Many of us consider the American Chemical Society to be our professional home because of our long-standing memberships. The society may have also supported our journey from undergraduate chemistry major to an academic or industrial career through its educational, research, and career programs. ACS membership provides access to these benefits, but annual membership dues only generate modest revenues (approximately 2% of total ACS income). In fact, the cost to provide these programs far exceeds the revenue received from dues. So how does ACS generate the significant resources that enable it to achieve such broad and impactful reach?
The answer rests with the society’s two largest divisions: CAS (formerly Chemical Abstracts Service) and ACS Publications. These divisions provide high-quality, high-demand information products and services accessible to thousands of researchers, and to commercial, academic, and governmental customers worldwide.
At the Aug. 14, 2021, ACS Committee on Budget and Finance meeting, ACS finance staff provided an update on ACS financial performance for the first half of the year. The society continues to perform ahead of budget and is showing growth over 2020, which was a record-setting year. Through June 30, 2021, total revenues generated were $324 million. Over 90 percent of these revenues resulted from CAS and ACS Publications. Through prudent management, a large portion of those revenues falls to the bottom line and is available to support other ACS activities—education programs, meetings, career services, member benefits, and outreach activities, to name a few. The financial success of CAS and ACS Publications allows ACS to magnify its impact well beyond what a society supported by dues alone could achieve.
While numbers of this magnitude are sometimes hard to digest, two examples help show how this financial support greatly benefits ACS. First, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations had serious financial and operational challenges in 2020 that led to difficult decisions, and ACS was no exception. However, it was able to transition to a remote work model and continue to deliver its products and services effectively. In particular, the information products that CAS and ACS Publications provided to its customers were even more important as critical research activities focused on COVID-19 solutions both utilized and reported emerging and vital information. Thankfully, through the efforts of many, overall ACS revenues remained stable. This stability enabled the ACS Board of Directors to approve a special allocation to ACS local sections and technical divisions without any increase in dues to help ensure that these units could continue their important work despite their own pandemic-related challenges. This would not have been possible without the extraordinary efforts of our colleagues in CAS and ACS Publications.
ACS spring and fall meetings provide a second example of the flexibility that this revenue provides. Many other scientific societies and professional organizations rely heavily on the revenues generated by their signature events, such as national meetings, to provide support for basic operations. Given the strong financial performance of ACS, we are in a very different position. ACS can budget these events to break even. This allows the society to focus on supporting the programming needs of our technical divisions and ensuring a great experience for attendees. Rather than working to generate a large surplus, we can focus our energy on meeting your needs. As we’ve navigated the COVID-19 pandemic by switching to virtual and now to hybrid events, ACS has been able to push forward aggressively without the stresses of potential negative financial impacts on other aspects of its operations.
Given that CAS and ACS Publications represent such a large percentage of ACS’s total revenues, one might imagine there being some risks associated with our dependence on these sources of funding. The Committee on Budget and Finance regularly monitors the society’s management of its finances through the approval of ACS’s annual operating and capital budgets and through the portfolio evaluation and optimization process. While we are confident in the prospects of both CAS and ACS Publications for continued growth and success, the committee helps to ensure that there is appropriate attention on the development and growth of other revenue sources and on sound stewardship of programs and other expenses. The highly skilled ACS staff leadership also maintains a strong focus on these financial issues and is keeping the society running effectively. They continue to balance the desire to invest in programs that have impact today, while ensuring that resources continue to grow for the future.
With CAS and ACS Publications as the main engines of the society’s financial stability and health, ACS continues to provide its multitude of programs, products, and services to its constituents, many with little or no charge. Through strong leadership and operational excellence, the future—both short and long-term—is bright for ACS and its members.
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Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.