Nothing Like A Dues Standards Debate

ACORN International International Organizing

Group PictureParis   There was a “sustainability” workshop where we discussed at length how to achieve the Alliance’s goals of achieving self-sufficiency with half of their income coming from membership dues. The dues “gap” was about 3000 euros, so there was a way to go on that one, but in the first workshop we spent a lot of time talking with some enthusiasm about the wide variety of fundraising tools that members can manage and that organizers can support.  A lot of the conversation on that day while meeting in Paris had been fun, because we were talking about new ideas that many had not considered as well as simply projects that everyone understood but had not thought about how important they might be in building an organizational culture of sustainability and membership support.

There was a decision to add a second workshop that more extensively focused on dues and developing a dues standard that would move them forward.  It quickly became apparent that this was going to be a much more challenging adventure for many of the organizers. Quickly, it became clear that for many this was not a welcome conversation as they tried to embrace more responsibility for additional groups or didn’t feel the pressure and immediacy of needing to make the efforts that might be required to elevate the dues and internal income standards. In that sense it was a very frank and honest conversation. Board members who were sitting in on the workshop wanted to be able to say, “it’s the policy, make it happen,” and were frustrated that organizers were mouthing agreement, but walking a different direction. Organizers debated incremental progress that wouldn’t unsettle already established routines versus high goals unlikely to be met.

Trying to turn the conversation among the organizers to what advice they would give the field director in managing these different views was difficult, because so many saw the most easily available alternatives as negative, either putting the organizer’s job or wages in jeopardy. The alternatives that I suggested were also difficult to embrace, because though they were not negative, they involved a climate that created more direct and indirect competition to push the standards up, than many were comfortable in imagining. Other suggestions like raising the level of dues from five euros per month to something more realistic or a “dues-plus” program of having leaders and others go to existing members and ask them to donate more than their dues or increase their bank drafts were also not going to easy decisions for the board from the look on some of their faces.

Raising dues standards and achieving higher levels of self-sufficiency is hard, every day work. An organizer supporting the work in Cameroon commented that they were already at 50%, but near panic because they needed to get to a higher level within six months in order to assure the organization’s survival.  Making the decision voluntarily in order to avoid such organizational life-and-death decisions might seem easy intellectually, but that doesn’t make it easier to put on the street day after day.

There was no decision after the debate, but there was no question about its importance either.