USCF President Ruth Haring Reports in Orlando Print E-mail
By Ruth Haring   
August 10, 2014


I report to you today as I complete three years as President and five years as an executive board member.  Looking back at everything we’ve accomplished this year, I am awed by the tremendous commitment of the people who make up the USCF Chess Community. I can think of no better way to start this report than by expressing my profound and continued appreciation to those who make all chess events possible.    In my report, I endeavor to capture the accomplishments of the previous year, share financial results, share some stories, and preview what lies ahead.  Empowering people through chess one move at a time is our mission.  

During the last year, the IRS approved the long awaited change in the USCF tax status. The new 501(c) 3 tax status marks an important business shift to a social benefit organization with tax deductible contributions. USCF is at a new milestone and the tax status change also implies a change in the culture of the organization. With this in mind, and heeding the words of JFK who said, “Effort and courage are not enough without purpose and direction”, the board set out on a journey to accomplish just that; meeting in January for a comprehensive strategic planning workshop.  Jean will talk about the work done in this meeting in more detail.


As I segue over to financial results, I call your attention to pie charts of 2014 income and expenditures.  The first chart includes all income and revenue streams including tournaments or events.  In the future, a significant portion of the income chart should find charitable revenue from contributions, sponsorships and donations.  On the expense side, Operations, Publications and Events are the primary cost centers.  

The fiscal year ending May 31, 2014 was an exciting year for USCF, as the organization delivered another year of solid financial results yielding a healthy surplus. Our performance reflects the impact of our continued focus on fiscal discipline. We know that USCF’s cash flow is seasonal with the summer months having the fewest new memberships and events.  In the past USCF has had to borrow to meet operational costs during the summer months.  I look forward to the day when we are able to put an end to seasonal borrowing.  Moving forward, in the right direction, usually results in success.


Our revenues from membership have declined 21% over the past decade from the 2003 high to the 2011 low. Significantly though, since 2011,  our membership revenues have recovered in line with membership growth.   Fortunately, the downward trend has reversed and we have seen a 9.9 % growth in membership income from 2011 lows to now.


Therefore our surplus would seem to be due to modest growth and reduced expenses and efficiently run operations.  Thanks to Executive Director Jean Hoffman and her team for their continuing streamlining and operational excellence. In the future we must both grow our membership and membership revenue to meet the higher mission costs of a national charity.  Focused thought must be given to the dues we charge to different classes of members. The longer term goal is of course, that donations will also become a primary income stream.

If you look at the Chart called "Increasing Costs Declining Membership Income", you see the 13.8 % overall decline (the blue line) charted with CPI (Consumer Price Index) over the same time span.  Note that prices as measured by the increase in CPI were up 26% over the same time span. This chart, I hope, shows the challenge of increased cost of operations coincident with our decline in membership revenue.


Though our membership has been steady and has grown 9.6 % since 2011, we are recovering from an 18% decline in the previous 10 years.   The trend has been reversed with 9.6 % growth from 2011 lows to now.  Who are our members?


In looking at our membership numbers over the past year we see modest growth of 2.85%, which was concentrated in the Under 12 category.  Good News, Bad News.  The good news is we have growth.  The bad news is that a large number of our members over 12 drop out every year.  

 It is notable that there is a drop year over year in the adult category, and we should find out the reason for this change. The only real information we have is from the survey which Jean conducted.  You can find a summary in the Delegates call.  We learned from the results of the survey that almost 70% of players responding, let their membership lapse because they no longer play in USCF rated tournaments.  This fits right in with the information we have about why people visit the website:  To look up their rating and find a tournament to play in.  It's all about tournaments and ratings.

 Finally, in the senior category, we have slight membership growth.  I don't know if this is baby-boomers retiring and coming back to chess, but it is a very small though interesting number.  Our Senior Committee, led by Bob Mahan, has been very active in rolling out events and programs and so I will attribute some of this activity to the committee’s work.  The Senior Committee surveyed senior members and those responding most preferred having events in summertime.  It seems that a takeaway here is that if we schedule our senior events during the summer, when those members are most likely to attend, we will have better attendance.


Looking at the chart “Membership by Age Breakdown”, we can see that our under 12 membership is constantly changing.   Under 12 members are not the same members year over year.   We need to pay more attention to how to retain our members as they become teenagers and adults.  As of July 1st, we had 4475 twelve year old players.  


Overall 60 % of members are under 20 and 40 % are over 20.  Interestingly, we see that 85% of female players are under 20.  68% of our female players are under 12, and girls are 20% of the under 12 demographic overall.  The percentage of females in the older category drops off quickly and among adults, in the 25-64 age range, which is 30% of our members, only 4.26% are females.  

So how do we keep and grow the 20% female participation level that exists in the under 12 age group?  We know that kids in this age range love team tournaments and that the girls love girls tournaments.  I am sure that the fact that there are other girls participating helps retention in this age range.   60% of college enrollment is now female.  A nice incentive would be meaningful scholarships for our flagship girls events.  Perhaps meaningful scholarships are part of the answer not only for participation but also retention in all youth categories.

