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A survey of the professional associations affiliated with the National Environmental Health Association: how various groups responded to the needs of their members.

Introduction

As president of the Arizona Environmental Health Association, I arrived at NEHA's Annual Educational Conference (AEC) in July 1995 with a hunger to meet with other affiliate presidents and to share information. The AEC, however, is densely packed with activities, and I found little opportunity to do so. When I was able to meet with my peers, I found that they shared my desire to know more about what other affiliates do, what challenges they face, and what successes they have had. Speaking for myself - and from what I've been able to determine about other affiliate leaders - there is a desire to know where one's association stands and to learn from what others have done. Over the course of the AEC, it occurred to me that we clearly need a mechanism for exchanging basic data about the affiliates. The survey reported on in this paper represents the first attempt to gather and present such information. The information is crucial because the NEHA affiliates, by virtue of the number of members they serve and their accessibility, are important mechanisms for providing continuing-education and networking opportunities to environmental health professionals.

Method

The survey itself was a simple affair. Most questions were posed in an open-ended format to maximize freedom of response. Questionnaires were sent out in August 1995, and responses were returned through July 1996. The questions were loosely grouped into six sections: membership, publications, governance, educational activities, other activities, and questions about the quality of affiliate activities. The results of the survey are presented in a discussion format, and particularly important or interesting information is given in tables. I had to exercise some judgement in grouping similar responses during tabulation. Although every effort was made to summarize the results accurately, it is possible that errors or misinterpretations have occurred, and I apologize in advance. Any questions or clarifications arising from this discussion may be directed to me.

Results

Membership

The number of members in each affiliate association ranged from 40 (in the Wyoming affiliate) to 1,000 (in the California affiliate) (Table 1). It should be noted that the Maine affiliate was described as "currently inactive" and that the number of members was not indicated. The 41 affiliates responding to this section of the survey collectively claimed 10,971 members. As a gross estimate, if the average number of members per state association [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 1 OMITTED] (274) is applied to the 11 affiliates not responding, a total of 13,985 people belong to NEHA-affiliated organizations. This number is particularly interesting when compared with the total NEHA membership of approximately 5,000. In Arizona, only a percentage of the state association members are also NEHA members - and vice versa. Because I am convinced that we're reaching only a fraction of the people who might have an interest in environmental health, I asked each affiliate to estimate the number of people in their state or interest group who might potentially become affiliate members. Although such guesswork has little, if any, objective meaning, I know of no other way of attempting to quantify the potential membership pool. Among the 37 affiliates responding to this question, guesses ranged from 70 to 3,500, giving a total of 27,707 individuals. As before, I applied the average response (749) to the 15 affiliates that did not answer this question and got a very unscientific total of 38,942. If this number is anywhere close to correct, we have a great deal of work to do to reach out to potential members.

Membership costs are also shown in Table 1. Regular memberships cost from $3 (for the self-described inactive Maine affiliate) to $35 (for five of the groups). Among the 40 responses to this question, the average cost was $18.97. Thirty groups offer student memberships at costs that range from nothing (four affiliates) to $15 (three affiliates). When available, student memberships are offered at a fraction of the cost of regular memberships. Differences between regular memberships and other types of membership are considerably more complex. Emeritus, sustaining, retired, honorary, corporate, institutional and other memberships are available at a variety of costs. Many affiliates offer their members the option of joint membership with NEHA. For all affiliates, the membership period is one year.

Publications

Thirty-seven respondents indicated that they publish newsletters (Table 1). The Ohio affiliate publishes the Ohio Journal of Environmental Health instead of a newsletter. Most affiliates publish their newsletters four times per year. A variety of other publications are produced. Journals, swimming pool manuals, sanitarian field guides, meeting reports, magazines or programs for conferences, membership brochures, food codes, and member directories were mentioned by affiliate leaders.

