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Managing ACS Member Programs For Impact And Excellence

by James D. Burke, Chair, Board of Directors
February 27, 2006 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 84, Issue 9

In many respects, the totality of Society Programs is the public face of the American Chemical Society. And yet, even within ACS many do not realize how broad or how diverse are the Society Programs or that they are sustained in large part by the generous service of thousands of member volunteers. These initiatives have immense value in accomplishing the society's mission. And for sustainability and maximum value, they need to be prudently managed within an affordable budget.

The Society Committee on Budget & Finance (B&F), in partnership with the board of directors, oversees the society's budget, financial practices, and the activities that the budget supports. At the ACS Financial Planning Conference in early 2005, we recognized that the expense growth rate of Society Programs that are not financially self-sustaining had clearly exceeded the growth rate of society revenues over the 10 previous years. Moreover, with the annual budget for Society Programs now roughly $33 million, the situation had to be addressed. Except for ACS national meetings, for which fees cover all their costs, most Society Programs are not financially self-sustaining.

In response to a Financial Planning Conference recommendation that was approved by the ACS Board, the Task Force on Program Review was commissioned to examine the scope of non-self-sustaining Society Programs and to create a process for their review. While all of these programs have been managed competently for years, there was concern that some, having successfully addressed society or member needs, were no longer needed.

Other programs, while of value, might lack strategic importance. Yet others might need redirection and additional resources to optimize their value. Since tools for creating sophisticated management processes and developing precise performance metrics are now commonly available, the time was right for creating this task force.

In December 2005, at the recommendation of the task force, the ACS Board established a Program Review Advisory Group (PRAG). It will assist B&F by undertaking an extensive review of Society Programs over a four-year cycle. Basically, PRAG will have the job of program portfolio management for the society.

As individuals, we monitor our investment portfolios for optimum return at minimum risk, and we rebalance them when advisable. Because ACS invests millions of dollars annually in Society Programs, it should do likewise. Society Programs truly constitute a portfolio of investments in our present and future. These programs should be monitored for performance and impact with a willingness to rebalance when appropriate.

The mission of PRAG is not to reduce the funding of Society Programs. However, if a program is determined to have already fulfilled its mission or if its objective can be better achieved by different means, its funding will be reallocated to support other Society Programs of greater value.

Each year, PRAG will review the programs in two of eight thematic groupings, starting with Science Literacy and Public Communication in 2006. The eight thematic groups, with examples of programs in each, are as follows: Science Literacy: K-8 Science, Kids & Chemistry Projects, High School Chemistry; Public Communication: National Chemistry Week, Society Communications, National Meeting Communications, ACS Annual Report; Chemistry Pipeline: Project SEED Summer II, ACS Scholars Program, Diversity Understanding; Professional Preparation/Technical Training: Green Chemistry Materials, Graduate Education, Student Affiliates; Career Self-Management/Employment: Chemjobs Career Center at national and regional meetings; Scientific Advancement: Divisional Activities, Services to Regional Meetings, Europe & Middle East Programs; Institutional & Membership Development: Industry Relations, Leadership Development, Society Surveys; and Advocacy: Educate Congress, Member Development, Public Relations.

PRAG will conduct multidimensional assessments of these programs according to standards such as value, performance, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness. It will broaden the concept of performance management to include factors such as financial accountability, program deliverables and impact, participant satisfaction, consistency in quality, targeting member needs, and customer satisfaction. The advisory group will also assign an order of priority to Society Programs and develop a formal record and an overall understanding of the programs within each thematic group.

PRAG will then use that knowledge to ensure that each reviewed program contributes the value expected and fits into its thematic group appropriately. PRAG will also ensure that the thematic groups themselves are properly balanced to achieve the society's goals. It may also suggest program improvements when advisable.

The advisory group will have nine continuing members: three from the council, three from the board, and three from B&F who are not board members. Also, up to six members will be added each year, depending on the programs under review that year. These members will be the committee chairs or their designees. They will have oversight for the programs being reviewed, and their insights will be valued.

The board views the work of PRAG as a major opportunity to assure our membership that society governance chooses its program initiatives wisely and directs them as beneficially as possible. It is essential that our programs, products, and services strategically meet the needs of current and potential members, particularly those employed in multidisciplinary research and manufacturing.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.



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