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Abstract: The question of membership with respect to the SCA Inc. is discussed. Myths about membership are discussed, including that of "freeloaders". The questions issued by the Board to the Grand Council are addressed, followed by an analysis of what the SCA, Inc. provides to the SCA as a society. The conclusion is that "membership" as a way to raise money for the operations of the SCA, Inc. is no longer the most viable model for supporting the necessary functions of the SCA, Inc. Two possible models are proposed and briefly discussed.
OK, this is going to take a while, so go get a beer or some tea or whatever. I'll wait. (There's almost 5000 words in here, better make that a double lattechino with an extra shot or maybe a good glass of single malt.)
[[While I'm waiting, I think that the rest of
you who haven't gone to get drinks should all go look at the 2007
SCA Budget, especially looking at the numbers in the Budget as compared to the lovely table of actual totals extending back to 2000. I could wish that some of the categories were better explained, but that's never been a strong point for the Board or the SCA officers. I wish I could understand some of the entries in the Budget section at all.]]
Oh, good, you're back.
Some of you may have noted that I haven't had a whole lot to say (yet) on this latest confusion / ker-fluffle from the Board. In part this is due to the fact that most of you already know most of my opinions. More importantly, I have been thinking as deeply as I can about the matter in order to see if I can't come up with some answers to the questions that were asked of the Grand Council, and possibly to come up with a way to clean up the problems of funding the SCA that I know and love. (Writing this has been a trip down memory lane. The amount of cutting and pasting I could have done was amazing. The amount I did was nil; I figured I should give you new words.)
A lot of the emotional content that has come out of the current eructation from the board has to do with the term "member".
What is a member of the
Well, the Board only accepts one answer -- someone who has paid money for a membership card of some sort, but that ignores the history of the SCA. Back in the bright beginnings of the SCA there was no question. The SCA Inc. did not exist, so you were a member if you said you were. Even after the SCA was incorporated and set up the first Corporate Documents, there were different classes of members including "Attendees at events." There were 6 or 7 different classes ranging from Lifetime down to Class H, people attending a tournament. The basic membership was $3 and that was that. It was shortly thereafter (1970) that the first requirements went in. Since that time the whole matter of increased requirements for membership have been a matter of the Board taking away a previously free activity, restricting its exercise to paid members, and then advertising it as a "benefit" of membership.
Some people, myself included, see members as being anyone who actively contributes to the well being of the SCA, either with money or with labor, or with both.
But why do we have "members" at all? The SCA, Inc. is not a membership corporation; it does not have any legal members, that is to say people who can vote for the Board of Directors and vote on changes of Corporate Policy. We have members because... well, because organizations have members, don't they? We didn't know any better, any more than we knew a lot of information about the Middle Ages when we started this thing. It wasn't important at first. It has become more and more important. As the Board has taken away the freedoms of attendees and restricted them, myths have grown up because people felt that there had to be "good reasons" for the requirements. So the myth appeared that it was important for officers to be members, even though our kind of membership lends no liability protection or amelioration, that it was important for fighters to be members because they were doing something that affected our insurance, even though they don't. (SCA fighting at one point was rated by an insurance company as being less dangerous than tiddly-winks.) Now these myths are brought up in arguments like the ones started by this latest bit of fluff.
Why are they brought up? Because the whole matter of "membership", however defined, has become conflated with "monetary contribution to the SCA, Inc." How? The Board did it to themselves. The earliest members were the source of corporate funds. Early requirements for membership, most likely based on faulty ideas about liability, increased funding. After that, new requirements for membership were seen by the Board as a way to increase Corporate funding. Most people who bring up the "everyone should be a member" are continuing to either promulgate the myths or operate under the assumption that the only way to support the SCA is through money paid to be a member.
In addition, there are people who are perfectly aware of the lack of value of the "membership" who still want to keep it and require it. Why? Because if they are a "member" of the SCA, and other people are not, they can see those people as "other", and themselves as special. They crave a certain exclusivity. I am not making this up -- this was directly expressed to me by a person who was an SCA-wide officer at the time. That is, in my opinion, a bit over the top, but there are lots of people who just like to be able to flash a card and say that this proves they are a member of a specific organization. That needs to be kept in mind when we are looking at possible actions.
