Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Associations and "Unclaimed Property"

By Mark Alcorn and MaryAnne Bobrow

A relative passes away.  Charged with administering the estate, all due diligence is taken to ensure all property of the decedent had been property disbursed and/or disposed of in accordance with the decedent’s wishes.  Yet several years later, a notice arrives from the state of California that there exists unclaimed property of the decedent that will belong to the state unless it is claimed following procedures specified in the notice.  If you were in this situation, you would take all steps necessary to resolve the issue.  As an association professional, what does your association do when faced with similar dilemmas?

Does your association possess "Unclaimed Property"?  Before you answer “no,” consider that unclaimed property includes such items as dues that were supposed to be returned, a refundable deposit on booth space, a check that was returned to the association due to lack of current mailing information, wages for a former employee that can no longer be found, and/or uncashed payments to vendors that have become stale?  While the temptation may be great to void transactions such as those described above, the association or business does not get to keep this property.  In fact, possession of this property triggers significant responsibilities for the holder.

Unclaimed Property Legal Requirements

Many associations and businesses do not realize that they hold unclaimed property, or that they are subject to reporting requirements and possibly the obligation to turn the unclaimed property over to the state.  

In California and many other jurisdictions, the law requires associations and businesses to give written notice to the owner of the unclaimed property.  If the property is not claimed, the association must report that it is holding the property to the State Controller on state issued forms.  Then, if the property remains unclaimed, the association must pay or deliver to the State Controller the "abandoned" property.  Property is presumed to have been abandoned when it remains unclaimed by the owner for more than three years after it became payable.  

Additionally, an association or business must maintain records concerning unclaimed property for a period of seven (7) years.  

Significant penalties can be incurred for failure to abide in these laws.  These penalties include fines and interest at a whopping 12% per year.  Some penalties can be excused under limited circumstances.


How can you ensure your association complies with laws governing unclaimed property?  We recommend that association bylaws make it clear that dues, booth fees, sponsorship fees, and similar funds are not refundable.  We also recommend that a special account be established for unclaimed property, and that the association adopt internal policies that help ensure that unclaimed property is handled properly.  If possible, return unclaimed property to its rightful owner not later than three (3) years from the date it first became payable/returnable.

We also recommend that associations inform and educate their respective memberships about laws pertaining to unclaimed property.  An informative summary of the law, an excerpt of the law, and simple forms the members can use could be a great service to the membership.


Information about California's unclaimed property law can be found at http://sco.ca.gov/upd_faq_about_q01.html.  Unclaimed property law and regulations are available at http://www.sco.ca.gov/Files-UPD/guide_upd_updlaw.pdf.

Mark D. Alcorn
Attorney/Management Consultant

1000 Q Street, Suite 120
Sacramento, CA  95811
(916) 444-5959
(916) 320-6456
(916) 443-6719
Website:  www.alcornassociates.com
Email: mark@alcornlaw.com

MaryAnne P. Bobrow, CAE, CMP, CMM, CHE
Bobrow & Associates
Association and Meetings Management
6060 Sunrise Vista Drive, Suite 1300
Citrus Heights, CA  95610
Phone:       (916) 722-8168
Fax:             (916) 722-8149
Website:  www.bobrowassociates.com
Email:         maryanne@bobrowassociates.com

Friday, March 23, 2012

Association Meetings Should Be About Member ROI

The power of social media to effect change is increasingly becoming evident. Consider the recent and poorly thought out legislation on the piracy act. Interested and engaged individuals and organizations pushed back and the silent majority raised its collective voice to say to congress, ‘this is really a bad idea.’ Within a matter of days, the author withdrew the legislation. A short time later, we had the Susan G. Komen fiasco that may have permanently damaged the value of that organization to breast cancer awareness. Then there is the OCCUPY movement cropping up everywhere.

This week, a number of high profile, engaged members are chiding ASAE on social media for its selection of opening session keynote speakers. It seems that some (not all) of our industry associations have lost focus on why people attend annual conferences. It is a time for members to come together, to learn, to exchange ideas, and to meet new peers. Why would anyone think that we would want to hear political rhetoric or that it would be an invigorating way to energize the attendees? Why would anyone want to pay what is not an insubstantial registration fee, lodging, travel and meals, not to mention the time spent away from one’s work to listen to those two debate each other. The Business Journals, http://www.bizjournals.com/prnewswire/press_releases/2012/03/07/DC66090) noted that ASAE wanted to provide members with “political insight into the election process and how the current political landscape will impact the country.” Seriously, ASAE thinks its members need insight into the political process. I am just not comfortable that an ASAE member meeting is the right place for this type of conversation. I share the concerns of others speaking to this issue.

