The right balance on dues

For a membership organization, increasing dues is rarely easy.

Last year, SPJ raised its dues a little more than 4 percent, effective Jan. 1 of this year. For pro members, the annual membership fee increased from $72 to $75.

Under Article 13 of SPJ’s bylaws, the board of directors can approve an increase of 5 percent. Any proposal for a larger increase must go to the convention delegates.

A proposes dues increase wasn’t the most controversial issue at last year’s national convention, but there was some opposition. I remember some Connecticut Pro members speaking against it.

To me, the increase sounded reasonable. Here is the justification SPJ headquarters gave to members:

What was the reason?
Costs of nearly everything SPJ does have climbed since the last dues increase 10 years ago. Failing to keep pace could force the organization into a much more aggressive dues increase down the road. Furthermore, dues revenue is the easiest to predict – making it the least “volatile” revenue stream SPJ currently has. This is important in budgeting from year to year, and also in long-term planning (10 to 15 years down the line) for SPJ’s long-term stability and financial health.

The last change in dues, HQ said, was a $2 increase in 2002.

I am on the board of another journalism organization, the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors. (I am a former weekly newspaper editor.) ISWNE’s board had a similar discussion at our annual conference this summer. Dues had been at the same level – $50 – for many years. We realized we would have a new expense for insurance coverage.

The ISWNE board talked about a few possibilities and settled on a $10 increase for the coming year. The membership approved it.

I don’t support raising dues every few years just for the sake of doing it. But freezing dues for a long time at one level, as SPJ HQ noted, could lead to a large increase at some point.

I’d like to hear from opponents of the dues increase. What would you have done differently?

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2 thoughts on “The right balance on dues

  1. In a note to me Andy suggested I might want to note why I was against a dues increase last year. But let me point out so there is no mistake: my views are my own. Even though I was a Board member of Connecticut SPJ for decades and a member of SPJ for almost 30 years the opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of Connecticut SPJ or its members. That said, they ought to.

    I have no problem with SPJ raising dues. I DO have a problem with the lack of transparency surrounding the increase. You’ll note that the executive director of this august organization is due to see his salary go up significantly over the coming years. By my recollection the amount of his increase is almost identical to the amount of money SPJ raised its dues based on an 8000 membership and a $3 dues increase.

    A $20,000 some odd dollar raise as dues went up about $24,000. Amazing how that just works out that way.

    So why not just come out and say, “we want to givce our executive director a raise and the best way to pay for it is for all of you to pony up $3.” Then we could have had a discussion on the merits of the raise and the percentage increase (which would have been a fascinating discussion.) But we didn’t have that.

    Why? Good question. Why not ask it.

    In the end raising dues or not raising them is a smaqll problem. I believe SPJ has a roomfull of problems it needs to address and it needs people willing to address them. Relevancy is high on the list. So too is what SPJ is and is not. More and more it feels like a training organization and less and less like a “Society of Professional Journalists.”

  2. Thank you, Steven, for the comment. It helps me understand your opposition. Maybe this is a moot issue at this point, but I welcome comments from anyone, including national board members, who supported the increase and the raise. It’s a good reminder, at least, to be as open as possible with all discussions and decisions that affect the membership at large.

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