Membership Versus Friends-Of

Starting today, I’m going to separate out the various elements of the new org proposal, and put them up for discussion.

One of the elements of the proposal that has gotten the most attention is the idea of “Friends of the Organization.”

To recap, the new organization cannot rely solely on workshops alone for funding. The revenue is too unpredictable, and some types of events require initial outlay of funds. So I contrasted membership with an alternative donation model.

Membership

  • Includes discounts for events
  • Includes the right to vote for the admin council
  • Has a limited duration
  • Requires the organization to maintain a separate mailing list
  • Requires the organization to track member IDs at events, and expiry dates

Friends

  • Does not include discounts for events
  • Includes the privilege to vote on select issues
  • Is open-ended (but you’ll get solicited for more donations PBS-style)
  • Requires the organization to maintain a separate mailing list
  • Does not require the organization to track individual IDs

I initially described the Friends concept as including discounts, and this was an error. It makes the distinction between the concepts too fine, and the workload for volunteers too similar.

The reasons I’ve been shying away from a membership model are twofold:

  1. To minimize the workload for the organization’s volunteers.
  2. To change the mental landscape of the organization’s audience. Membership is what STC does. I think we need people to have a more immediate and personal relationship with this organization. Yes, there’s a contrarian aspect of “if STC does it, we should do the opposite” to this idea. But that can work in our favor by helping to present the new organization as an entirely different animal from STC.

(Side note: I really need a more concise term than “new organization” for this project. Any suggestions?)

In both of these options, an increase in communicativeness over STC-Montreal’s prior habits is necessary and planned.

I’m also in the process of researching CRM tools that integrate with PayPal and WordPress and/or Google Docs (which is what we use for internal communication).

Some of the feedback to date has been:

  • The problem with STC is not the membership model, but the exorbitant fee.
  • “Friends of the Organization” status is basically membership under a different name.
  • Donations require tax receipts.

So given the above, is STC-style membership the preferred option? Does it send the right marketing message? Is it really not that much more work?

Please chime in.

10 Comments

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10 responses to “Membership Versus Friends-Of

  1. Ev

    Not in favour of soliciting funding under either “Friends of” or Member” monikers right now. Does ‘not-STC-Montreal’ need a cash infusion? Is there a corresponding need to filter and validate participants via a fiscal gateway? Chapter history demonstrates that participants resist paying for memberships. You mention that “some types of events require initial outlay of funds”. That’s OK – just charge appropriately at the door for events that require recovery of up-front costs. We already know how to do that. Low or no-cost events can be free to all attending.

    Reality check – maintaining a membership roster with associated accounting linkages, date rollovers, receipts, and tax reporting is serious work, and requires a major open-ended time commitment. Who is ready to step up and take on that kind of project? Are you volunteering to be our Membership Manager, Jim?

    The first questions to ask are:
    – Does the new group need money?
    – Does the new group need to qualify its ‘members’?

    Once those questions have answers, the path forward will be clearer.

  2. Charles Roburn

    Does membership really require a separate mailing list? It does require a separate membership list, certainly, to ensure that only members get a voting card or discount when appropriate. However, given that the new organization is going to be very transparent, I don’t see any need for a members-only mailing list.

    Anyway: given our current bylaws, I think we do need some sort of definition for membership. Too much of the document is based on that concept for us to be able to toss it aside without major amendments, and I don’t think we’re currently in a position to do that right now. Our chapter governance requires that executive positions be filled by members who have been elected by members. Those sections of the bylaws can be amended – but only by a vote of members…

  3. Ev: I appreciate that the organization is not hurting for money at this minute. However, I believe that there are good reasons to settle the matter relatively early.

    First, one should never jump into a business endeavour without knowing how its going to make money. Even though the plan won’t go into effect immediately, we need to know the thing will pay for itself.

    Second, we will need to spend some of our nest egg in the startup phase. The chapter had been in low-power mode for so long, that things we’ve wanted to buy, such as signage and a good projector screen, had been put off indefinitely. There may be other expenses in the short term we haven’t thought of related to promotion.

    Third, if you first give something away, you may devalue it when it comes time to ask for renumeration. Setting the price of an offering, and sticking to it, establishes its value for the audience. The price attached to an object often affects the perception of its value. If there is a membership or donation fee right from the beginning, we are stating publicly that what we offer has good value.

    But yes, the workload involved has me concerned. Will we need to qualify members? If that’s the model, then yes. I’m looking into systems that would centralize and eliminate paperwork for memberships. And I suggested the Friends idea to avoid that issue. I don’t believe that tax receipts are required for donations to non-charities, But I could be wrong.

    My question to you then is, do you have an alternative to the two ideas I proposed? I remember proposing a fee-for-services model two years ago when we first started discussing this, but I don’t know if that’s applicable any more.


    Charles: Maintaining a separate emailing list is the simplest of the tasks involved. Not to worry about that.

    The bylaws issue is something I hadn’t considered. Do we need to worry about amending the bylaws, given that the new organization has no members? Are the bylaws even in force? The vote on Tuesday would seem to have nullified them, no?

    • Charles R

      I don’t think the vote is nullified (given that it was properly conducted in the first place) – any changes to the definition of membership would apply going forward, not retroactively. So if it’s redefined such that a member is anyone who fills out a membership form and pays annual dues to the organization, and those dues are set (for now) to $1, then that’s what it takes to be a member.