The fact that a single session could invoke such negative reaction in members makes one think in a broader sense. The cost of attending meetings is considerable, and in an economy that is painfully slow to recover, the personal decision to attend a meeting is just that—the return on the individual’s personal investment of time, energy, and money. If one does not attend ‘keynote’ sessions because they find the topic and speakers offensive, if one spends most of the meeting in the hallways, nearby lounges and cafes meeting with peers because the education offerings are rudimentary, pedestrian, or unimaginative, then why spend the money to attend the conference at all? If meetings truly mean business, then should not the content of the meetings be such that the personal return on investment is achieved? I would love to hear what others think.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Who Is the Client?

I get that hotels and other providers are as financially challenged as the rest of us, given the lagging economy. I get that customer service training budgets have evaporated. I get that younger and inexperienced people are replacing seasoned sales personnel. What I don't get is why in this process, there is a failure to understand that the results of these actions impacts how the BRAND is received by those who would contract with these properties.

Now, I know I'm not the only one experiencing this phenomena because I've spoken with others who are undergoing the same thing. I've asked fellow professionals to share their stories with me and they have. They are not pretty. And, I am sure, that this lack of customer service extends far beyond the meetings industry. A column in my Sunday paper by Christopher Elliott is just one example: Customer buys two airline tickets. Customer's spouse passes away unexpectedly. Customer requests refund from online ticket agency. Online ticket agency passes the buck to international airlines. Airline refuses to refund ticket, while admitting they will sell the seat to someone else. Enter Elliott, who chides the online ticket agency for not stepping up and the airline for stupidity. Customer gets refund from airline. Customer now dislikes airline for making her jump through hoops. Who Is The Client?

Fast forward to recent experiences I have had dealing with hotels and meetings booked at their properties.

Sales Managers are increasingly younger and poorly trained to do their jobs. Example: At one 5-star hotel, my sales manager does not pick up a phone and call me when there is something to discuss about an upcoming event. She emails me and tells me to call her. Who Is The Client?

I recently stayed in three different properties on three consecutive days, with three different events. First stop, San Francisco, where the essence of customer service was evident from the moment I stepped out of my car until I retrieved it the next day. The staff at this property was well-trained and could well serve as a model for other brands.

Leaving San Francisco, I headed to the South Bay for a one-day meeting. The only guest room was mine; everyone else was local. In organizing this event, I had asked the sales manager for a rate. She quoted the rate and indicated she would book the room. I arrive on property and -- no room. The sales manager is called to the front desk. She denies any knowledge and states she would NEVER forget to book a client room. She then says the hotel is oversold and they have no rooms. I insist she give me a room and she finally does. Sleeping room is seriously in need of refurbishing. Room service is abysmal--food arrives lukewarm at best. No room amenity; not even a note apologizing for the reservation snafu. I am onsite at 6:30 AM the next morning, only to find that the room is not set up properly, despite having an agreed-upon diagram for the room set. Rest of the experience here is equally disappointing. Who Is The Client?

Finished this meeting and head over to the East Bay for a similar meeting the following day. Arrive on property and get to my sleeping room. Again, not even a hint of welcome from my sales contact. I don't really care about an amenity but a welcome note would be nice. Arrive at the meeting space at 6:30 AM and (sigh) the room is not set correctly despite the diagram showing where everything is to be placed.

I finally get the room set correctly and set up for my morning guests. It is a fee-based workshop, followed by a free table top trade show. Two people arrive and attempt to enter the room. I stop them and politely ask if they are registered for the event. They say 'we need to look at the room - Catering SENT us down here.' I tell them that there is a workshop in progress and they cannot enter the room. They get nasty but leave when it becomes apparent they aren't getting into the room.

Two hours later, yet another group comes down (this time with hotel sales kit in hand) - same story. Catering has SENT them down to look at the ballroom. I direct them back to catering and tell them there is an event in progress and it cannot be disrupted. They head back to the elevators, presumably back to Catering.

