The move to include new members such as major retailers and online outlets was a big potential shift for a group that was founded first to give cohesiveness and a voice to a collection of small, independent operators.
“It’s been a divisive issue because the smaller independent members value membership for its special quality and its exclusivity,” said Gabrielle Alahouzos, NPA vice president of membership services.
“The movement to have major retailers and e-tailers was an unappealing one for many smaller members. They don’t want to be ‘in the club’ with the likes of what they consider to be lesser quality members,” she told NutraIngredients-USA.
That’s the con view, that these newer categories of retailers were harvesting from the row hoed by the mom and pop pioneers, and that they lacked a commitment to natural products as a lifestyle and ethical choice.
“For some I think it was a sheer competition issue. For others it was that the integrity of a mainstream retailer they viewed as different than their integrity and the attachment they have to their consumer base,” she said.
But the move had some powerful pro arguments, too, Alahouzos said.
“From a membership business perspective it was appealing to the association because of the diversity and depth of retailer constituencies we could then begin then begin to attract. Obviously that means more members and more power on Capitol Hill and additionally more dollars to enable the association to perform its advocacy function,” she said.
Faster voting, more nimble association
Still, the move failed by only 11 votes, Alahouzos noted, in an election that attracted barely enough votes to qualify as a quorum under the organization’s bylaws. Another of the five bylaw changes that members did approve (the retailer question was the only proposed bylaw change that was rejected) is a change that might make future bylaw elections easier, namely the approval of electronic voting.
Up to now, NPA has struggled to get the quorum required for a bylaw change. Much as public companies do to try to get participation in board of directors elections, the association sent mail ballots and reminders, all of which was expensive and not very effective.
“NPA hasn’t been able to achieve a quoroum, which is required by our bylaws,” Alahouzos said.
“This time the challenge was that we had a backlog of amendments to be voted on. So the challenge was first to get a quorum, which is 22% of the membership. And we had to do this through the mail, because that’s what was stipulated in the bylaws. Now with electronic voting I think it will help us be more nimble as an association,” she said.
“It’s truly an engagement issue with an association. It’s expensive and it’s time consuming to do these mail-in ballots. While we got 27% participation, where was the other 70%? What’s keeping them from voting?” Alahouzos said.
If electronic voting had been available for this election, would a (presumably) more expansive electorate have approved the proposed change in membership eligibility?
“I’m not sure, I’d like to think it would have. But one our shortcomings on this initiative was educational outreach. I think we could have done a little bit better job with that,” she said.
The other four bylaw changes that were approved are:
- To change the terms for board members to allow three consecutive board terms instead of the current limit of two terms.
- To change voting and board terms so they happen at a fixed time annually instead of being linked to the NPA trade show, which was suspended this year, and annual business meeting, which was moved to September.
- To clarify determination of winner of elections in certain circumstances where more than the required number of candidates gets the majority of the vote.
- To clarify intent of the bylaws to specifically state that the NPA president must be off the board for one year before being eligible to run again.