Participation Membership Proposal

Some History of "Membership" in the SCA:

(A unilateral view of the subject.)

Long ago, it was decided that the SCA should have "members." The idea of "membership" was tied to the newsletters and to Tournaments Illuminated, the model being similar to that of The Audubon Society or the National Geographic Society. There wasn't any real reason to do so, other than that was the "way things were done." (Much of what we do in the SCA is based on similar things that are "supposed to be".) One of the classes of membership in the early days (Class H. in the early Corpora) was "attendees at events." As time passed, the Board decided to require membership for various activities, in order to keep up the flow of cash into the Corporation. They forbade the selling of newsletter subscriptions outside of the membership route so that the fiction of "access to information" as a requirement for officers' membership could be maintained, and to maintain control over the game. The Class H. (attendee) memberships were eliminated because they did not raise any money for the Corporation. (These are my feelings, based on the lack of any rational reasons given to me in years of my questioning ever-increasing membership requirements.)

As membership requirements became more wide-spread, various myths about membership became established. These included myths that somehow "membership" for officers protected the Corporation, that those who did not become "members" were somehow "freeloaders", etc. In addition there began to be differential pricing of events in most Kingdoms, penalizing those who did not become "members", but giving no benefit to the Corporation. Some Kingdoms charge differential fees for other activities, or require "membership" if people are to receive recognition for their work in the form of Awards of Arms and the like.

In 1994, the Board acted on the idea that there was a financial emergency and attempted to unilaterally institute a requirement that all participants be members, at the same time raising the membership rates by 40%. As it turned out, the "financial emergency" was not one, though the SCA, Inc. lost almost $50,000 fighting the desire of the membership to understand the finances of the Corporation. The Pay to Play ruling was changed to a Non-Member Surcharge of $3, of which $1 was paid back to the Kingdoms as an obvious bribe to encourage participation. The NMS was both widely followed and widely evaded. At the same time the actions of the membership in attempting to understand the finances of the SCA bore fruit and the Budgetary process was gradually made public - revealing the fact that the Board and its officers had not actually been managing the Budget at all well.

After a year and a half, with resistance to the NMS increasing, it was ended and the SCA, Inc. was in decent financial shape. A Subscription Liability Fund was established, and an operating reserve was built up. At the same time a Budget Compliance Committee was set up to advise the Board. I was (and still am) on that committee. It immediately became obvious that many of the budgetary items were still out of control, especially those related to subscriptions and to the Stock Clerk. There was no relationship between the prices charged for the Newsletters and the actual costs, and the T.I. bills were simply paid, no matter what the subscriptions had brought in. In addition, it was not possible to determine what the actual costs of subscriptions were - the salaries of the clerks who took the data were secret, and the computer system was clearly outdated. Attempts to improve the computer system ran into cost overruns the first time and resulted in no system. A second attempt was made which resulted in the currently operating new system, but there is still no accounting of the true cost of a subscription. There is no way to track how many subscriptions are new, renewal or membership dropped. What is obvious from the numbers is that subscriptions are costing the SCA, Inc. more money than they bring in - they are a drain on the budget. What is also obvious is that the cost of the Society Office, currently $55K in rent alone, and the salaries of the clerks who work there are a major part of the costs of the SCA, Inc.

The Budgets are unrealistic. The process of building the Budget does not proceed from first principles, but from the results of the previous Budget. Any item which is not used is kept at close to its old value "in case", and any that go over are increased to their new (overrun) value. The expected income and expenses are so badly estimated that the final surplus or deficit is off by $50K to $70K. Almost always the balance has been more positive than expected. All of this is despite the fact that by and large the Directors are trying to operate in good faith; they are trying to be good custodians of SCA funds. They just lack the tools. And despite the evidence that subscriptions are costing money, subscriptions remain attached to the idea of membership - in fact they define membership.

Now we come to June of this year. The Directors, acting on a (perceived and to some extent real) continuing loss in operations, institute a separation of T.I. subscriptions from membership (but continue to require membership in order to subscribe to T.I.), effectively raising the membership price by the cost of a T.I. subscription. In addition, they institute an NMS of $3 per person per event to raise $70K in additional funds, necessary, they say, to balance the budget. This happened despite the fact that an NMS was not on their list of options sent out for comment as being on the table. How they came at the $3 figure is shrouded in mystery, but my independent analysis indicates that it is far too much to raise the "needed funds" and that the purpose of this NMS is to penalize "non-members" to the extent that they will become members. (This is clear because the West has offered to pay its "fair share" of the money which is supposed to be raised - the offer was refused.) This despite the fact that if non-members become supporting members they will probably cost the corporation money since the stipends to newsletters are planned to be increased, without any real indications of the costs to the Corporation. This also despite the fact that newsletters are becoming less and less relevant in this era of electronic communications. Many Kingdoms already put most of the information about events onto the web, and most offices have Kingdom-wide and SCA-wide email lists.

(Onward to my reactions.)

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