Fish Tales and Other Insights from a Host Chapter Secretary-Treasurer

By Kevin Johnson, AFS Florida Chapter

For the Florida Chapter of the American Fisheries Society (, we have a Secretary-Treasurer officer position, that can be held for a term longer than one year.  I was elected to this position at our 2015 annual meeting. All other Executive Committee positions (President, President-Elect, Past-President, and Student Subunit President) within the Chapter have a one-year term limit.  When I think back, the Florida Chapter has been lucky to have a history of qualified Secretary-Treasurers, all of which have an attention to detail type of personality. And, if you have served this role in your AFS unit, you know it is the most time-consuming officer position.  As you would expect, the main duties of the Secretary-Treasurer are: (1) to keep all official records of the Chapter; (2) collect and be custodian of any funds collected or allotted to the Chapter; (3) disburse funds as authorized by the Executive Committee or the membership; and (4) submit a record of receipts and disbursements at the annual Chapter meeting.  Within these duties, the Secretary-Treasurer prepares and distributes minutes of all Chapter meetings, informs other AFS units of changes in officers, is responsible for all registration activities for the annual Chapter meeting, maintains the membership list, furnishes ballots for elections, maintains all historical records of the Chapter, prepares a financial report for the annual Chapter meeting, and lastly maintains financial records and is responsible for the Chapter’s bank accounts.

As for the Florida Chapter’s finances, our goal is to maintain close to $100k in total assets.  These assets are mainly divided between a Morgan-Stanley investment/checking account, a Wells-Fargo checking account, and a second Morgan-Stanley investment account for our student scholarship awards.  The Chapter also maintains a PayPal and Square account for accepting online and onsite payments. These two payment gateways are the main reason we have a Wells-Fargo account, because Morgan-Stanley doesn’t accept direct deposits from some of these services.  Like I said, we try to maintain closer to $100k in total assets, but that does sometimes rise and fall with the stock market and Chapter expenditures. Along those same lines, I believe the Florida chapter has done a pretty good job of being a “not-for-profit” entity.  We don’t sit on large sums of cash just for the purpose having it, we try to serve the financial desires of our members and Executive Committee, while at the same time maintaining a sense financial solvency. Myself and our current Executive Committee believe in this same mantra.  This does however lead to some years where the Chapter has lost money, but that doesn’t mean we are in financial trouble. Our Chapter tries to be as generous as possible to other AFS units, our members, and especially to our student members. Our Chapter awards two annual scholarships, funds all student travel to our annual meeting, and funds travel to AFS Divisional and Annual meetings for those who solicit funds.  We also invest heavily in the costs of hosting a Divisional or Annual meeting, knowing that we will likely recoup our investment in addition to turning a profit. In fact, our chapter spent close to $17k toward the hosting of the 2017 AFS Annual meeting in Tampa, FL.

Though our hosting of the 2017 AFS Annual meeting in Tampa was a big financial investment for the Chapter, it was also a rewarding and educational experience for the Chapter’s hosting team members.  Hosting this meeting was a particularly educational experience for me as the Chapter’s Budget & Finance Chair. I learned a lot about what it takes to host a successful international level meeting; not only the amount of work and personal time you must commit, but also how many moving parts it takes to host an annual AFS meeting.  For me personally and other host team members the first moving part we had to put in place, and probably the most important, was to have buy in and support from leadership at state and federal agencies and universities to allow their employees to work on this very time-consuming task of hosting an international level meeting. We had numerous state level agency heads write letters in support of hosting the Tampa meeting, including the director of the state agency I work for, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.  This was particularly important for me because most of my time at work, for the last four to five months leading up to the meeting, was spent on my duties as the Tampa meeting Budget & Finance Chair. Another extremely important part that had to be put in place was picking a good Chapter host team. Our Tampa team’s two General Meeting Co-Chairs, Travis Tuten and Kerry Flaherty-Walia, did an excellent job of assembling our 2017 AFS Meeting Planning Committee. They also did a great job of putting Chapter volunteers from our Tampa team into planning committee positions they knew certain individuals would thrive in, which led to a very strong and capable host chapter team.  Our host team also did a great job of really nailing down all the roles and responsibilities for all meeting planning committee members, not only for Chapter level team members, but also team members at the AFS Divisional and Headquarters level. This was accomplished by assembling and signing a Memorandum of Understanding or MOU, which listed everyone’s roles and responsibilities and how the Tampa meeting’s profits would be split between the Chapter, Division, and Headquarters.

For my responsibilities as the Tampa meeting Budget & Finance Chair were first and foremost to keep a Chapter level local budget of all meeting expenses and income and to work with at AFS Headquarters on the overall annual meeting budget.  I also had a big hand in fundraising and sponsorship for the Tampa meeting. Not only did most of sponsorship payments come directly to me, but I also helped to solicit sponsorships. And, to take in sponsorship payments, I opened a local Wells-Fargo checking account specifically for the 2017 Tampa meeting.  For the Chapter level budget, I kept detailed records of all sponsorships received, all credits and debits for the 2017 Tampa meeting checking account, and all Florida Chapter credits and debits that were associated with the meeting. Detailed record keeping also meant having paper and scanned copies of all financial materials.  I was also responsible for collecting all logos from meeting sponsors, which turned out to be a bigger deal than I initially thought because logos are maintained in different file formats for printing purposes.

In addition to keeping track of all sponsorship logos, I was also responsible for providing sponsors with invoices and once a sponsorship is received I was responsible for writing follow-up thank you letters.  Once the meeting came, things didn’t slow down and I must admit, attending the meeting for me was not a fully enjoyable experience because I was on the run so much of the time in Tampa. At the Tampa meeting, I was responsible for keeping track of the sale of all meeting items (t-shirts, cups, and spawning run shirts) and raffle/silent auction items.  This meant dispersing and collecting all cash and iPads/Square card readers every day related to the sale of these items. And, your responsibilities as Budget & Finance Chair don’t end when the meeting ends, as it took some time to tally up all the numbers and then work with AFS staff to reconcile the meeting budget. All in all, it was a very time-consuming job and a very big responsibility, but rewarding at the same time. I was finally able to catch my breath on the last day of the meeting to finally take in what our Tampa team had accomplished.  However, I am just now, seven months after the Tampa meeting, almost fully caught up on all my actual work data that got backlogged while preparing for and host the annual meeting. I share these insights to help set expectations and not to dissuade someone from taking on this role or from your chapter hosting an annual meeting. Like I said, it was a very rewarding experience. Plus, the Florida chapter helped deliver a great meeting experience to over 1,600 attendees and we had a chance to showcase regional fisheries issues while sharing some wonderful Florida hospitality.  Lastly, I would like to thank everyone at AFS headquarters and on our Tampa team who helped put on a successful annual meeting.

Kevin Johnson is a Freshwater Fisheries Biologist with the Fish & Wildlife Research Institute of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.  He can be reached at [email protected]