I covered some of the myths about membership in a previous posting. I will briefly summarize: Fighting does not increase the liability affecting our insurance. Being a member is not inherently necessary to reducing the liability of a person being an officer. Having an up-to-date roster of officers and volunteers is the only thing that will basically save our (and the officers') asses. The liability insurance that the SCA has does not cover fighters, or dancers, or any of us. It protects the people we rent halls from. Waivers are useful in court, but are not connected to membership, even now.
Now here's another thing that keeps coming up that I don't understand. It's the statement often made in disputes about membership, "All the other groups I belong to require membership to participate / hold office / help out."
The reason that I don't understand it is that I give money to lots of 501(c)3 charitable organizations. None of them has any limitation with respect to members vs. non-members. I belong to several that do not even call me a member when I send them money. Now, I do not contribute to fraternal organizations, or sports clubs -- and I do not think that those organizations are parallel in organization/purpose to the SCA. I do have a membership in a professional group, but it's not charitable. I contribute to environmental protection groups, refugee relief agencies, the Red Cross (which graciously acknowledges me as a contributor and does not call me a "member"), family assistance agencies, food banks, public radio and television. None of them -- NONE -- will turn down a volunteer because he/she has not given money to the organization. So my question for others to answer is, "What are these 'other organizations' and what makes them more comparable to the SCA than the ones I have named?" My next question, of course, is, "Why should we give a hoot what the policies of these organizations are?"
Another set of myths are the myths of the freeloaders. "There are lots of them. They don't support the SCA, and if they were all members membership costs could go down."
First off, everyone pays the site fee, and there is (we hope) a little positive margin built into each one, so that the branch makes a little money on the event. So: everyone is contributing to the event and the local branch. Most of them are working, too -- or are willing to work if someone asks them to help. These days, with the NMS, they are paying *more* than their fair share for things like insurance. The overall cost for that is less than $3/person/YEAR, not $3/person/event. (Person, not member.)
There aren't a lot of them. A couple of years after the current NMS went into effect, the Grand Council was given numbers on the NMS broken out by Kingdom. The overall results were that somewhere between 20% and 30% of the attendees at an event were non-members. This number was not correlated to location of Kingdom, nor had it changed in the two years we were given. Similar numbers need to be somewhere for more recent years but have not been released. In the West, I know what the numbers are for major events in Central West. They vary from event to event between 15% and 30%. That hasn't changed in the last five years, and it is the same as the numbers that we had in 1994 and 1995. Due to statistics, the above results are not quite the same as saying we only have 25% non-members in total, since we don't know the details of event attendance by non-members, but it does mean that we don't have a huge excess of non-members playing in the game. The most recent figures in the Budget actuals for 2006 show that $166,000 was collected as NMS. That corresponds to 55,300 person entrances to SCA events. The poll taken some time back showed that most non-members attended 2-5 events, but that a significant number attended many more than that. The overall weighted average could be anywhere from 3 to 5. That corresponds to somewhere between 18,000 and 11,000 non-members, total. This figure also agrees well with the observation that 20% to 30% of attendees at events are non-members.
Finally the argument goes that, even so, if they were all members it would cut down on membership costs.
Right after the imposition of the NMS SCA
membership numbers increased from 25,000 to 32,000. (I don't think
this actually had anything to do with the NMS, since at the same
time the Board made Associate and Family members eligible for
counting for branch status and officer status. The increase
immediately leveled off, and membership has remained constant for
the last four years, which implies to me that the continuing NMS did
not have anything to do with it.) That's a 25% increase in the
number of members, almost all of them at the Family and
Associate level. There appears to have been no abiding improvement in the SCA, Inc. budget, since the board is again crying poor. If you look at the Budget, you will see a corrresponding increase in the office costs. The reason for this is the fact that almost all of the money that is sent to Milpitas is spent on the simple processing of memberships. If the number of members goes up, those costs go up, proportional to the number of members.
It seems to me that the answer to the problem of non-members participating is that it's not actually a problem, but it is a convenient demon. It is, due to the myths that abound, a *very* convenient demon.
In the following, I say "The Board asked." I am taking these items from the "clarification"s that were posted from the Board ombudsman, Marilee, to the Grand Council list.
The Board asked the question:"Does the NMS help us, or not? Is there a better way to accomplish the same goals?"
