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To Their Royal Majesties, Gemini and Mari, King and Queen of the West.
Herewith my reactions and commentary on the recent request messages from the Board of the SCA, Inc. to the Grand Council (I'll get to substantive comments and suggestions later):
The first message (Posted 1/8/08 at 11:26 as a relay by the Chairman of the Grand Council) read as follows:
The Board of Directors would like the Grand Council to consider the topic
of _*membership dues with respect to "pay to play", "pay to participate",
"pay to fight",
or "pay to...?"*_
We would like the Council to study this issue, and to give us an idea of
the potential problems and pitfalls, the positives and what the council
the general feeling of the Society toward such a model.
The Directors would like the Council to consider to possibilities of a
tiered membership format, providing potential notions of how a tiered
format might work and how new members might be handled under such a
Please feel free to ask
for any clarifications you might need!
OK, this was (to me) worrisome. No indication
that the Board is willing to consider _negatives_ to such membership
requirements, though there is a nod to the fact that polling has
consistently shown the SCA membership as a whole to be substantially
opposed to "pay to play." Note, however, that it is not clear
whether they want the GC to discuss the concepts of "pay to X" or
the amount of dues with respect to the concepts. There is mention of
a "model", but no specification of what the "model" is.
The next paragraph introduces an entire second topic, again without defining what the Board means by "tiered membership format." Right now we already have a tiered format. There are subscribing members (with or without T.I.), Associate members and Family members. The last phrase all but assumes that there will be some form of universal membership requirement under whatever it is that the Board means by "tiered membership."
There is little surprise on my part about the reaction to this memo. It looks just like the lead-up to 1994, and there are those of us who remember that. Of course those of us who directly remember that had just been locked out of direct commentary in the Grand Council. (That was the theory -- as it turned out, we hadn't quite been locked out yet. That got "fixed" after it was accidentally discovered.)
I note that, as usual with communications from the Board, there was no explanation of *why* the Board wanted the GC to discuss this, nor what prompted them to even think about it. Typical bad communication from the Board.
The first "clarification" was relayed less than 12 hours later (1/8/2008 8:32 PM) Again, the Board ombudswoman does not communicate directly to the GC but relays it through the Chairman. There's nothing wrong with that, but it does put the Board at arm's reach. This one brought up a side issue that got a *lot* of commentary
We do know this will be contentious in some quarters.
We want to consider this as we're looking at
the larger issues of membership and what it means to be a member. We
have discussed the fact that people develop loyalty to their local
group, their household, their
Kingdom, but not the Organization. Why is that?
We don't want to start a panic by any means, but we do want to seriously
consider this. We want to get a good, solid understanding of several
potential ways to approach this, and differing viewpoints. It is in no way
a "done deal". We are not at all settled on doing this...or not. Please
make it clear to the council that this is the case.
The Board truly is looking to the GC to get a sense of this issue, not as
a fire storm but a real, productive, honest look. We need the input. We
need a studied, professional, business and emotional look. To my mind,
this is one of those broad issues with all sorts of ramifications that is
perfect for the Council as it has representation across the Society. The
less fire storm and more real information we get, the better.
You'll note that I mentioned the impact to newcomers in my original note,
we want to remain open to new folks. So, it's important for people to have something of a trial time..or something.
The different "pay to..." things in different Kingdoms should be
considered too. Some are pay to fight, some are pay to receive awards,
same are not. How does this impact things...should it be consistent across
The tiered membership is a useful thing to consider as well...a membership
level for students perhaps, for people who want to come and watch, those
that want to participate at certain levels...so that the people could pay
for what they use. What should come with these tiers? All this is on the
There's lot to consider here!
If we were to implement this, it would be with a plan, and with lots of
information sent out. We not anywhere near that point.
Does that help?
This is almost perfectly disingenuous.
"Contentious in some quarters."? The question of "required
membership for X" is contentious everywhere; there are just
different factions in the majority for different values of X
depending on where the matter is being discussed.
Then there's the apparent side-issue that has sparked almost as much commentary as the main issues. "Loyalty to the Corporation." Many people, even those who are in favor of "pay to play" have commented on the fact that the Corporation, in the persona of the Board, has done little to encourage loyalty, and that in fact "loyalty" in the way we usually view it is not strictly appropriate.
Only one person pointed out what I think is obvious, which is that a lot of the members are incredibly loyal to the SCA as a whole. We keep paying our money even while we criticize. Others use "loyalty/support of the SCA" as an arguing tactic while mostly not understanding what it is that the SCA, Inc. actually provides us.
