Stay Focused: There is “good money” and there is “problematic money”

Stay Focused2014-snell-roy-speaking-headshot-200By Roy Snell

SCCE and HCCA make an effort to tie our revenue to our mission. This revenue can come from memberships, publications, certifications, conferences, etc. But some associations have a material amount of their revenue coming from vendors or other business relationships, so they have a tendency to focus on those outside relationships. We love our vendors—but we want to love them because they are a part of our professional community, not because of the revenue they provide.

Many vendors have hired the best and brightest from our profession, so they have a lot to contribute and they have solutions for our members’ problems. But we take relatively small amounts of money from vendors—for ads, logos on bags, booths, etc.—because we do not want any one arrangement to be too big to walk away from. We occasionally get asked to do something that is not in the best interest of our membership, and we need to be able to walk away. Money can make that difficult.

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Some believe that AARP has lost their way because of their insurance products; that the revenue affects their decision-making. The Washington Examiner reported:

“But the conflicts of interest are clear. The House Ways & Means Committee issued a report in 2011 studying ‘AARP The Insurance Company.’ They found that the board of directors for AARP Insurance Plan was entirely drawn from AARP’s board. The Ways & Means report also quoted Marilyn Moon, a former AARP executive, saying: ‘The new arrangements with insurance companies create a tremendous number of potential conflicts for AARP, which is a powerhouse…AARP will not be perceived as a truly independent advocate on Medicare if it’s making hefty profits by selling insurance products that provide Medicare coverage.’” (

AARP adamantly believes the money doesn’t affect their decision-making. But even if they can overcome the conflict of interest, leadership’s valuable time has been spent defending their position and managing the revenue—time that could have been spent on members.

We are occasionally encouraged to provide products—including insurance products—for our profession. But if we did, and it became a material amount of money, we may start to focus on the vendor, product, and revenue instead of our members. And this could happen even if it “fit our mission” of helping our members.

So it’s not a question of, “Does the product relate to our members or mission?” It’s a question of, “Could the revenue create a conflict of interest?” It may be a very legitimate business opportunity, and these deals may easily pass through the “legal legitimacy” filter—but not the “conflict of interest” filter.

Anything that can cause you to lose focus on the “typical member” should be feared.

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  1. Making the differentiation between good (legitimate) money and problematic (conflict of interest) money is a very important one and the HCCA’s approach is commendable. We live and work in a society that is highly focused on enhancing revenue and profits at all costs regardless of the source. Having clarity about what constitutes a legitimate business arrangement is beneficial to not only HCCA, but to the members who rely on the leadership to make decisions that are as solid and commendable as its articles, publications, and conferences.

  2. I agree that many organizations — not just AARP– may lose their focus on good money versus problematic or conflict of interest money. They focus on the revenue line instead of the benefit to their members and the related community from which they want to garner additional members.

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