Governance

Table 2 indicates the structure of the governing body for each affiliate. A board of directors or similar body has from three to 24 members. The average board size is 10.5 members. Virtually all of the affiliates are led by presidents. Of the 42 responding organizations, 32 have presidents-elect, 38 have past presidents, and 25 have vice presidents. Two of the organizations have multiple vice presidents. Thirty-two and 31 of the affiliates have secretaries and treasurers, respectively. Ten affiliates have secretary-treasurers. Newsletter editors have board-of-directors status in 10 affiliates. The number of representatives or general board members constitutes the greatest variation among governing structures, ranging from one to 18. In general, the more populous states have greater numbers of representatives [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 2 OMITTED] on their boards. Some organizations elect these positions at large, and others choose them from geographic or interest-based areas. A few affiliates mentioned having designated board positions that represent industry and environmental health directors. In the largest states, such as California and Texas, affiliates have regional branches that function with great autonomy. Each branch has its own leadership and organizes its own functions, such as educational conferences. This organizational structure is an effective way for the larger states to bring leadership opportunities and other benefits to their members on a more local and accessible level. Terms of office range from one to three years. A common pattern gives the president a one-year term and assigns two- or three-year terms to the secretary and treasurer to preserve continuity. Personal communications with affiliate presidents indicate that one year is not long enough to get a good feel for the job or to achieve all of one's goals but that a two-year commitment may lead to burnout before the term is completed. In most cases, leaders serve as presidents-elect and past presidents before and after tenure as president.

The number of meetings the groups hold varies quite a bit - from one to 12 with an average of six. In general, the groups in states with greater populations have more meetings. The Industry affiliate and the Uniformed Services affiliate schedule the fewest meetings because of the geographic distribution of their members.

In nearly all affiliates, the president serves as the affiliate delegate to the AEC. The Ohio also sends its president-elect. In the national capital area affiliate, the NEHA regional vice-president serves as the delegate.

The use of committees to perform the tasks of the associations is universal. Table 3 presents a list of committees operated by each affiliate. The most common committee is the membership committee, maintained by 34 affiliates. Thirty-two affiliates have legislation and elections committees. Education committees occur in 30 affiliates, and 23 affiliates have finance committees. Bylaws and awards committees are maintained by 21 and 15 affiliates, respectively. Conference-organizing committees, publication or newsletter committees, and public relations committees are operated by seven affiliates each, and six affiliates have committees devoted to scholarships, social [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 3 OMITTED] activities, or professional promotion. Committees that deal with industry issues, resolutions, and food protection appear in four affiliates each. The following committees were mentioned by only one or two organizations: special projects, international issues, auditing, ad hoc, strategic planning, steering, rules, registration, technical, library, pools, and daycare. Thus, NEHA affiliates operate committees whose diversity is impressive and that may be a source of inspiration for other groups.

Educational Activities

Affiliates sponsor from one to 10 or more educational conferences per year. The average is 2.7 conferences per year. Topics are so vastly diverse that it is difficult to identify trends. Also, the nature of many of the responses made it difficult to determine if the topics listed were for individual sessions or for entire conferences. At any rate, the range of topics is quite impressive and may serve as inspiration for associations looking for innovative subjects (see sidebar on page 30).

Other Activities

Fourteen affiliates maintain lending libraries for use by members. Twenty-seven groups award from one to six scholarships ranging in value from $100 to $2,000. Most commonly, scholarships of $500 are offered. Five affiliates have mentoring programs that match experienced environmental health professionals with students or with people new to the field. A variety of charitable activities are undertaken, including a poster contest for children (Arkansas), Earth Day activities (Illinois), an adopt-a-highway program (Ohio), the Earth Wellness Festival (Nebraska), and science fair sponsorship (Ohio, Oklahoma, and New Mexico). Five more affiliates indicated that they engage in charitable activities but did not specify what type. In response to questions about social activities, eight affiliates responded that they have social activities but did not elaborate. Four affiliates mentioned banquets held at their annual conferences. Two affiliates sponsor a summer outing or campout, hospitality rooms at their conferences, and golf tournaments. One affiliate held both a boat cruise and a casino night.

Of particular interest is the manner in which each affiliate handles political activities. Members seem to have a significant interest in having their professional organizations monitor and influence legislation. This is a delicate issue; many organizations have to limit such activities to maintain their tax status. By far, the most common approach to political involvement is maintenance of a legislation committee. Eighteen affiliates identified the work of such a committee as a political activity (although a total of 32 groups indicated elsewhere in the survey that they have legislation committees). Four associations cited monitoring of legislation as a political activity. Three groups engage in lobbying, three groups testify at hearings, and three groups organize letter and phone campaigns. The Ohio affiliate has a legislative liaison position, and the Iowa affiliate sponsors a "Day on the Hill," which affords members the opportunity to meet directly with legislators. In all, 35 affiliates indicated that they engage in some sort of political action.
TABLE 4

Accomplishments and Challenges Identified for Each Affiliate

Affiliate Name Comments(*)

