Running a non-profit can be a difficult and labor-intensive proposition—just ask the last 20 presidents of the Tire Society, an all-volunteer organization that has managed to provide value for its members for the last 40 years.
Entering its fifth decade, the Tire Society continues building on the mission it established at its founding in April 1980—to disseminate important technical information on tire science.
Society leadership no doubt would say this is the rewarding part, a noble initiative that has the propagation of an entire industry as its selfless function.
But it has not been easy, and the society still maintains a fragility that is typical of any non-profit.
The society is dependent upon after-hours work (the Tire Society Conference chairman in 2008 estimated he spent 500 hours on the run-up to the gathering), and on industry scientists and engineers to author the technical papers.
Conference costs have gone up, and conference registration has declined every year from 1985-2019, when the group saw the largest percentage increase ever for the conference.
But even in 2019, 85 percent of conference attendees were from the U.S., with 50 percent of those coming from Ohio—a true indication that travel remains an acute problem for those in Asia and Europe, and a challenge for a group that considers itself a global organization.
The 2019 uptick was short-lived, however, as this positive trend was lost to a global pandemic in 2020.
"Even with the costs of the Tire Society conference lower than similar conferences, the trend in conference attendance has been a true concern ... the simple fact is that conference attendance has been declining for many years," Jim McIntyre, of Bridgestone USA Inc. and current Tire Society vice president, wrote in his June 2021 history of the Tire Society.
Not all was lost in the virtual conferences conducted in 2020 and 2021, as base registration dropped from $440 per person to $120 per person (in 2020) with no food, beverage or other associated costs.
Could future conferences be conducted in some sort of hybrid fashion where similar costs could be saved without losing the unique value provided by the keynote and plenary lectures and paper presentations?
It is a good sign that 2021 saw 180 registrants for the virtual conference. It builds hope that more will decide to be a part of the conference next year when it is set to return in-person at the University of Akron.
President Will Mars even said he hoped to see overall society membership crest the 200-member mark by 2022—a goal that seems well within reach.
Like the world around it, the Tire Society is evolving to meet these challenges, using social media to market the group, paid advertisements and media partnerships to help allay costs and maintaining its integrity with its key charge of technical information publication.
The logo has changed and a newsletter has been added—all changes that are intended to add value for Tire Society members.
The amount of information the society has published over 40 years is staggering—650 articles in more than 170 printed issues—and this is in spite of an industry that sees proprietary information, not the public presentation of information, as its lifeblood.
As the Tire Society looks to the technical revolutions on the horizon, it is clear that hard work and innovative thinking will be critical in keeping this important group relevant for the next 40 years.