The Association for& Events, which launched last spring and in July reported having 236 paying members and 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, has yet to provide most of its promised member benefits and has failed to incorporate under Georgia law or file an application for tax-exempt status, according to the Internal Revenue Service. Several of the principals have also resigned.
According to the Georgia secretary of state’s office, Canton, Ga.–based AGME reserved its name on July 21, 2008, but never filed the paperwork to become incorporated. AGME’s registration of the name expired on August 20. Loriann White, CMM, AGME's co-founder, president, and chief innovation officer, and a former regional vice president at site selection firm ConferenceDirect, claims the organization is, in fact, incorporated, but with regard to its 501(c)(3) status, she says, “We’re holding off.”
AGME promotional materials lists a program for certification in green meetings and events as an important member benefit, and, in July, White reported that the certification would launch at the group’s first meeting, August 24–27, 2008, in Long Beach, Calif. However, the meeting was canceled and the certification program has not yet rolled out. White says the soft economy, high cost of air travel, and members’ difficulty getting time away from the office contributed to low registration, which forced the meeting cancellation. She said 32 people registered for the event, all of whom have received a refund. The certification program is expected to launch in 2009, according to White, who says she has had preliminary discussions with area universities about how AGME might work with them on the program.
Other stated AGME member benefits include e-newsletters, which have not been published, and online educational webinars. White says she held her first AGME webinar on October 31 to an audience of 96.
The association continues to accept memberships but has not invoiced recent recruits, says White, who claims AGME now has 362 members. The cost for membership is $99 per individual per year, with discounts for multiple members from a single company.
“We grew so fast, too soon. We need to take a step back. … It was kind of a blow to have people leave at a key time,” says White, referring to the July 2008 resignations of her key executives, including co-founder Hadley Laughlin, founder of Plan-it Friendly LLC; chief knowledge officer Michele Wierzgac, CMM, principal with Chicago-based Michele & Co.; vice president of membership Mary Jane Myers, national sales manager, Long Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, based in Atlanta; and Dallas Teague Snider, LeadReferrals Consulting & Marketing Services, who handled communications. None would comment on their reasons for leaving, but White called it a “miscommunication” and a “difference of opinion.” She said, “They were moving in one direction, and we were moving in another.” According to White, several new officers have signed on with the organization, including Vicky Penchosky, ConferenceDirect and Donna Nealey, The Facility Group.
White says she will be revamping the organization in January, and while “the mission and vision will be the same,” she says AGME needs “to start fresh.”
If White can rebuild, among the people who won’t be joining in is Long Beach’s Myers who has signed on as vice president of the brand-new Atlanta Chapter-in-Formation of the Green Meeting Industry Council. This first-ever GMIC chapter, which is expected to soon be followed by a Chicago chapter, is being headed up by Audrey Davies, senior manager, events management, The Home Depot, USA Inc. Also on the Atlanta GMIC board are Membership Chair Alesa McArthur, PRA; Evena Gekes, Axiom Meetings; Joe Salazarte, Cox Enterprise; and Michael Hall, IHG. Davies says the GMIC chapter is in no way related to either AGME or the Atlanta Green Meetings Council, www.atlantagreenmeetings.com (also co-founded by White and Laughlin, and a precursor to the national AGME). GMIC is a national 501(c)(6) organization that has been serving as the voice of the green meetings movement in the U.S.
The business licensing department for the city of Canton, Ga., where AGME and White are based, told MeetingsNet that no business license existed for the organization. While White stated that AGME was incorporated, she had not supplied any verification of the organization’s business status as of press time.
You don’t have to incorporate to be an association, according to lawyer James Goldberg, principal at Goldberg & Associates, a Washington, D.C.–based law firm that represents associations. “You can be an unincorporated association, but I and most other lawyers will probably tell you that’s not a good idea, for liability reasons. The better approach is to incorporate.
“If you are a member, I think you’d want to know if they are incorporated or not, but more importantly, are they a nonprofit or a for-profit. Because the motivations are somewhat different, I guess: In a nonprofit, a member may have certain rights to elect directors or officers, whereas in a for-profit, they may not have those rights.”
This article was reported by Susan Hatch and Dave Kovaleski, and written by Susan Hatch.