Alaska + excellent educational conference
 - having members participate and pay dues

Arizona + educational conferences; newsletter; networking
 - lack of interest and participation

Arkansas + providing seminars and continuing education
 opportunities

 - lack of enthusiasm among members

California + educating and promoting environmental health in
 California

 - reaching all environmental health professionals
 in state; reaching needs of peripheral
 environmental health professionals

Colorado + education and training

 - getting active participation by more of the
 membership

Connecticut no response

Florida + providing networking opportunities

 - retention of members; funding for adequate
 administration

Idaho + annual conference

 - maintaining licensing requirements; increasing
 membership; increasing political influence:
 improving newsletter

Illinois + educational conferences

 - defining role of environmental health in the
 future; cutbacks; changes in legislation

Indiana + educational conferences: networking

 - declining membership; budget; trying to serve
 diverse interests

Industry + maintaining a posture and presence of industry
 concerns within the NEHA structure

 - membership growth; trying to get other industry
 people besides those working with food

Iowa + education of members; professionalism imparted to
 members; working well with other agencies

 - government budgets shrinking: limits ability of
 environmental health professionals to become
 involved

Kansas + no response

 - decreased membership (administrative/legislative
 reasons)

Louisiana + excellent educational conference; excellent
 newsletter,

 - getting members interested in participating

Maine + no response

 - attracting enough people to function

Massachusetts + provide educational opportunities for members

 - money; active participation; lack of executive
 secretary for continuity

Michigan no response

Minnesota + programs and conferences well organized and
 stable

 - broadening base to include all areas of
 environmental health

Missouri + educational presentations

 - milk section declining; professional recognition

Montana + educational conferences; legislative lobbying

 - Montana is big - travel is a problem; large
 increase in area growth and development

Natl. Cap. + educational conferences

 - membership

E.H.Admin. + excellent newsletter

 - budget cuts; time constraints of membership

Nebraska + offering low-cost educational conferences;
 monthly meetings

 - lack of interest; members have no time; same
 members on board year after year

New Jersey + trying to pass as much information on to
 membership as possible

 - name change; job specifications and definitions

New Mexico + good general educational conference and excellent
 special-topic conferences; good science fair
 program

 - decreased support for continuing education and
 the association at the state administrative level

New York + educational conference; job placement,
 fundraising

 - obtaining new members

N. Carolina + lobbying/legislative issues; providing
 training/continuing-education units

 - Finances

N. Dakota + keeping members updated and educated about
 changes in environmental health through
 educational conferences

 - membership declining because of state government
 cuts and little industry

Ohio + legislative positions;educational conferences;
 policy development

 - conference attendance; communicating with members
 on issues

Oklahoma + no response

 - programs split, having trouble pleasing both
 sides

Oregon + raising money to give to others

 - declining member activity: small core group does
 all the work

Pennsylvania + no response

 - membership; funding

Rhode Island no response

S. Carolina + providing continuing-education units; networking;
 better than average number of environmental
 health professionals in the state are members

 - apathy

Texas + newsletter and journals; educational conference

 - attracting members; attendance at educational
 conference

Uniformed + representing interests of those in Armed Forces
 and U.S. Public Health

Service Services

 - retaining membership, active participation

Utah + level of activity

 - finding new members

Virginia + conferences; newsletter

 - state government restrictions on conference
 travel

Washington + spurring interest in young sanitarians; great
 educational conference

 - providing services without raising fees

W. Virginia + no response

 - no response

Wisconsin + silent auction; annual conferences

 - getting membership involved, especially to run
 for office

Wyoming + food safety courses

 - small number of people; large distance to travel

* The "+" symbol refers to successes; the "-" symbol refers to
challenges.


Miscellaneous activities included a restaurant association show (California), a $2,500 grant for projects to benefit environmental health professionals (Florida), sponsorship of the registration program (Illinois), Industry Sanitarian of the Year Award (Industry affiliate), on-line service (Environmental Health Administrators affiliate), job placement service (New York), preparatory classes and other assistance for the registration exam (Ohio and Virginia), Environmental Health Student Award (Oklahoma), five awards to environmental health specialists (South Carolina), provision of members to state health department steering committees (Ohio), and a governor's proclamation commemorating the 50th anniversary of the association (Wisconsin).

The Quality of Affiliate Activities

The last part of the survey was perhaps the most interesting. Affiliate leaders were asked the following questions: "What do you feel your association does well?" and "What problems or challenges does your association face?" These questions, requiring subjective responses, had the potential to reveal what is on the minds of the people running our affiliate groups. The responses to these questions are presented in Table 4.

