Why the STC offers Technical Writers Value for Money!

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The STC recently increased its annual subscription rates to over $200 prompting howls of protest for technical writers.

In response to this, it has come out and defended its position by justifying the price increases. Here’s my take on the key points.

Why has STC raised the dues?

STC: “The $215 dues is more in line with what it costs to deliver the support and services to members.”


The main complaint for most STC members is that the STC does not explain where and how it got this figure. What methodology does it use to calculate this figure? Has it assessed ways to reduce costs? What best practices do other such organizations use to reduce costs?

Is $215 in line with other professional bodies?

Why is STC not printing its publications anymore?

“STC will save about $200,000 annually by going green and shifting to online versions of the publications. Our earlier surveys found that a substantial percentage of members would prefer to receive the publications electronically. For the smaller number of members who still prefer hard copy, print versions will be available at an added cost.”

An alternative approach would have been to reduce the cost, get more advertising, and increase circulation.

If I pay $25 for a chapter and $10 for a SIG, who gets the money?

STC says that the money collected is used for their support. STC provides communities with a variety of services, such as legal IRS compliance, liability insurance, payment processing, marketing, sales, advertising, online publications, education (some is free to members), conference planning, negotiation, and management.

For me, this does not really answer the question. For example, why not get rid of chapter dues altogether and increase the general membership?

There would be less paperwork, admin, tax returns, etc. – all of which reduce costs.

This dual payment, to be, seems a way to fudge the issue that membership is really more than $215.

Why isn’t money collected for chapters and SIGs given to them?

STC ,”through 2010, chapters that were struggling financially before The Crisis will receive STC funds.”

It adds that Chapters that had cash will be living on the cash.

I assume this means they have reserves.

STC: “it is unclear whether money flagged as chapter money is necessarily going to be spent directly on chapters. The current thinking is that it is all Society money, which is why the Society felt okay with recapturing money that was largely originally received from members for the chapters. So when a chapter member gives the $25 chapter fee, the chapter may not directly benefit. The indirect benefit would be the vitality of STC as a whole, and the support of struggling sister chapters (perhaps chapters in geographic locations where unemployment is high, for instance) and perhaps SIGs.”

It begs the question if poorly run chapters are getting hand-outs, while more efficient ones are indirectly subsidizing them?

Or, why not reduce fees/abolish fees for chapters in geographic locations where unemployment is high?

What are the compensation amounts for executive staff?

You can find this on Viewing of Form 990 on the STC website.

I have been unemployed for 6 months and I love STC. Is there any way you could let me renew at the current amount? Or give me some kind of discount?

How can it cost so much ($250) to support a member?

STC “The cost of providing services has been rising for years.”

It then concedes that activities and benefits have been added without thought to how to sustain them.

What have you done to reduce expenses?

Since 2008, STC has cut almost $1M from the budget, for example:

  • STC renegotiated hotel and vendor contracts to adjust to smaller attendance.
  • Adopted zero-based budgeting to ensure each activity is scrutinized each year.
  • Moved publications online
  • Reduced staff
  • Senior staff took a pay cut

What other sources of revenue does STC have besides dues?

Dues provide 60% of revenue. The other 40% comes from:

  • Summit registrations
  • SUMMIT@aClick sales
  • Advertising, sponsorships, and exhibit sales
  • Corporate Value program
  • Live seminars, workshops, and certificate programs
  • Several new revenue producing programs will be introduced in 2010.
  • Subscriptions

My 2 cents

Cut-backs are fine but what’s missing here is a review of how efficient the organization is as a business. The STC claims that the retention rate is not a direct function of the dues amount and does not determine the total membership size. It has a historic retention rate of 71% and anticipates (for budgeting purposes) that an additional 10% will not renew for 2010.

I’d say it’s going to be higher. Once you leave, it’s unlikely you’ll rejoin.

STC expects to recruit about 1500 new members, which to me seems a tad optimistic.

You can read more here on STC: http://www.stc.org/2009/10/answers-to-questions-asked-on-listserves.asp

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