Update: PRSA announced in August that it plans to offer its entire catalogue of professional development webinars to its members — for free — starting in 2012.
It’s hard to believe that 10 years have passed since PRSA last increased its annual membership dues. Back then, our “old” website was “new,” Marc Kasky was suing Nike, and “How the U.S. Army Public Affairs Commands Responded to the Pentagon Attack on 9-11” was the must-see session at the International Conference.
After holding the line for a decade with no increase in the cost of membership dues, and with annual operating costs now outpacing revenue growth, PRSA has reached a critical point financially. It’s for this reason that PRSA’s Board of Directors engaged a Business Model Task Force to audit PRSA’s financial condition, and to make recommendations to the Board of Directors for ensuring PRSA’s financial health into the future.
Among the Task Force’s recommendations — which it based on a comprehensive review of financial, membership and sponsorship trends; comparative data from other industry associations; and the evolution of PRSA’s product and service offerings — is an increase of up to $50 in the cost of dues for the regular member category.
On that basis, the PRSA Board of Directors has voted to ask the 2011 Leadership Assembly to approve a $30 increase in the cost of basic PRSA membership dues, to $255 from $225, effective Jan. 1, 2012. This is a modest increase, especially when you consider that membership dues would be priced at more than $270 today, had the cost been tied to increases in the Consumer Price Index since 2002.
The public relations profession is evolving rapidly, and if PRSA wants to stay ahead of the curve and still continue to meet its financial goal of returning 1 percent of its annual operating budget to its financial reserves, the time has come ask our members to increase their investment in PRSA through annual dues.
As national treasurer, I have seen firsthand how PRSA has balanced the introduction of new member benefits with the economic and competitive realities of the day, and the prudent way in which the Society has managed its finances.
Membership dues, which account for approximately 50 percent of PRSA’s revenue, have remained steady, but other revenue streams, such as professional development and Jobcenter, have declined in recent years due to the downturn in the economy and other market conditions.
Cost-control measures — which in recent years have included cost and operational efficiencies, elimination of underperforming products and services, staff reductions, a pay freeze, reducing Board travel and cutting sales and marketing expenditures — have eliminated $1.5 million in operating expenses from the PRSA budget. Further cuts risk compromising PRSA’s ability to deliver its current range of member benefits.
PRSA also has tried over the past decade to diversify its non-member revenue sources, including the appointment of a Non-Dues Task Force in 2009 to identify alternate means of generating income. That Task Force concluded that PRSA was not missing any practical opportunities to generate non-member revenue.
Having cut expenses and exhausted nearly every practicable source of new revenue — and all the while keeping membership dues at their 2002 levels — an increase in the cost of membership is now vital to our continued reinvestment in the Society. Among other things, funds from the proposed dues increase will be used to update existing benefits and create new ones; explore new products and services; create additional programming for senior professionals; enhance delivery systems by creating a mobile version of the PRSA website, introduce eLearning and create more digital publications; and otherwise modernize key infrastructure.
And because the issue really is one of keeping our members’ satisfaction high by ensuring PRSA’s relevance to their careers and professional success, we want — and need — your input.
In the weeks and months ahead, you can look forward to hearing more from us about the proposed dues increase, including official wording of the motion that will be put before the Leadership Assembly. But, our goal is to engage our Assembly Delegates and rank-and-file members in a rich, two-way discussion about the need for a dues increase, allowing your voices to be heard through the MyPRSA message forums, Assembly Delegate calls, blog posts, discussions with Board members and other means.
While I urge you to support the dues increase as proposed, your comments, suggestions, ideas and questions will help us ensure PRSA best meets your professional goals and aspirations.
If you’d like to learn more about PRSA’s financial condition or the Task Force’s recommendations, PRSA has set up a special page in the Governance section of the PRSA website; I hope you’ll take a moment at your convenience to review this information.
Again, we encourage you to share your thoughts, and we look forward to your feedback.