Out of the 42 affiliates responding to the survey, 34 answered the question "What do you feel your association does well?" Twenty-seven (79 percent) indicated satisfaction with their efforts in education, particularly their educational conferences. This level of agreement is remarkable, especially since the question was open-ended and any number of responses were possible. Clearly, the affiliates believe they have a significant role to play in providing educational opportunities to their members. They devote many of their resources to such activities and seem to be pleased with the results.

Other responses to this question exhibited less uniformity. Five affiliates mentioned a quality newsletter. Four affiliates cited networking opportunities. Legislative monitoring and lobbying received three responses, and two affiliates expressed satisfaction with their efforts at fundraising. The Uniformed Services affiliate and the Industry affiliate cited representing the interests of their members as an area of accomplishment, reflecting the specialized nature of their constituencies. Professionalism, development of new professionals, membership, level of activity, interagency relations, silent auction participation, meetings, job placement service, science fair program, policy development, and communication each received a single mention.

The question about problems and challenges produced more varied responses. Thirty-nine respondents answered this question. Difficulties with membership were cited by 14 affiliates. Ten affiliates cited apathy and lack of involvement, with two affiliates specifically mentioning that the same small group of people seemed to be doing all the work. Ten responses mentioned financial problems. Communication and outreach were cited as a challenge by four affiliates. Conference attendance, administrative problems, time, politics, and growth each were named by two responders. Decreased support for continuing education, problems with professional registration, job definitions, a name change, professional recognition, newsletter, the future direction of the profession, diversity, and the need for an executive secretary each received a single mention.

Conclusions

The NEHA-affiliated organizations provide valuable and important services to their members. It is estimated that these organizations directly serve about 14,000 individuals. The growth of our profession and heightened efforts in membership recruitment can increase this number greatly.

For modest fees, ranging from $3 to $35 per year, the members of these organizations generally receive a newsletter and have access to a variety of educational opportunities of considerable professional value. The fees support administrative operations. In many cases, membership fees also support a variety of social and charitable functions. Measurement of the relative value received for fees paid also must consider intangibles such as support for the profession, personal professional development, and a feeling of being connected with the profession.

The affiliates clearly expend a great deal of effort in providing educational opportunities for their members. Although the survey did not specifically attempt to determine affiliate priorities, it is clear that sponsorship of educational conferences is the main goal of most of the groups. They feel they do it well, and this function is a source of pride. The greatest frustration experienced by many affiliate leaders is frustration with lack of participation by and support from their members. I hope that this project reminds people that their professional associations depend upon them, not only for their membership fees, but also for their direct involvement. Our professional associations are an outstanding example of democracy in action and depend on the broad involvement of many individuals to function properly.

Affiliate Conference Topics

Agency updates Air quality Americans with disabilities act Back flow prevention Bloodborne pathogens Child care facilities Conflict resolution Constructed wetlands Cryptosporidium Customer service Data management Disasters and emergencies Disinfection Downsizing E. coli Electromagnetic fields Emerging pathogens Environmental health employment Environmental health legislation Epidemiology FDA model food code Flood control Foodborne illness Food establishments and fire Future trends GIS Grant writing Grease interceptors Groundwater HACCP Hantavirus Hazardous materials Hazardous waste Housing Industrial hygiene Lead screening Legal aspects Management Medical waste Microbiology Microbreweries Networking Nuisance code enforcement Occupational health/OSHA On-site wastewater disposal Pesticides Petroleum contamination Plague Plans review Playground safety Public relations Rabies Radon Recreation sanitation Risk communication School safety Soils Solid waste Special events sanitation Strategic planning Stress management Subdivisions Swimming pools Tourism and growth Tuberculosis control Underground storage tanks Vector control Vicious animals Violence in the workplace

Acknowledgments: The author thanks all the affiliate leaders for their responses. Without their input, this article literally would not have been possible. Gratitude is also extended to the author's own state affiliate, the Arizona Environmental Health Association, for supporting him in this effort.

Corresponding Author: William A. Frank, M.S., R.S./R.E.H.S., Assistant Director, Yavapai County Environmental Services Department, 10 S. 6th Street, Cottonwood, AZ 86326. . The Public'
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Author:Frank, William A.
Publication:Journal of Environmental Health
Date:Jun 1, 1999
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