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Jeffrey H. Altschul

In any membership society, the subject of dues is sensitive and highly charged. Boards of directors shy away from the subject and tend to be defensive about costs. SAA is no different. Historically, the Board has tended to postpone dues increases as long as possible. The result has been a cycle in which the society becomes financially overextended, runs large annual deficits, then raises dues substantially. Over the last decade, there have been three such cycles leading to a 67 percent increase ($25) in 1989, a 27 percent increase ($20) in 1994, and a 16 percent increase ($15) in 1997. Alhough the Society has continued to grow, with each increase the response has elicited disappointment, frustration, and a regrettable loss of some members.

The current Board of Directors believes that it is a better strategy to increase dues more frequently but by smaller amounts. We will start on this course in the year 2000 when dues will increase $5 for all membership categories (except life members). This small increase will help SAA keep pace with inflation. Raising dues, however, is only part of the equation. We also need to demonstrate that being a member is worth the cost. It is this subject that I address in this column.

To prepare for this column, I asked SAA Executive Director Tobi Brimsek to calculate the cost per member of SAA services. For an objective calculation, Brimsek engaged an outside accounting firm, Langan Associates, to prepare the estimate, which is presented in Table 1. According to Langan's calculation, it costs just over $166 per member to provide our current services. Many may wonder how the Society survives providing $166 worth of services and only charging $110 to most members, and subsidizing nearly one-third of its membership (i.e., students, retired individuals, and archaeologists from particular countries). The answer is non-dues revenue, including institutional subscriptions to our journal, the exhibit hall, advertising, and, of course, the Annual Meeting. In a previous SAA Bulletin (1998, 16(4): 11), I discussed the financial importance of the Annual Meeting. Because SAA's budget is tight, and because there is considerable uncertainty each year about the financial outcome of the meeting, it is a "fact of life" for SAA that we must have a "good" Annual Meeting.

When I ask members what they perceive as the benefits of membership in SAA, two points jump immediately to mind: Publications and the Annual Meeting. Although understandable, this response is frustrating, for it shows that we on the Board of Directors have not been very good at communicating the broad range of services provided to the membership. Figure 1 is a pie chart that shows the proportional expenses of SAA programs to the regular member. About 55 percent of the expenses are spent on publications (i.e., American Antiquity, Latin American Antiquity, SAA Bulletin) and the Annual Meeting, the two benefits most recognizable to members. Through its public programs and its service to the profession, SAA provides much more. As an organization, we are dedicated to the preservation of archaeological resources, much like other archaeological organizations. But of these groups, only SAA has a full-time lobbyist, making us the leader in the legislative and regulatory arenas. In particular, for the last 10 years, SAA has been deeply involved in issues surrounding repatriation and now sends a representative to each NAGPRA Review Committee meeting. These endeavors are funded as part of our public programs, which constitute 11 percent of the average member's dues. The broad-reaching work of the Public Education Committee, now 76 members strong, is the other pillar of our public programs initiatives. Other public programs include public relations, Council of Affiliated Societies, and a broad range of committees including Native American Scholarships, National Historic Landmarks, and the Task Force on Curriculum.

In response to members' request to cut dues, I often ask which programs they want to cut or eliminate. After explaining the services provided by SAA, most members are unwilling to have any cut. Indeed, they want most services expanded. I, too, am concerned about SAA expenses. But I am more concerned that, as an organization, we remain dedicated to our core programs--publication, Annual Meeting, legislation, education, and outreach. Whether we work at a university, museum, government agency, or consulting company; whether we are at the beginning of our career or near the end; whether we work in the Americas or elsewhere; whether archaeology is our profession or avocation, all of us remain deeply committed to the principle that archaeology is an important means of understanding the past and that protecting the archaeological record is vital to preserving the world's cultural heritage. To meet the multitude of diverse challenges facing American archaeology, we must have a strong SAA. That costs money. Yes, there will be a dues increase one year from now, but membership is well worth it.

Jeffrey H. Altschul, treasurer of SAA, is president of Statistical Research, Inc., in Tucson, Arizona.

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