If you are like most members of the American Chemical Society, every year you receive a distinctive gold and blue envelope from the Division of Membership & Scientific Advancement: the annual reminder that it’s time to renew your membership and pay your society dues. As you fill in the renewal form, do you ever wonder, “Where does my $158 go?” (The rate will be $162 in 2016.)
Do you ever wonder who determines dues increases, or how they do it? As chair of the Society Committee on Budget & Finance, I am frequently asked these questions. Many of our sister societies rely primarily on dues and meeting revenues to fund their activities. However, ACS has a very different operating model, so the answer might surprise you.
ACS’s approved budget for 2015 anticipates about $16 million in dues revenue, corresponding to 126,000 paid (out of more than 158,000 total) members. If you’re checking my numbers, you’ll notice that works out to $127 per member—not $158. ACS has several membership categories. I am a Regular Member, which means I pay the individual full dues rate. When I was a graduate student, I paid the student rate, which is half of the full dues rate. When I retire with 30 years of paid membership, I will be eligible for Retired Status, which is also half of the full dues rate. And when I reach 35 years of paid membership, am retired from full-time professional employment, and am over 70 years of age, I will be eligible for the Emeritus category, for which my dues will be waived. Members experiencing special circumstances (for example, unemployment, break in employment to care for a family member, disability, or full-time military duty) or spouses of members are also eligible for discounts or waivers.
Full individual dues have increased at an average annual rate of 2.5% since 2006. ACS members, through their elected representatives, established the formula for dues escalation in 1986. This formula is set forth in Bylaw XIII, Sec. 3 (www.acs.org/bulletin5), which specifies that dues will be escalated using the increase in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners & Clerical Workers (CPI-W) for Services. The CPI-W (Services) reflects the average change in prices paid for services by households in which more than one-half of annual income comes from wage or clerical occupations and at least one wage earner was employed for more than 37 weeks in the previous 12 months. The CPI-W is calculated by the Department of Labor (www.bls.gov/cpi) and is a standard metric for adjusting prices.
The proposed escalated dues rate is presented to the ACS Council each year at the spring ACS national meeting for action. An important factor in assessing the dues increase is the cost of ACS compared with peer scientific societies; ACS membership is usually priced at or below the average cost for comparable organizations.
Bylaw XIII also sets allocations for dues revenue. Sec. 3(a) specifies that dues will be used to cover the printing and distribution costs of the editorial portion of Chemical & Engineering News ($6.30 million, or 40% of total dues revenue, in 2015). Sec. 3(b) reserves 20% of annual dues revenue for support of local sections and divisions. This allocation (about $3.15 million in 2015) is split, with 55% going to local sections and 45% to divisions.
There is no similar mandate in the bylaws to fund student chapters. In fact, there are bylaw-driven restrictions on the society’s ability to directly fund student chapters. However, because ACS values the education of the next generation and the participation of students in the society, by convention, all of the dues revenue from the Student Member category ($400,000 in 2015) is allocated to the Education Division for support of student programs.
Of the remaining dues revenue, $3.34 million supports the Member Services unit that sends you the reminders to pay your dues, processes new membership applications, and maintains basic member benefits; $1.26 million covers information technology (IT) systems support; and $500,000 goes to other charges associated with membership, such as credit card fees and bad debt. That leaves about $1 million, which is used, in part, to help fund all other society programs, including advocacy, career services, awards, national meetings, National Chemistry Week, governance activities, and too many other benefits to list here. At one-sixteenth of total dues revenue, my contribution in exchange for these benefits was about $10 last year.
We are fortunate that ACS Publications and Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) provide robust annual contributions to the society. It is these net contributions that allow ACS to so effectively pursue its mission “to advance the broader chemistry enterprise and its practitioners for the benefit of Earth and its people.” Publications and CAS are also driving an expansion of our member benefits: For example, the new ACS Member Universal Access program allows online access to any 25 ACS-published articles per year, and ACS Member SciFinder Access gives members 25 complementary SciFinder activities for personal use each year.
The next time you receive that envelope in the mail, I encourage all of you to review your member benefits at www.acs.org/memberhandbook. You might be surprised to see all the benefits you receive in exchange for your dues. And thank you for renewing your membership in ACS!
Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.