It would have been nice if they had let us know what their goal for the NMS was, but let us presume that it was to increase membership. It obviously has NOT worked; membership seems to be stable It has raised money, but that money could have been raised by other means - means which the Board refused to accept. In my opinion it has made recruitment more difficult; it most certainly has been less than welcoming to new people, or to returning members who remember the good old days. Certainly it is the sort of tax that is self-defeating. If it actually did bring in everyone to being members, the income would go away.
The Board asked: "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."
I would point out first that the current
"benefits of membership" are artificial and are take-aways that are being "given" back. I have already established the myths about officers and "fighters". The newsletter is a "benefit" only for subscribing members and these days is becoming much less of a benefit. More and more information is available on the internet, and only the restrictive policies of the SCA Chronicler's Office as madated by the Board keep it all from being available on the web. (In the West there are some additional Kingdom policies, but there are tech-solutions to privacy concerns. They just cannot be implemented due to the SCA policies.) There will always be people who are off the web. The availability of a printed copy is something that should be maintained. However, attempting to keep the information tightly reigned in has already failed.
With respect to officers, the requirement that they have a subscription to the newsletter worked in the early days as a tool of control, but it no longer works when every Kingdom office assumes that most of the subordinates to that office will be subscribing to the e-list for that office, and the Kingdom Officers are *required* to be subscribing to the SCA-wide e-mail list for their office. The current requirement that an officer have the newsletter coming into their home is just as artificial as the other takeaways.
What would I see as a true "benefit of membership"? Something that the Board negotiated using a small amount of the money they have taken from us. Something that we cannot get as individuals on our own without spending a *lot* of money. Something like that would be true "benefit of membership." Something like, oh, membership access to Britannica Online, or better yet, JSTOR. Enter the SCA access code and your e-address and membership number. (You would have provided the e-address as part of your desire to use the benefit.) Bingo! Research at your fingertips.
The Board asked: "Should there be a uniform fee structure across all Kingdoms? Would an "A la Carte" format be more useful for the membership?" The initial query said: "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...?"*_ "
I didn't quite know how to interpret this one. Adding "mandatory membership" (aka pay to play / pay to participate) will, in my opinion, break the SCA as a unified whole. The West and the East at least would break off. This is not to say that they would cease being the SCA, but they would no longer be part of the SCA, Inc., any more than Acre or Adria is. "Pay to get an award" is completely foreign to most Kingdoms, but religion in others. Ditto with "pay to fight." I don't think that the membership requirements currently in place can be expanded much at all without getting ridiculous. "Pay to enter an Arts Competition" would be laughed off the stage and reduce the already low numbers of entrants.
As for "consistent across the SCA" -- with respect to membership it has been too late to close that barn door for at *least* a decade, probably two. Given the differences now in those Kingdoms based in mundanely different nations, and the different laws that cover them, I doubt if it can be done at all. Australia is going towards "membership to fight", not because they particularly want to, but because it is a really good thing to do in terms of the mundane attitude towards weapons in modern Australia, and the tremendously restrictive laws being enacted there. Luckily we do not have that problem (yet) in the United States.
As for a uniform "fee structure across all Kingdoms" and "A la carte" -- I'm not at all sure how to interpret that, either, unless they are thinking about the possibility of payment of $X for a "basic membership" +$Y if you are going to fight, +$Z if you are going to be an officer, +$Q if you are going to fence, +$R if you are going to do equestrian activities. If that is what they were thinking -- fuggetaboutit. The bureaucratic overhead would kill the SCA in no time, provided that simply bypassing the system didn't kill it first. If nothing else it would kill the ability to experiment that is an inherent part of the SCA that I know. Right now we have, "Come on, you won't know if you like fighting/equestrian/fencing unless you put on a helm / get in the saddle / pick up a blade, and try it out." Compare to: "The constables (gate) need volunteers. Only those with puce officer cards can be accepted. Please come and help us." OK, I picked the "puce" color for affect. Did you laugh?
The Board asked: "Is there a better way of handling the whole membership fee thing?"
To which I answer: "There has to be. The current system is broken."
