By Jeff Deschamps, National President and Jodi Arndt Labs, Executive Board Chair
At the national convention, delegates from across the country devoted much of their time to strategizing about how — working together — members, chapters, divisions, and the national office can strengthen the League. Members looked ahead to the future they want and began mapping out how to get there.
While the discussions were positive, most attendees agreed that as an organization, we’re not where we want to be. We don’t have the visibility in our communities or nationally that we desire. We’re not moving the needle on conservation and outdoor recreation policies as much as we could. And, unfortunately, the League faces real financial challenges that limit its ability to invest to help change these dynamics.
Because the League has lost some of its effectiveness as a conservation organization — mostly because of the challenges noted above — it has experienced declining revenues. Over the last five years, annual operating revenue declined by more than $700,000. During this same period, the League reduced operating expenses by more than $300,000 — in large part by eliminating staff positions and/or not filling positions when they became vacant. The number of national staff dropped from 24 employees in 2011 to 15 employees in August 2016.
As a result of declining revenues and restricted budgets, the national organization does not currently have the capacity to adequately and actively support members and chapters locally. It cannot advocate effectively on national policy issues or work aggressively to raise the visibility of the League. In order to become more effective, the organization needs to grow revenue.
Finances were a major topic of discussion at the national Board of Directors meeting this February. Realizing that we cannot cut expenses any further without undermining our ability to achieve the League’s mission, the Board voted overwhelmingly to propose a $10 increase in individual member national dues.
Per our bylaws, we brought the dues rate proposal to the chapter delegates for a vote at the national convention. Chapter delegates demonstrated their commitment to investing in the League’s future by voting — by a 2-to-1 margin — to support the proposed dues increase.
With a modest increase in individual member dues of 83 cents per month beginning in 2017, the League can invest to raise our visibility and more actively support members and chapters. This support can help us achieve our shared goals for conservation and outdoor recreation across America. The increase will also close the current funding gap and allow us to invest in programs that will make the League more effective.
Don’t think the proposed dues increase was an easy decision for our national leaders. We understand that we cannot rely solely on member dues to address the League’s decreased revenues. We recognize that the national organization has an obligation to raise additional revenue from other sources, including foundations, corporations, and individual donors. National leaders and staff are committed to achieving this goal going forward. The investments that we will make with this dues increase will help us achieve that goal.
Membership renewals for 2017 will include new national dues rates based on the formulas specified by the League’s national bylaws. The new individual rate will be $50 and the new family rate will be $75.
The focus throughout convention was on the future we want for the League. Members, leaders, and staff left with a renewed commitment to making an impact on conservation and outdoor recreation issues important to all of us. This dues increase is a direct investment in achieving that future.
We want to thank all of our members for their support and commitment to the League’s mission. It is the support of our members that will allow us to take the League into its 100th anniversary as a leading conservation organization.