SAA on the installment plan?

Habitués of Twitter who follow the tweet streams of @DerangeDescribe (SNAP Roundtable Chair Rebecca Goldman) and @archivesnext (Kate Theimer, who is a member of the SAA Council) may have seen the energetic exchange that went on a couple days ago among the three of us about allowing SAA members to pay their dues on the installment plan.

Rebecca asked whether this would be feasible. I said it would be expensive. Rebecca asked why. I demurred, since a 140-character answer couldn’t possibly do the issue justice. Kate then jumped in to say that “difficult/expensive doesn’t always mean a thing shouldn’t get done,” with which I heartily agree. She and I know that all too well since, as current members of SAA’s Council, we debate and agonize over such issues all the time.

When a question like this arises in a public sphere, it makes me feel that this blog might serve a useful purpose. 🙂 So, here’s all the info that’s currently fit to print: a scintillating insider’s view of the mysterious workings of the SAA Council.

Kate, as the Council liaison to SNAP, put a discussion item on our August 6 meeting agenda titled “Possible Changes in Policies for Dues and Registration Fees to Benefit Students and New Archives Professionals,” which you can read here.  She highlighted five possible policy changes suggested by SNAP:

  1. Allow students to maintain a student membership for as long as they meet the requirements for student membership.
  2. Allow members to renew their memberships at the bridge rate whenever they are unemployed.
  3. Allow members to spread out their dues payments over the course of a year.
  4. Allow members to renew their membership less than annually, i.e., for periods of less than one full year.
  5. Institute tiered pricing for conferences and workshops.

The first item is already policy; a student need only offer evidence of current registration.

The Council passed a motion calling for a study and recommendations  (motion 9, pages 9-10). The Finance Committee, which is responsible for issues related to dues and budget, is in the lead on this task. They are analyzing the feasibility of the proposed changes, including the impact that each would have on the Society’s budget and staff time—both of which are, to our eternal frustration, finite commodities. We know and honor that the Council exists to do the best job we can for members. For better or worse, this includes keeping the Society solvent! Our budget always cuts close to the wire, and we constantly look at all programmatic areas (publications, education, annual meeting, etc.) to identify possibilities for change. (For example, take a look at the charge of our brand-new Communications Task Force.)

So the good news: we were already working on it and will review the Committee’s report at our January 2013 meeting–which means it’s too soon to report outcomes. The Council’s initial discussion revealed several implications, however, such as these: multiple invoicing cycles per year would add significantly to staff workloads; partial-year membership would affect benefits such as American Archivist subscriptions–a detail that members may not welcome; and the need to follow up on an inevitably larger numbers of inadvertently lapsed memberships would require more work on the part of the Membership Committee and staff.

A possible moral of this story? Things that seem simple sometimes aren’t. The devil is in the details. We’re ferreting them out and will make decisions based on the facts and in the broad context of what seems fair and reasonable for the membership overall.

Do you know of other dues models that are out there in the professional association landscape? Give us some solid ideas and help us think creatively about it.

19 responses to “SAA on the installment plan?

  1. James F. Cartwright

    It would also be convenient if we could make automatic electronic donations. That convenience, however, will also doubtlessly cost. If periodic payment of dues were to be done automatically (EFT), then perhaps the staff time and paperwork would be cut back.

  2. Jackie, thanks so much for writing this post–it’s really helpful to learn about these “hidden costs” resulting from new initiatives.

    The SNAP Roundtable suggestions were written a few months ago, but the more recent discussion about an installment plan for dues started when I learned that ALA allows members to pay in a twice-yearly installment plan: . (Note that they do add a small service charge for paying this way.) Maybe the Finance Committee could contact ALA and find out more about how they make the installment plan work?

  3. Christine Schmid Engels

    As I’m sure you know, SAA is quite expensive for those of us working for institutions that do not provide any professional development money. An installment plan would help since some years I just cannot afford membership or justify the expense. I know SAA must stay solvent but if I’m deciding between paying basic household expenses and a SAA membership (conference and workshop attendance is out of the question) it is a no-brainer.
    This is where the regional and state groups have a clear advantage over SAA. They have affordable rates for membership and meetings and can hold workshops locally that won’t break the bank for those of us not making big salaries and footing our own bill. I hope that SAA can come up with some sort of compromise on this issue since I know I am not the only person in this situation. I don’t mind using my money to further my career and knowledge but the outcome must be worth the expense.

  4. I believe that credit cards exist to spread payments over a period of time. Getting a big hit at one time might hurt, and who wants to pay finance charges? Still, SAA could set up automatic debits against a credit (or debit) card. That’s not a costly process. Gyms do it all the time. How many SAA members take advantage of recurring checking debits for regular payments? My belief is that very few members have neither a checking account or a credit card. (How many US membership payments do you receive by money order or cash? Any?)

  5. In terms of efficiencies, I wonder if going to a membership cycle that is common to all members would be useful. SAA’s model, as long as I have been a member, has been that the membership year of each member is specific to when they joined. In other words, while my membership year runs January to December, other people’s membership years may run March to the following February, or August to the following July. This means that SAA’s membership management staff are tracking 12 different renewal/membership year cycles. If the membership year was common to all members, it would mean a lot of work at one time of the year, but much less during the rest of the year. (This is the model we use in MARAC.) And, if everyone was on the same cycle, it might be easier to offer options like six month memberships or paying in two installments. Not sure if the volume of work would all balance out in the end, and thus not be worth the change (since you may still have questions about pro-rated rates for those who join somewhere in the middle of the membership year), but it’s just an idea to throw on the table.