What does membership
To some people it is a form of identity. "I am a member of the SCA, an international group devoted to re-creation of the good aspects of the Middle Ages." To some it seems to be a religious rite of acceptance. To others it is just, "what I have to do to play as I want to in the SCA." As far as the SCA, Inc., is concerned, it is meaningless. As far as our insurance company is concerned it is a measure for our potential liability, but it is not the only, or even the most reliable, measure. For some of us, it is a thing that we would cheerfully pay IF it was not a required thing. (For myself, I would be just as happy to send money to the SCA, Inc., in response to the same sort of begging letters that I get from all my other charitable organizations. As it is, I send in my membership and I pay a significant amount of donations to the SCA, Inc. in addition to my site fees.) If there were real, not artificial, benefits to membership, those would add meaning, but there aren't any.
What does the SCA, Inc., do?
**It provides a semblance of uniformity of activities over the SCA as a whole. As has been pointed out in the Grand Council, the existence of the Corporation in and of itself gives some protection to those acting on behalf of the corporation in terms of individual liability for corporate actions. Its existence, and its longevity buy us a semblance of respectability.
**It buys liability insurance so that local groups can rent halls, parks and fields. The central office also handles request for "named insured" certificates and equestrian riders for the insurance.
**It buys Directors and Officers Insurance to help protect those who act on behalf of the SCA. (But there are significant limitations in that coverage that are not the fault of the SCA, Inc., but of "standard industry practices.")
**It is, as of the last I heard, going to pay half the fee for background checks for SCA folk who are going to deal with children on an official basis.(This is $7 per person, which is a really good price, and it remains to be seen how much it is going to cost because we have no idea how many people are going to have to be checked.)
**It pays for the meetings of the Board of Directors. I may have problems with how *much* it pays, but the meetings are necessary, and I feel it is a legitimate expense.
**It pays salaries/stipends for certain SCA Officers and expenses for the rest of them. The Directors serve without pay, but the Society Seneschal and the Treasurer are paid positions and the TI editor and art director receive stipends (as of the last time I was privy to such things).
To my mind, these are all reasonable expenses related to the job of the Corporation as the mundane cover operation/protection for our Society.
In addition, the Corporation pays for an office and staff to handle all the memberships, membership inquiries, subscriptions, processing, lists, etc, etc. et freaking cetera. (Note that this part of the budget is largely devoted to processing memberships and subscriptions, and that in my opinion it is done badly and with great expense. Note also that the cost of this "service" is proportional to membership so that it will always increase with increased number of members. Office Expenses across the board took a jump in 2003 with the increase in number of members and have remained high since then.) I do know that with the increase in on-line memberships and the decision to no longer mail huge packs of paper to each renewing member, some costs have been cut, but the combined salaries and other costs of the SCA office are more than half of the total corporate expenses not related to actual production of the publications.
The Corporation also runs the Stock Clerk, and it is heavily subsidized by the membership. It shares space with the rest of the corporate office, and the salaries and benefits are not separated out. As far as I am concerned the T-shirts and stuff could be done away with, and the manuals and the like could be farmed out to Print on Demand sites to the benefit of all.
OK, there are legitimate expenses (the first list) -- How do we fund them?
In my opinion the current model of membership is being strained to the limit. Even with the NMS there is a sociological division between "members" and "non-members" which is not good for the SCA as a whole. Any attempt to institute "mandatory membership" will meet with incredible resistance in some locations and fragment our current whole even more than it is currently fragmented. Raising the membership fees will make us even more of a marginal activity in circumstances that are already marginal. (Attendance at events in the West is off, despite essentially constant membership numbers. Gas costs and perception of this as a marginal activity are behind this, I think.) In addition, the artificial nature of the "benefits of membership" is obvious, and increasingly resented, at least in some areas. If there were true *benefits*, that would be something different, but there aren't.
Increasing the NMS has been suggested. Either this will raise more money that the Board doesn't feel shy about spending, or it will drive non-members away (thus reducing the take) or it will drive them to memberships, probably of the cheapest variety, which will increase the costs of processing memberships. Given that those who pay the NMS are already grossly overcharged with respect to their fair share of expenses, it seems to me to be a bad idea.
I think that we need to abandon the membership model (on an SCA-wide level) as a source of funding of the SCA, Inc. We have already abandoned it for the SCA branches in Europe and Australia, and I think it is time to bring the US and Canada into the same mold. Note: I am NOT proposing separate incorporations in separate states -- in the USA it isn't really needed. But I am saying that we need to abandon the model of the SCA Office as the "control point" for all things SCA.