Some six hours after I began my day (and after the group's luncheon), my hotel contact finally shows up and asks how everything is going. Seriously? Where was he at 7 AM or 8 AM? I address the issues with Catering trying to disrupt my meetings. He acts surprised. When I tell him if Catering does it one more time, I will ask for a waiver of meeting space rental. He scurries away, never to be seen again. Who is the client?

Two days later, I get an email from this sales person. He sends me the banquet checks and tells me to review them carefully because I will be charged for the amounts shown. Did he not take a moment to look at the banquet checks and see that I had reviewed and signed them while oniste? At least the banquet captain knew how to handle a meeting.

Will I write to each of these propertys and express concerns at the lack of service? Certainly. I will also note that the currently low level of service and attention to detail evidences a complete lack of training of their employees. It is becoming more and more frequent and affects my decision on whether I will consider certains brands in the future. If they can't or won't train their front desk, sales, catering, and other staff, why would I want to book meetings there and subject my attendees to negative experiences.

After all, Who Is The Client? I thought it was me and ultimately my clients.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Post-Event Reports

I was invited by Christine "Shimo" Shimasaki, CDME, CMP to guest blog for the DMAI's official empowerMINT.com Blog. As the incoming chair of the CIC's APEX Standards Review Council, I wrote the following on the importance of properly completing a Post-Event Report (PER). http://www.meetingplanningpartners.com/planner-perspective/per-fect-data-the-post-event-report.

APEX SRC's outgoing chair, Doug McPhee, also blogged on the PER. Comments are always welcome.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

It's Broke, So Fix It: The New Normal and Meeting Contracts

It is a beautiful and sunny Saturday morning. I should be outside doing fun things like biking or golfing. Yet, here I sit in my office managing conference registrations and hotel rooming lists for a conference coming up in just 17 days.

As I write to conference attendees asking why I can't find them on the hotel's rooming list, I already know what most of the answers are going to be: "I used [insert favorite discount travel site] but I am staying at the hotel."

We all talk about the generational shift and how we need to do things differently to engage younger people. Yet, we are still using the antiquated contract clauses for our meetings at hotels and other facilities. Attendees not only 'know' about websites like Expedia, Hotels.com, Orbitz and so many6 more, but they use them. The why is very simple. Increasingly, the money to pay conference expenses is coming out of their pockets and not their employers'. Recently, I have seen proposed hotel contracts with clauses stating that only rooms booked 'within the block' will be counted towards the room block.

The typical conference charges $400-$500 (much more for some conferences I attend). Add to that three or more days lodging and travel expenses. Because we as conference organizers are trying to juggle our budgets, we have also eliminated some meal events or dramatically cut them down to meet the food and beverage guarantees we've agreed to. We hope attendees won't notice, but we know that they do.

I understand that hotels and other venues need to cover their costs and make a profit but have we not reached the point where suppliers and planners need to sit down together and start working on the 'new' contract for the new normal?

Everyone is scrambling to balance their budgets and I get that. But if our attendees are increasingly booking outside the block, why do we persist in insisting that they book inside the block at a rate much higher than they can get using one of the travel sites? It's time to stop 'doing that dance' and find a new one that works.

We see our industry associations moving more and more towards co-location because the trade show model as we know it is seeing fewer and fewer attendees in the hall and more and more attendees using that time as 'free' time. How many still think the way to draw attendees into the exhibit hall is by placing lunch/breaks in there? At a recent conference I attended in southern California, the aisles of the exhibit hall were nearly empty at lunch. How can we continue to expect exhibitors to pay the costs attendance with exhibiting at a trade show when attendees are not venturing into or staying in the exhibit hall except to grab their food and go?

We pack attendees into sessions from the first hint of daylight until sunset, even overlapping what should be exclusive trade show hours, while at the same time placing our meetings in scenic settings the attendee might never else get a chance to visit. It's also time to revamp session scheduling and give folks not only a chance to absorb the knowledge they've acquired but also to enjoy the environment we've brought them to. Probably the most productive and rewarding conversations I've had at recent conferences are those outside the formal sessions. Perhaps that says something about the quality of the content; perhaps not. That's for an entirely different conversation. For now, it would be really nice to start a conversation about contracts and how to rework them so that all sides not only achieve their goals but also the satisfaction level of attendees and exhibitors skyrockets because we are finally listening to the wants and needs of our participants.

Let's make the 'new' meeting/hotel contract the best 'next' practice. I'd even volunteer to chair that committee!