a year, have reminded members that it is there, but it is little-used. In 2011 and beyond, this and other social media are a prime focus of activity. Again, it is important to note that regardless of what social media we employ, it is only as good as the information that members contribute to it. And that is where public relations come in.
We have a developed a "Members Only" section of our Web site, primarily for public and government relations purposes. Our reconstituted P.R. Committee has, just in the last several months, placed several press releases in national media on developments within NATSAP, including the aforementioned organization gathering at our Annual Conference. Additional plans are under way for developing pro forma press releases that can be used by members, guidelines for placing press releases with local media, and more.
Last summer, we distributed our first White Paper based upon our Outcomes Research to various media, sent it to all members, and placed it on our Web site. But if our members don't take the time to read what's there, or what's directly sent to them via email, they'd never know it.
NATSAP has accomplished a great deal in its 12-year history. Like most other associations in all professions, it had rapid growth at the outset, and it has plateaued and maintained ever since. We have begun implementing methods for identifying and attracting new members. We have introduced new features at our conferences. We are leading a charge for creating lasting partnerships with other related organizations. We have been successful so far in working out our issues regarding proposed Federal regulation. We continue to wrestle with the challenges of more member participation and involvement, as do many associations. We have implemented additional methods for communicating with our members, and we are presently in the throes of enhancing and improving existing ones.
We are, hopefully, exiting an economic downturn that has affected many of our members, and we have come out of it whole.
We applaud Dustin Tibbitts for raising these questions and challenging the leaders of NATSAP to strive to do more and achieve all that was envisioned by our founders back in the nineties. And we look forward to his, and many other members', involvement and active participation in NATSAP as we move many of the projects described herein, and others that have not even been envisioned yet, from their conception to their integral place among NATSAP's services to its members.
We invite additional comments, thoughts, and ideas from everyone. Please email your suggestions and ideas on ways to build member participation, member benefits, more effective communication, and anything else important to you to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For specific questions you can also contact Clifford M. Brownstein, Executive Director of NATSAP at 301-986-8770, email@example.com.
September 20, 2012
I would like to publicly thank Glen Zaugg for following through on what he said he would do for NATSAP. It has been almost 18 months since he responded to my public criticism of NATSAP. I am not under any delusion that he made changes because of my letter; in fact I understand that some of the changes were in the works before my letter. I appreciated that his response to me was kind and non-defensive, though my letter was emotionally-charged. Even more importantly, he kept his word.
Glen has been a good leader, and has accomplished much in the way of building bridges between NATSAP and other organizations which have been less than trusting toward us. This, in my opinion, will be his crowning achievement. Time will tell the amount of good this does for our organization, but I predict it will be immense.
I appreciate the update to the website, the regularity of the Youth Advocate newsletter and the engagement of the current Board. Participation in the outcome research initiative is up. A Best Practices Committee was created. I like the association we have with STICC. The national and regional conferences continue to improve.
Going forward, I hope that NATSAP will put increased energy into finding ways to improve member participation. I hope we find creative ways to encourage and enforce our agreed-upon best practices.