Back in 2003, I proposed a model that everyone
who attended an event became a member (PMP). You can look at it
at my website . It was attacked by some due to the increased effort of maintaining lists of members at a local level. (It was also attacked by those who thought it made membership too easy to attain.) It was developed in consultation with several people in the Grand Council, and I had been convinced during development of the idea that I needed to continue the idea of "membership" to get people to buy into it. I am no longer convinced.
1 : Charge every event a set fee for every person in the gate. If we like we can discount minors to half the adult fee. Or we can decide not to. Note that the event is responsible for payment, not the individual.
I used in 2003 were based on the costs in 2001 and 2002. The insurance
cost has since increased by 50%, board meetings by more than that,
and other costs seem to have been increased and aggregated. I do
wish there was more detail in the Budget. So, the cost per person
per event is probably now $1.50 to $2 rather than the $1 I proposed
at the time. For the big Wars, I'd
keep the $5 per person, and for Pennsic keep the $10. This would generate
more than enough money to run the corporation, since the Office Budget
would be slashed. It would also remove the need to check for
membership status for entry in crown lists, officers, etc., since there would
be no members. Reduction on bureacracy is good, in my
In terms of the newsletters, in the transition period you would get what you've paid for up front, and since restricted access will no longer be an issue, the internet can bloom. For those, like myself, who like hardcopy, organization of the local (Kingdom) newsletter will be handled locally.
Advantage: Everyone pays -- everyone plays. The cost is small per event, and easily built into the site fee. Bureaucratic bullsh*t is low. Waivers are filed (roster waivers/sign-in sheets are valid waivers), a check is written (just as it is now for the NMS), and it's all over. If you go to lots of events, you pay more. If you go to fewer, you pay less. It is clearly proportional to your usage of the resources of the SCA, Inc.
OK, but some people like to be "members".
(Remember I mentioned that?)
This can be done. Have the SCA Marketing
Committee design exclusive premiums -- sweatshirts, coffee
mugs, etc., just like your local NPR station does. For a $50
donation to the SCA you get a card with the title Donor
Member of the SCA, and a spiffy SCA coffee mug or
sweatshirt. For a $100 donation you get both premiums and the card
says you are a Patron Member of the SCA. For $150
(less than $3 per week!) you get the other two premiums plus your
choice of the latest CD from Arkeodok or the Thames finds. Your card
says you are a Grand Patron Member of the SCA . All the Donors, Patrons and Grand Patrons are listed on a special page on the SCA website for a year. At the end of the year the next mailings go out, with new premiums. It works for The Yosemite Fund and my local NPR station. It could work for the SCA.
What does this get you at the event? Nothing. But you have the satisfaction of your membership card and your name out in front of everyone. (And the CDs are super.)
If the SCA can negotiate discounts at OSH, Home Depot, Tandy, University Press, etc., that would be a good benefit for the Donors. If we can get non-profit access to JSTOR, that would be a fine benefit for the Patrons and Grand Patrons. (And still cost a lot less than what it would cost you to do it yourself.)
That's ONE model. Another one with a certain attractiveness is the Kingdom-based membership model.
The Kingdoms are assessed a portion of the needed budgetary funds based on attendance at events in their Kingdom in the previous year. We have those numbers -- the records are part of the storage of waivers and the accounting under the current system for the NMS. There are still no memberships paid to the SCA, Inc. but the Kingdom may sell memberships in the Kingdom, which will be recognized by all other Kingdoms, just as fighter authorization cards are now. The Kingdoms would be responsible for coming up with their fair share of the costs of the operation of the SCA, Inc. and could raise the money as they saw fit.
This allows "membership" Kingdoms to sell memberships and apply member discounts as they wish. Those Kingdoms who don't care about that can either not sell memberships at all, or use the spiffy cards to raise money to pay the Corporate Share. Newsletters would still go mostly to the web except for the few hard-copy geeks.
And the SCA, Inc., could still do additional NPR-style fundraising for extra projects as with Solution 1.
I think it's time.
"Membership" needs to go.
Frederick of Holland, Dux, MSCA, OP, OL, Baro., etc. etc. etc.
(Holder of membership number 09310, which he would happily give up for his Donor Member card.)
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