I’m a marine biologist, that’s all I ever wanted to be since my formative years diving on the coral reefs of Jamaica. It’s been a long and rewarding path to where I am today, one that has included thousands of dives in tropical, temperate, and polar ecosystems. I tell you all this to emphasize that I have ZERO experience in business, and in writing business plans. Nonetheless, it is clear to the AAUS Board of Directors (BOD) that in order to meet our shared goals in a fiscally sustainable manner, the Academy needs a solid business plan. If you are as confused about business plans as I was, a brief primer might help. First, business plans aren’t just for businesses. The primary reason the AAUS, a non-profit organization, needs a business plan is to secure funding from donors. Business plans typically include the following elements for investors (or donors): 1) an Executive Summary that outlines the goals of the organization and the need for its service(s), 2) a Marketing Plan that describes the end-user of the product(s)/service(s) and how to tap into that group, 3) a Management Team Description that outlines the structure and functioning of the organization through time, and 4) the Financials that demonstrate the fiscal trajectory of the organization. In researching business plans (something I NEVER EVER planned to do), I ran a cross a recent study that showed companies that started without a business plans are no more likely to fail than those that do begin with a business plan! So, why have a business plan? The short answer is we need to PLAN for the future. And unlike the Strategic Plan that discusses what we want to do and where we as an Academy want to be, the AAUS Business Plan will help us get there in a fiscally-responsible manner.
We need a Business Plan; how do we start? The good news is that even a marine biologist can sit down and outline the four aforementioned elements relative to the AAUS. 1) The AAUS was chartered in 1983 to advance and facilitate safe and productive scientific diving. 2) Scientific diving has increased in the intervening 36 yrs, and AAUS has grown to encompass over 140 Organizational Members serving over 7000 Scientific Divers. That growth has occurred via word-of-mouth and targeted recruitment at scientific meetings and Academy-facilitated workshops. 3) The AAUS has one permanent employee, and a volunteer BOD elected by the membership to conduct the business of the Academy. 4) Our annual operating budget is largely derived from membership dues; these funds essentially cover the costs of our permanent employee. BUT, the annual operating budget doesn’t PLAN for additional costs to meet membership requests such as workshops (e.g., rebreather forum), upgrades to the website (we just had our first upgrade in over 5 yrs), personnel costs, etc etc. To put this another way, the Strategic Plan and the Annual Budget are not in sync. The goal of the business plan is to project actual costs/needs through time, so that the Academy can PLAN for the requisite funding. That will likely come from a combination of growth in membership dues (= increased members and/or increased dues), corporate sponsorship, and foundation/donor support.
Currently, Chris Rigaud, Narineh Nazarian, and Heather Albright are assisting me with the business plan. If you would like to help, we’d welcome your input. Thanks for your continued support of the AAUS.
University of Mississippi