The third paragraph asks for a "productive look at this issue", without, of course specifying what "this issue" is, other than being vaguely about membership requirements. There is a call for "no firestorm", but the firestorm is a message in and of itself. This is a matter that provokes deep emotional response on both sides. People's thoughts on the matter of membership represent, in the end, a deeply philosophical division.
There is some real information here, but it doesn't help much. "We want to be open to newcomers" and "we're thinking about being consistent across Kingdoms." (Gresham's Law is stirring, ready to rear its ugly head.) Also, there is an indication of a little of what the GC Ombudswoman thinks a "tiered" structure is about; "Paying for what you use"? Excuse me? What does anyone "use" from the Corporate level except the insurance? More on this topic later.
Finally there is a "implementation of this" without any specification of what "this" is. My suspicion would be that there are at least some Board members who think "this" will be universal required membership. This is just a suspicion, but I think I have reason to be suspicious. This route is not a new one; it is a well-trodden path that we have been down before. (The foundations for the barricades are already set in place.)
The third message was 1/9/2008 at 3:56 pm.
This topic is an outgrowth of some of the things that we had discussed at
our long range planning meeting and some questions that have been asked of the Directors and Corporate staff.
We talked about this from a variety of perspectives:
Should there be a uniform fee structure across all Kingdoms? Would an "A la Carte" format be more useful for the membership?
Does the NMS help us, or not? Is there a better way to accomplish the same goals?
Membership fees are holding steady, but our costs are rising. There may be the need to raise fees in the future. (We do, and are, looking at ways to
cut costs.) If we have to raise our fees, are we apportioning the cost
correctly? We have new people, students, experienced members, people who just come to chat, does "one size fit all" with respect to membership
Is there a better way of handling the whole membership fee thing?
We've also been discussing the benefits of membership -- what do people see as the benefits of membership, and if we can add to the benefits.
Does that help? It's a pretty far ranging topic, and we're looking for
input from all perspectives.
*We are getting a few comments, mostly from the East and West Kingdoms who are assuming this is a "done deal". That is unfortunate, as it is panicking many needlessly, and not contributing to the overall discussion. I think it might be useful if any comments were to go to the GC (not to the Directors or Comment lists) list, so that the GC could actually see them and consider them.* ..
I'll reiterate, we have no plan to institute this, as we have no idea what
the plan, the goal or the process should be. The goal was to function as
proactive Board, and glean information about potential long term ideas
that may, or may not, benefit the Organization. No more.
PLEASE - If you cross post this make sure people know to comment to a GC member!
Finally, more than 24 hours later, we get some real information, sideways and buried, but real. The important thing, disguised in all the membership talk, appears to be about funding. Of course, Marilee then goes on to say that there is "no goal". If there is "no goal" then there was no reason to ask the questions at all. I see this as a trial balloon. I worry that it will lead to precipitous (and catastrophic) action further down the line.
There is still a problem with communication. What was the "goal" of NMS? The Board never said. The GC cannot comment on the matter of whether the NMS met its goal without knowing what the goal was. One commenter pointed out that membership grew from 25K to 35K shortly after the institution of the NMS. The problem with attributing that to the NMS is that at the same time the Board allowed Associate/Family members to count for branch status and to hold office (if there is a subscribing member at the same address), and that almost all the growth has been in Associate/Family memberships. The fact that the growth leveled off almost instantly suggests that the NMS didn't have much to do with it.
I know that the subscribing membership numbers in the West have dropped a small amount in the last five years, and that the attendance at events has dropped substantially over the last two or three years. I also know that the fraction of non-members at events in the West has been *very* stable for the last 14 years. (We had data in 1994 that showed 20-30% of attendance was non-members. My recent data from the West Kingdom Welcome Committee is that the percentage is just about the same now.) Data provided a few years ago to the GC showed that the 20-30% number was moderately consistent over all of the North American Kingdoms.
I still say the "firestorm" is its own message, especially since it hasn't, at least in what I have seen, been a firestorm. I think that most people reacted strongly, but with thought. That has especially been seen in the commentary relayed to the GC.
This has gone on at some length, without substantial suggestions, because I thought it useful, my King and Queen, to look at my reactions to the Board missives. Next up: My response to the questions of what does membership mean, should we expand/change membership, and how do we fund the SCA.
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