  6. I would move to a paperless billing system. I recently received 3 (!) paper invoices for my end of September renewal. I knew I had to renew because of the 2 emails I already had in my inbox. It would certainly save staff time to eliminate the mailings and move to an automated billing system.

    • I agree with Beth–I get FAR too many reminders about my dues, months before I actually need to renew, and I find it more annoying than helpful. One paper statement is more than sufficient–more than that wastes resources and staff time.

    • I agree about moving to paperless billing. I threw all three renewals straight into the shredder without opening them because I rely solely on the e-mail reminder. I suppose a case could be made for one paper reminder if the membership lapses, but otherwise it seems like a waste of postage, resources, and time (not sure if SAA staff do this or its outsourced, but either way, it’s a waste).

    • Based on Beth’s, Marcella’s, and Jenny’s comments, we’ve decided to experiment with a change in our renewal invoicing process (which has been based on “best practices” within association management). Currently we send two paper invoices to individual members and two paper invoices to institutional members during the course of 4½ months. Going forward, we’ll send paper invoices to individual members just one time in the renewal cycle – 30 days before their expiration date; all other reminders will be sent via email. We will, however, continue to send two paper invoices to institutional members. We’ll keep tabs on our renewal rates to determine if this change has a negative impact. In the meantime, it will have a positive impact on staff time! Thanks for your comments!

  7. I would gladly pay a few dollars more to be able to pay with installments. So if it costs more to process installment payments, make the user eat that cost rather than SAA. I have asked in the past about this kind of billing so if it works out I will be very happy since I usually pay my membersip on my credit card and would rather not do that.

  8. Christine, you said “I don’t mind using my money to further my career and knowledge but the outcome must be worth the expense.” I’d love to hear your thoughts on what outcomes of SAA membership would be worth the expense. What aren’t we doing that you need? Please feel free to write privately if preferable for any reason. Thanks– Jackie

    • Christine Schmid Engels

      Jackie, “worth my expense” is a relative phrase, no doubt. For me it means that I need to be gaining additional knowledge or training that will significantly increase my ability to do my job and maybe even assist me career-wise in gaining promotions. It also needs to be affordable which is my biggest complaint (and probably something I harp on too much). To attend conferences and workshops you look at a big bill for registration, travel, lodging and food. When I compare the sessions and cost of a SAA meeting to that of MAC or even a state group I just don’t see a reason to pay more for the same thing. SAA does offer more educational opportunities these days in more locations which is great. I hope to be able to attend one at some point if location and topic coincide for me. What more could SAA do for me? Go to an installment plan. 😉

      All of that being said, I did renew my SAA membership after letting it lapse for a year or two. Why? I want a strong national group to lobby for archives and archivists. I want to continue to push for the further professionalization of archives. This is why I also belong to the ACA, MAC, SOA and would like to attend the Archives Leadership Institute. I suppose that what I want from SAA is more along the lines of being a public or national face of all things archival and to work and advocate for archivists.
      Thank you so much for your sincere interest, Jackie. To me that goes a long way to improve my feelings about SAA.

      • Jackie Dooley

        Thank you, Christine! I really appreciate your comments (and your carefully considered renewal). You’ll be glad to know that we’re currently working hard on ramping up our advocacy efforts. Council adopted a refreshed advocacy agenda last spring, and I was able to recruit a stellar group of dedicated archivists to populate our Government Affairs Working Group . They’ll gradually be developing some issue briefs. And the dire situation with the Georgia State Archives revved us up. More news as we have it!

  9. My membership expires in the end of December, and, since I graduated in 2011, this will be the first time I’m not eligible for the student or the bridge rate (I was unemployed for a few months after graduating). I had never paid much attention to the regular rates as I had no reason to. I was really quite shocked to see that I’m now required to pay $155 to maintain my membership. My institution does not have a membership as I am the sole archivist there in a non-library/archives environment. I recognize that SAA needs to bring enough money in to provide services to its members (among other things), but I simply cannot afford to renew my membership — the tiered rates are a nice idea, but unfortunately they do not help me out. I don’t know if it’s a cost of living thing or what (there are certainly other locales where my salary would go a lot farther). The bottom line is: if I can’t afford it, I can’t afford it. Talk of whether the cost of dues are worthwhile or not become irrelevant. I’m really bummed out about this as I love being a part of the SAA member community. Installment payments would be very helpful, but would still not be a guarantee that I could do it.

  10. Also: I agree that SAA definitely needs to go paperless as far as renewal notifications. Mailings are a waste of paper, time, and money. Mine get tossed without being opened.

  11. Actually Paypal has an installment option that permits monthly (etc.) withdrawals from a checking account. It has worked great for me when there are subscriptions to services that will go to monthly installments rather than large all-at-one year dues.

    • If we’re talking installment plans, I’d love to go the other way and have an installment plan for an extended term or even lifetime membership like some associations do. While its expensive initially, it saves members money in the long run.

  12. Let’s assume people enroll in the lifetime plan (if there were such a beast) and did it in x installments. Would some of the money go into an endowment account with the rest being used for operating expenses? I would consider a lifetime membership if I thought the funds were split between operating and something more secure for the organization’s future.

  13. I’m glad Rebecca brought up ALA’s installment plan. It eases the burden and makes it easier for me to make a small donation on top of my dues.

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