Membership will top to-do list for new ISBA executive director

August 9, 2017

As the new executive director of the Indiana State Bar Association, Joe Skeel is being touted for the nearly 10 years of experience he brings in running a national, voluntary membership-based nonprofit.

Skeel is a journalist who since 2009 has been the executive director of the Society of Professional Journalists, headquartered in Indianapolis and with regional chapters as well as members across the country. He holds degrees in journalism and public relations and, before joining the SPJ, worked at community newspapers in Indiana.

He will be succeeding Thomas Pyrz who has been the ISBA executive director since November 1992 and will retire Jan. 5, 2018.
Skeel does not hold a law degree nor has he worked in the legal profession but in the announcement of his appointment, ISBA president Mitchell Heppenheimer indicated the organization’s need to focus on members. He said Skeel “…stood out for his understanding of the need to recruit and retain members … .”

The ISBA is reporting statewide membership of 11,605 as of March 29. This is down from 12,092 in fiscal year 2016 and a marked decrease from the high of 12,992 in 2014. Member totals were not available for the SPJ.    

Deborah Caruso, partner at Rubin & Levin P.C., was a member of the committee that screened applicants for the ISBA leadership post and is a member of the bar association’s board of governors, which made the final selection.

“I think his experience at the Society for Professional Journalists makes him very well suited for this job,” she said, adding he is enthusiastic, excited to serve and brings a lot of energy.

Caruso sees building membership as a top item on Skeel’s agenda. Traditionally, attorneys considered joining the bar association an important part of their profession but in recent times, as the economy has tightened and the practice of law has changed, lawyers are not as readily becoming members.

At the Society of Professional Journalists, Lynn Walsh, president, credited Skeel with helping to grow membership. He did this, in part, by reorganizing the permanent staff and having them become more involved with engaging the members. In addition, he has always been accessible to members and interacts with them.

Walsh also credited with Skeel with getting the board of directors to think more strategically and with improving the financial health of the organization. In particular, he created a new revenue stream by taking on administrative work from other nonprofits, primary journalism organizations. This work has ranged from planning an event to organizing an agency’s finances.  

Currently, Skeel is working to shrink the SPJ board from 22 members to nine and to remove obstacles that prevent some individuals from serving on the board. A committee has been assembled to spearhead the project and the full membership will vote on the proposed changes to the board at its annual conference in September.

“We’re definitely sad to see him leave,” Walsh said of Skeel, “but we’re excited for him with this new opportunity.”

According to SPJ’s Form 990 report submitted to the Internal Revenue Service, the nonprofit had a total revenue of $1.50 million in 2014 and total expenses of $1.36 million. Comparatively for the same year, the ISBA reported revenue of $3.30 million and expenses of $3.46 million.

Administratively, the SPJ and ISBA appear to be roughly the same size. Along with a board of 22, SPJ has 18 employees, according to the 2014 filing. Similarly, the state bar association has 21 employees and a board of 24.

A graduate of Ball State University, Skeel joined SPJ in 2004 as editor of the organization’s magazine, Quill. He moved up to associate executive director in 2008 and became interim co-executive director after the former executive director became ill and eventually died. In 2009, he was named the SPJ’s executive director.

He grew up in Johnson County and currently lives in Franklin with his wife and two sons.

Skeel was selected from a national search. Carol Adinamis, former ISBA president, chaired a special committee that convened to review applicants and then made a recommendation to the association’s board of directors. The committee hired consulting firm Waverly Partners LLC to help with the selection process,
Caruso praised the work of the search committee, saying it was very rewarding and one of the most fulfilling projects she has been involved with. She especially applauded Adinamis of Adinamis & Saunders P.C. for leading the group with “dignity and grace.”



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