Commentary: The Dues and Don'ts of It
Austin C. Kennell
What are the two most unpleasant words to ARS members? What is the most unpopular action any ARS Board of Directors can take? What always causes a drop in memberships?
Dues increases! Dues increases! Dues increases!
Why is this? Well, as a general rule, not many of us like to pay more for anything - but particularly not for a non-essential item for the same benefits. If nobody likes dues increases, why do we increase dues?
Frankly, we've had no other alternative when we don't have enough money to meet basic expenses. The financing of the ARS is a very simple matter of income versus expenses. It's not a unique problem. Most of us are only too familiar with trying to make ends meet. It is not a new problem. It's just getting worse and more frequent.
The ARS has only one significant source of income - annual dues. So the only way to increase income is to increase dues. However, increasing dues every time expenses outrun income is no longer a viable solution. If, as expected, costs continue their inexorable escalation, dues could not be increased enough or as often as might be required. As much as old die-hards like me feel our dues still represent a pretty good bargain, the truth is that, by any meaningful measurement, our dues are high enough.
If it's not practical to increase dues, what abut reducing expenses? That possibility is just as discouraging. Not only is there very little fat to be squeezed out of our operating budget, the prospect of just holding the line on expenses gets more difficult all the time.
By far, the largest expense is our outstanding Journal which is highly susceptible to so many spiraling costs - printing, paper, postage, etc. But it is not susceptible to any significant economies without seriously affecting its quality, size or frequency. We've already increased advertising charges to a point of diminished use.
Our two excellent employees, executive director and Journal editor, serve for compensation far below comparable positions and how long we can hold them without additional remuneration and benefits is a worrisome concern.
Now that I've talked about the problem, let's talk about solution. I'm a great believer that there are very few problems that can't be solved by people of determination. We not only don't want to increase dues, we want to get out of the deadly and ever-continuing cycle of being forced to raise dues every few years just to maintain the status quo. We'd not only like to try to eliminate dues increases, but also to have the income to provide additional service to our members. Many financing ideas have been considered (even a lottery), but so far we haven't come up with a way for the ARS to materially increase income - other than increasing dues.
But there is one fairly uncomplicated means of not only easing our current financial situation but also going a long way to eliminate or certainly minimize the problem for a long time. It's an ARS endowment fund.
There's nothing new or magical about an endowment fund. Very simply, it's a fund made up of gifts, donations, bequests which is invested and the income earned is available for use. It's a main financing source for many educational and similar organizations.
An endowment fund has many advantages. It's reasonably simple. Contributions to it can be small or large; one-time or often. Its contributions are tax deductible. It is not used up but continues to grow and produce income. It is an ideal recipient for legacies, memorials, or just plain gifts.
The good news is that the ARS already has such a fund. Many members and chapters are already making donations. All we need is to get more members to make donations and/or encourage their chapters to make donations. No contributions are too small or too large. They all help!
If we can get the fund large enough (and I think we can), it will produce enough income on a regular basis to eliminate the need to ever increase dues again and will provide for additional member services. Now that's something worth shooting for!
There are many, many sources of contributions to the ARS Endowment Fund: individual donations, chapter donations, memorial gifts, business gifts, legacies, convention and conference profit sharing, and Christmas, birthday, and anniversary gifts.
To paraphrase another former President - "No more dues increases." But I need everyone's help to fulfill this pledge. Just send donations to ARS Endowment Fund.
Austin Kennell is Past President of the ARS and a member of the Middle Atlantic Chapter.