      The privileges of membership as set out in the bylaws (being able to vote or run for an Executive position) don’t change – until such time as the members change them, in accordance with the amendment formula set out in the constitution (IIRC, at a group meeting that has been called for the purpose at least one full month in advance, with changes endorsed by 3/4 of the members attending – or whatever it says in that section of the bylaws). That’s my interpretation.

  4. Charles, my point was that the vote nullifies the bylaws.

    Consider: After severance, the organization no longer has members, because all the voting members are associated with STC, rather than the yet-to-be-named organization. If the bylaws were still in force after severance, and changes to the bylaws required approval by members, then severance would be impossible.

    The members in attendance voted unanimously to sever the chapter from STC. All that remains is to notify HQ. Once that is done, there are no members, an the bylaws are null and void until the new organization is reconstituted, at which point we can draft new bylaws, which can be anything we want.

    • Charles R

      Jim, I don’t agree with that interpretation. The chapter already exists as an independent organization – cutting off ties with HQ doesn’t suddenly dissolve that organization. It doesn’t nullify the chapter Constitution. We’re simply taking control of our own membership – which the Executive can do by modifying the Membership article of the existing chapter bylaws such that the chapter collects any dues and maintains any membership lists, rather than leaving it in the hands of HQ. Everything else stays the same.
      As I see it: since we never signed an Affiliation Agreement, they have no authority to cancel such a change. The most they can do is deny us any affilition with the STC – basically forbid us from claiming to represent them. Since we’ve already decided that we want to sever that connection, that’s a moot point.

      • Charles, I don’t know about the idea of “taking control of our own members.” People who have paid to be members of STC, and by extension STC-Monteal, will not be members of the reformed organization. They will remain STC members.

        I agree that changing the bylaws to reflect the new situation is an easy enough step, but you seemed to imply that we have a legal obligation to pass any such change through the membership. But who is that?

        Or am I misunderstanding? What sequence of events do you envision to move this forward as quickly and smoothly as possible?

  5. Charles Roburn

    Well, as I see it, we don’t need a general vote to redefine the requirements for membership. However, we do need a general vote if we want to change certain articles of the bylaws going forward.

    Right now a chapter member is anyone who has already paid the extra $25 to be a member of the chapter this year – that’s the requirement under the current rules. The vote we held didn’t change that.

    However, the Executive *does* have the power to change the membership article of the bylaws, and our vote gave them a mandate to do exactly that. So as long as they themselves are still members (under the current definition) when they make the change, that’s what applies from that point on. They modify the bylaws to say that starting on Feb 29th (say), to be a member you apply to the chapter rather than the mothership, and pay $5 to us instead of $240+ to them. That doesn’t cancel the memberships of people who have already joined this year under the old rules, but it does let others join the chapter under the new rules.

    People who joined under the old rules would (presumably) remain members of the main STC. People who join under the new rules would not, because it’s not with the chapter’s power to grant.

    This is possible because the bylaws specify that the Executive is allowed to amend certain parts of the bylaws without consulting the general membership: and membership is itself one of those articles. The Executive now effectively has a mandate to change it because of the vote, but strictly speaking they would have been able to change it regardless.

    However, many articles *do* require a general vote of the membership, with a month’s advance notice. For example, if we want to add a new voting office to the Executive, that falls under Article VI, so it has to be ratified by the membership. So any changes we make to those sections (I. Name and Location, II. Bilingualism, IV. Powers and Constraints, VI. Administrative Council, X. Amendments to Chapter Bylaws, and XI. Dissolution) must be subject to a vote of the members.

    Here, “members” would be old members and new members – at least until next year, when memberships granted under the old rules would expire. At that point, everyone would follow the new requirements for membership of the chapter, and would be free to pay $215 to join the main STC – or not – as they decide. It would have nothing to do with us.

  6. Ev

    Good debate, guys. We seem to have a difference of opinion about a free-floating, unaffiliated STC chapter versus an unnamed, and somewhat unfocused, group with a slightly different mission. What are we? A chapter? What do we wish to become? Do we have members? Does anyone yet know?

    I agree with Charles that our existing bylaws spell out what the Executive Council can modify and what needs a full membership vote for modification. However, these bylaws are an artifact of the old STC chapter that was founded in the 1980s. When a financial gun was held to our collective head recently – ‘sign new International Chapter bylaws and a new International Affiliation agreement or else’ – we opted not to do that. The consensus is that we want new bylaws.

    We will need these new bylaws by the end of October in order to sign a new Déclaration Annuel. Given the enthusiasm you both have for this discussion, how would you like to convene a Bylaws Committee and make recommendations?

    • Charles R

      Hi Everett,

      Sure. However, I think that the Membership section of the bylaws have to be amended very soon – before the end of the traditional grace period at the beginning of March. I’d suggest basically taking the Membership article from the main STC bylaws, simplifying it, and changing all the references to STC mothership to the STC-Montreal Administrative Council instead. Then set the dues to something modest for this year, and start selling memberships.

      If we want to revisit that definition in the future, we can: but for now I think it’s important to address it in some way, to ensure there’s no gap of continuity between what the chapter is now, and what we evenutally make it.

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