Case study: Demise of a professional membership organization

Unless there are dramatic changes in statistical trends, the New York State Occupational Therapy Association may face insolvency and may be forced into dissolution in the very near future.

Two years ago I reported that the NY State OT Association was at a critical juncture. At that time, only 4.4% of all NY practitioners were members of the group.  During the period of time from 2006 through 2014 NYSOTA OT/OTA membership declined 24%.   The decreasing trend of participation is continuing.

According to statistics published by NYSOTA, now there are only 379 OT members and 120 OTA members.  In consideration of the total of OT practitioners in NY State (17,318 total) that is a membership participation rate of 2.9%.  This is decreased from the rate two years ago of 4.4%

According to publicly available financial information (Form 990), NYSOTA's net assets are in free fall.

2012        $180,045
2013        $135,154
2014        $107,234
2015        $  88,333

Percentage change over this period of time: 51% decrease

Additionally, management fees, NYSOTA's largest expenditure, are increasing dramatically:

2013: $56,000
2014: $74,980
2015: $75,000

Percentage change over this period of time: 34% increase

Membership revenues are flat.  NYSOTA is currently relying on revenues from its annual conference in order to sustain itself.


1. Convene the NYSOTA Board and create a dissolution review committee that can begin to evaluate the potential to sustain the organization.

 2. The current governance structure is failing.  Consider changes to the Bylaws to re-create a representative structure. Organize the structure around schools that are geographically distributed throughout the State. Have each school comprise a council that can be no more than 49% academicians. The other 51% of each local council can be public members, clinicians, or other stakeholders.

3. Create a new NYSOTA Board structure that is strategic (not operational) in its purpose and has representation from each local council. Again, limit academic power on the executive board, no more than 49% composition.

4.  Immediately engage an efficiency and ethics review process for all contracts within the organization - particularly the management contract. Establish a timeline for re-negotiating contracts as possible with approval of a newly constructed Board that is operating under newly constructed bylaws.

5. Offer free membership to every OT practitioner in NY.  Invite donations to help during the transition period.   Open up all processes for full transparency.

6. Focus short term efforts on the annual conference because of its historic revenue generation.


This information is all cited from publicly available documents and represents a cautionary case study for anyone interested in the challenges of operating a professional membership association.  OT practitioners in New York State and elsewhere require robust organization in order to address legislative and policy issues that will impact practice.  The current member organization is failing and this places all practitioners at risk in New York State.  The significance of this problem can not be overstated.


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