In the past I have discussed retention and demographics and my goal to have equal number of female and male chess members doubling our membership.  I believe that a side effect of the influx of around 70,000 female players will also be that our female players will be stronger.   It’s all a numbers game. There are people arguing the merits of a talented female playing in a women's event versus open events and the effects of such decisions on top level play.  That is a different discussion which is the training of a talented female player.  Statistics tell us that if we get a larger population, we will also get more players in the top 1/10 of 1%.  

How are we doing in the quest to have 50% female members?  Well 20% in under 12 is a good start.  With all of the data in mind, I am happy to report our successes:

  • Another year of record attendance at the KCF All-Girls National with 330 girls participating at the eleventh annual event held in Northbrook, Illinois in February. 

  •   The first ever US Girls Junior Closed just ended in July.  This event is very exciting for our young girls, average age 14.8, average rating 2105.  The youngest player was 10 year old Carissa Yip, rated 2157.   Claudia Munoz age 16, from Texas is our first US Girls Junior Closed Champion and won on tiebreak over Apruva Virkud, Maggie Feng, and Akshita Gorti.  Congratulations to all.

  • The second National Girls Invitational Tournament, also known as NGIT was held earlier this week .  There was a three-way tie for first between Claudia Munoz, Jennifer Yu, and Jessica Regam.  NGIT had representatives from 44 states.   We look forward continuing to promote this important event.

  • Record attendance at the US Women’s Open held in Las Vegas before the National open.  We look forward to increasing the attendance at this event next year and are encouraged that moving the event from a US Open side event to a National Open side event was positive.

  • 20% of the under 12 demographic is female! 85% of female chess players are under 20!

  • There are four masters and 33 experts on the women under 21 list! -- and on the General list headed by Grandmaster Irina Krush there are 18 masters and 46 experts.  We have truly made progress in numbers and in the strength of the female players in our community.

So my goal is to double USCF membership. What about retention?  Recall the earlier chart of  of membership by age and the dropoff at 11-12 years old?   A jigsaw puzzle we need to solve for sure.  I believe that as a community we need to tell our stories better.  Eventually, if we all participate and innovate, our story will go viral and significantly increase retention.  

A couple of years ago, I visited USCF headquarters and we had an all hands meeting.  I had printed out the bylaws for staff.  I started the roundtable discussion on what does, Article 2, Section 1, last sentence, "The Federation shall encourage and support chess programs for handicapped individuals and the participation of handicapped in chess activity, including where feasible, the expansion of opportunities for meaningful participation by handicapped individuals in all chess competition" mean?  We had a good discussion, and I can tell you I don't believe that this just means that we make our events accessible.  

Michael Aigner of Davis, California. On July 25-27, Michael played in the 40th Annual People’s tournament, held in Santa Clara, California. He drew with Andrey Groovets (2585) and GM Enrico Sevillano (2545) in the last two rounds.

After our meeting in Crossville, in the July 2013 issue of Chess Life, Christen McCurdy wrote an article called "A Level Playing Board" profiling some of our disabled players.  We need to do more outreach to handicapped chess players.  


So let’s talk about Outreach to Communities.

In early July, I drove to San Francisco to meet with Executive Director Jean Hoffman.  Wednesday morning we visited a Chess camp in South San Jose at Ocala Middle School.  There we met with Adisa Bonjonko and his team running the Chess Camp.  Kids started to trickle in as we talked, and before we were done meeting the room was overflowing with kids.  All of the chess boards were busy and kibitzers were standing watching some games.  Some of the smallest kids were coloring and 5 teens were learning to do cart wheels.  The chess room was the place to be.  The Director of the summer program came in and introduced himself.  He told us how excited he was about the success of the chess program and how the camp was changing lives.  He lowered his voice so the kids wouldn’t hear him, and said, “you know, they stopped playing “call of duty” in the next building, the kids are all in here now.  This is the cool place to be.”  


We learned that 35-40 kids a week go through the program.  They are off the street.  Adisa and his team connect with them.  "The kids know we care about them, that's why they're here", Adisa told us.  As we left, the players were busy with their games.  Quiet had descended on the playing hall.  Adisa walked us out into the parking lot and we discussed getting more publicity for the program so they would continue to get funding.

The success we see today in having a stable organization is a direct result of the fiscal strategy we began several years ago to focus on paying of liabilities due to legal issues and reducing expenses.  

What does the future hold?  USCF is moving forward with a new strategy, mission and vision to enrich the lives of all persons and communities through increasing the play, study, and appreciation of the game of chess. In the coming year, you will see USCF continue to manage operations in line with best practices; continue policy to ensure the fiscal stability of the organization,  and roll out new programs in line with our charitable status. With this we are now looking forward to new sponsorships and planning for fund raising drives for our key events like the World Youth and the Olympiad.

Thank you - delegates,  tournament directors,  organizers, parents, coaches, donors, benefactors, sponsors; and to chess partners who support our endeavors and share our goals along this journey.  Thank you all for being a part of USCF and helping us to accomplish our new mission, “Empowering people through chess one move at a time.”

-Ruth Haring