Issue Date: April 21, 2008
I often refer to ACS as the "gold standard" for professional societies. ACS members can choose from a wide array of first-class products and services; our influence, both domestically and internationally, is vast; and the professionalism of our staff is very much admired.
However, to quote the wise sage Anonymous, "There is no free lunch." Even with the active participation of thousands of members from local sections, divisions, and governance, it costs many millions of dollars each year to satisfy member wants and needs. How can we ensure that ACS remains financially viable into the future, given constantly rising costs and expanding appetites for new products and services?
This brings us to Goal 6 of the "ACS Strategic Plan 2008 and Beyond" (www.acs.org/strategicplan): "ACS will be a financially sustainable organization that serves members, chemistry, and related sciences."
Currently, ACS is financially very healthy. For several years now, the net contribution to reserves—the money left over after all expenses are paid for operating Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS), publishing more than 30 journals, operating the infrastructure of the organization, and (very important) providing a wide range of member services and education programs—has been positive.
Our programs are flourishing, and our reserves are adequate. That has not always been the case. In fact, the society ran deficits—more money went out than came in—in three of the past 10 years (2001, 2002, and 2003). Although we are doing well now, the economy seems to be slowing and competitive pressures on our largest units, CAS and the Publications Division (Pubs), are continuing concerns.
Setting aside CAS and Pubs, which are fully funded from their sales revenues, member dues (after bylaw-required allotments) directly pay for less than one-fifth of the cost of the programs and services desired by the membership, and that fraction has been dropping. Although some services are expected to break even on average (such as national meetings), many programs and activities, by their nature, have no revenue (such as assistance to job seekers, allocations to local sections and divisions, and governance activities) or have costs that exceed contributions (such as Project SEED and ACS Scholars). The society has become very dependent upon contributions from CAS and Pubs, as well as some investment income, to cover that uncomfortably large fraction of program costs that member dues cannot pay.
The financial side of keeping ACS a world-class organization is a major concern of the society Committee on Budget & Finance (B&F) and of the ACS Board of Directors. B&F works with senior staff to continuously monitor the full ACS budget and advises the board on a variety of financial matters. Additionally, the Program Review Advisory Committee (PRAG) was established to help increase governance oversight of ongoing ACS programs. Now in its third review year, PRAG reports to B&F with analyses of programs' effectiveness and with any recommendations for changes, including possible terminations.
Of course, watching expenses is only one side of the coin. We also need to consider new revenue sources, increasing contributions to endowments, and the appropriate size and allocation of member dues. As mentioned before, there is no free lunch—real costs have to be paid with real dollars.
No one can predict the future. But in working to meet Strategic Goal 6 to ensure the financial sustainability of ACS, the Board of Directors, the members of B&F, and senior staff will participate in a Financial Summit in June. All of the issues touched on in this brief comment and more will be discussed.
We would welcome your thoughts and ideas before the summit. They may be submitted to email@example.com.
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