As with the rest of the nation, the Neurology Section has been affected by the economic downturn. For the past 5 years, we have seen our membership grow; increasing 32% since 2003. However, for the first time in a long time, our membership dropped by 2% in the last quarter of 2008. In analyzing this blip on an otherwise steady growth pattern, we learned that many members of AMERICAN PHYSICAL THERAPISTS ASSOCIATION (APTA) are retaining their membership, but for those who belong to more than one Section, they are dropping membership in some sections to save.
A more disappointing blow than the loss of these valued members is the financial hit that our Neurology Section Endowment Fund realized. We have not received the final numbers, but we were informed that, because of these losses, the two scholarships funded by the endowment could not be funded with growth funds this year. The Board's resiliency was further stretched as our new treasurer, Dr. Dennis Fell, reported that our investment account declined in 2008 by $51,078 with $25,500 of that decline occurring in the fourth quarter. Because of this twofold financial setback, the Board has discussed ways to address our time of uncertainty.
Luckily, the Neurology Section is not one to perseverate on doom and gloom but rather to take strength and certitude in our mission, commitment of our elected leaders, and the unbridled enthusiasm of our volunteers. As usual, our Section is the sixth largest of the 18 specialty Sections (Orthopedics, Sports, Geriatrics, Pediatrics, and Private Practice, higher respectively); yet, historically we are the second largest number of attendees by Section membership at the annual Combined Sections Meeting (with Orthopedics Section membership attendance typically being the largest). This year at the Combined Sections Meeting in Las Vegas, we had more visits to the Section booth than ever before thanks to our enthusiastic Membership and Public Relations Committee under the leadership of our newly appointed Chair, Dr. Tina Stoeckmann of Marquette University. Even more gratifying than all the visits to our Section booth were the numbers of members looking for ways to get involved.
These are uncertain times for nonprofit organizations when individuals are trying to decide how to adjust their personal financial priorities. As with other nonprofit organizations, we are trying to meet the needs of our Section along with the constraints of today's economic climate. Fortunately, resources are available to assist in a Section reality check.1
Step 1: Understand Your Situation
At the Board of Directors meetings and the Leadership meeting, where all committee and Special Interest Group chairs are included, we openly discussed the financial legacy of the section along with our current challenges.
We agreed that the strategy of growth that has been the emphasis for the strategic plan the past three years, should now be transitioned to one of maintenance because we experience the effects of the current economic climate. However, it should be noted that investments in JNPT, management support from component services at APTA, and updating our website and e-communications have all been wise financial investments that have advanced our mission and strategic plan.
Step 2: Mission Is the Cornerstone
Without a doubt, multiple sources recommend that nonprofit organizations review their mission and remain mission based and mission driven.2 Our Section has been committed to our Mission, Vision, and Strategic Plan and has made extraordinary gains since the inception of the Strategic Plan in 2006. We acknowledged this year that we stand by our Mission and Vision.
To serve neurologic physical therapy providers and to advance evidence-based practice, education, and research in neurologic physical therapy; through dynamic and innovative leadership, our members are empowered to promote optimal recovery, wellness, and quality of life in individuals with movement dysfunction due to neurologic disease or injury.
The vision of the Neurology Section is to be a leading partner in the national and international rehabilitation communities by facilitating collaborative relationships, promoting knowledge translation, and influencing policy.
Step 3: Set Priorities and Make Choices
One of the hardest choices we made this year was to decide to fund one Promotion of Doctoral Study scholarship out of our operating budget in light of the financial losses of our Foundation Endowment Fund. The alternative was to not fund either of the Promotion of Doctoral Studies scholarships for 2009.
Funding a doctoral student is a tradition that we want to honor because the Section is committed to bringing evidence to practice and to improving the physical therapy care of individuals with neurologic health conditions. The best method for our nonprofit Section to accomplish this is to support the innovative discovery of our developing clinician scholars.
Furthermore, our commitment to educational opportunities is not just limited to doctoral students. One of our strategic priorities of highest concern is to provide educational programming that is accessible and communicated to all our members. Therefore, continued support for regional programming, the home study series, establishing minimal entry-level neurologic competencies for physical therapy education programs, and alternative nonsynchronous learning modules are examples of priorities that are of importance to our membership.
Step 4: Develop Strategies
One of the greatest risks that we are embarking on at this time is to expand our Board of Directors. The Board recommended to the membership at the 2008 business meeting and the membership voted in favor of a Board expansion to include a Director of Education, Director of Communication, and a Director of Research. Although this does add operational cost, we expect that these leadership positions will be the crucial link in the future growth and have an impact on the Neurology Section both nationally and internationally.
We look on this time of “uncertainty” to recognize that we are actually on a continued path of “certainty.” Organizations, such as ours, that are grounded in altruism and solidarity around a common cause will be the ones to continue to thrive during these challenging times. We are a successful example of the “voluntary-spirit model” of nonprofit organizations.2 There is no question that the Neurology Section is a spirited model of active and productive volunteers.