How did non-profit organization Safari Club International (SCI) manage to upset a lion’s share of their loyal members and exhibitors? Via budget notes published by SCI as well as correspondence by prominent chapter members in opposition (and SCI’s official reply), a recent move to launch a for-profit LLC as a commissionable booking agency has members and exhibitors crying foul. The new business, based in Arizona, would earn a 15 percent commission on booking hunts worldwide with “top tier” outfitters.
Rumor that Cabela’s is getting out of the booking business may have facilitated the conversation at SCI headquarters to fill a void. The 2015 SCI fiscal year budget included expenses of $635,000 for a “new member service” listed in the notes as “sporting consultancy;” and the CEO’s report mentioned a “global partner travel program.” An additional budget note indicated this potential new revenue generator was a “member benefit to help with acquisition and retention.” However, it may have been a match thrown into a keg of dynamite; with some cancelling life-memberships and companies withdrawing from the show—or at least bold threats to do so in emails, phone calls, and back-of-the-house conversations. Will SCI survive the revolt that is brewing? Or do they have time to slam on the brakes and put this train wreck in reverse?
An email published June 4, 2014 from SCI indicated the plan had been “suspended indefinitely” to process all the feedback.
According to the obtained documents, the SCI Executive Committee and Finance Committee approved the new action. In speaking with one booking agent SCI member (and long-time volunteer), she is quite upset. “I didn’t think they would compete against their own exhibitors. That was amazing to me,” said Patty Curnutte of The Global Sportsman located in San Antonio, Texas. Curnutte books hunts for customers in Australia, New Zealand, Africa, Canada, South America, and more. “It felt like a slap in the face.”
Based on a letter penned by President Craig Kaufmann prior to the June 4 suspension, SCI’s top management stood by this new service to benefit SCI’s members. He confirmed the hiring of two former Cabela’s Outdoor Adventures employees, although only named Kirk Kelso in the correspondence. Kaufmann indicated Kelso would “start up and run this new division.” Kaufmann’s letter continued on to draw a parallel to the NRA’s new booking agency.
According to an excerpt of an email sent by SCI Outdoors LLC Director Kirk Kelso, the new business would “[…] operate just like any other agency on a commission basis,” and “[…] retain 15% of the daily rate. We are going to offer a 1-stop [sic] shop for clients with bookings, travel, trophy import, etc. We will collect all fees and forward them to your company. It will be a huge success and I hope you can come on board.”
According to details further laid out in Kelso’s email, invited select SCI outfitters would become “Elite First Tier” destinations in this new “division” of Safari Club International. Apparently, by contrast, other SCI members would not be destinations of choice—or at the very least, not “elite first tier.” Was this an attempt to create member status levels?
In correspondence sent to media, Tim Fallon, president of one of the largest SCI chapters, the Texas Hill Country Chapter chastised the larger organization. Fallon wrote, “[we hope] that as loyal members of the SCI community we can help you understand how damaging this last week has been to our beloved SCI,” and “[…] just know we are here to help in any way we can toward getting this great ship of ours back on the right track. It is not about the mistakes we make in life, we all make them. It is what we do when we make them.”
SCI’s relationship with exhibitors has been contentious over the last few years over mid-day auctions, too many auction items, and the point-system booth selection that some say demanded donations. Companies felt strong-armed to get the points they needed for good-location booth selection, but some exhibitors held firm and did not donate.
“I hope they will revoke the whole thing,” continued Curnutte. “We want it to all go away so we can move forward, and kiss and make up!”
K.J. Houtman is the author of the award-winning Fish On Kids Books series, chapter books for eight- to 12-year-olds with adventures based around fishing, camping, and hunting. Her work is available at Amazon and local bookstores. Find out more at fishonkidsbooks.com.
Image courtesy Patty Curnutte