thoughts on dues increase proposal messaging
Pursuant to the dues increase working documents:
If we are going to approve a dues increase, it's critically important that we communicate with the members in advance and demonstrate that they're getting increased value. I went through all our programs a while ago and identified things we've started doing since our last dues increase. I drafted it as a a blog post, but I never got around to posting it, and honestly it's the sort of content that should be coming from official LITA channels, not my blog. Someone asked at Annual that I post it here, so here you go!
What do you all think about messaging?
[intro text that works only on my blog cut]
One of the first questions anyone asks with a dues increase proposal is, why should we pay more if we're not getting more? So I decided to interrogate that question. What is LITA doing now that it hasn't since 2004? I was pretty sure I'd find some things; I found more than I expected. Since 2004, new things LITA has done include:
- Taking Information Technology and Libraries open access (March 2012), thus quite literally putting our money in support of our values;
- Offering professional development via web courses and webinars (first budgeted in FY2008);
- Supporting 8 Emerging Leaders projects (the ALA Emerging Leaders program started in 2006);
- Livestreaming Board meetings and marquee programs like LITA Forum keynotes, Top Tech Trends, and Cory Doctorow at LITA Town Meeting;
- Communicating with you via LITAblog (June 2005); I presume our Twitter and Facebook pages also postdate 2004;
- Approving 13 new interest groups: accessibility, Drupal4Lib, electronic resources management (joint with ALCTS), game making, instructional technologies, library code year, linked library data (joint with ALCTS), MARC formats transition (joint with ALCTS), mobile computing, next generation catalog, public library technology, search engine optimization, technology and industry.
In chatting with some prior LITA presidents at Midwinter, I also heard about how LITA has been a leader in pushing ideas that other divisions or ALA as a whole later adopt (like interest groups, which we've had since the mid-1980s!). The examples which stick out in my head, and which I believe postdate 2004, are a streamlined program planning timeline (you used to have to get conference programs approved a year and a half in advance, which means no timely topics for you; LITA sped up its process starting 4 years ago, and ALA has since followed suit) and the expectation of wifi throughout the convention center (we crazy tech people kept insisting on having it for our sessions until it became the default). And, of course, we're actually paying less; $60 in 2004 dollars is $74 in 2013 dollars (Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator), but we're still paying $60. And we don't have more staff.
and what haven't you?
I expect there are things we were doing in 2004 that we're not doing now; I haven't researched this as thoroughly. I know we haven't offered regional institutes in several years; that we experimented briefly with LITACamp but are no longer doing it; and that some IGs are no longer active (getting an exact count would be quite time-consuming; on the other hand, since IGs are driven by member interest, I'm not concerned when they go extinct - it lets us refocus energies on places where people are more motivated).
I'm still thinking about this, and I want to hear your thoughts. The Financial Strategies Task Force report is quite clear that a dues increase is not a panacea, and the Board should not do only a dues increase and not push for other strategies as well. I am absolutely persuaded by this recommendation; a dues increase by itself would be at best a bandaid that presented the Board with the same problems a few years later. LITA needs to do some things genuinely differently to be financially viable. And I mean that without hyperbole. I am from the startup world, where we care deeply about runway and burn rate; in the discussions I've had with other board members we disagree on exactly how long we think that runway is, but a decade is not an unreasonable estimate. If you're not from the startup world, what I mean by runway is the length of time we have before we must be aloft or we will crash and burn. As LITA is presently constituted, its revenue typically exceeds its expenses. And we are in a challenging environment - like many nonprofits, including big ALA, our membership is declining, and the macroeconomic slowdown has done us no favors. External factors won't help us here; we need to help ourselves. So I want to hear your thoughts about that too. The task force recommended investigating entrepreneurial possibilities -- what would that look like to you? What would a soaring, aloft LITA look like to you?