As choruses gather after the summer hiatus, many singers will be faced with the annual dues question and quietly (or not so quietly) grumbling.
If I were to ask you if you would like to pay dues the answer might be ‘no.’ Who, after all, ‘enjoys’ paying for anything?
So why do our choruses request members to shell out for annual dues?
The short and, perhaps, brutal answer is, “your chorus needs the money.”
I remember, back in July of 2008, when the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus (whom I was privileged to serve as Executive Director at that time) was granted an $180K operating grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, there was a hope expressed in some quarters that membership dues might become a thing of the past. I suggested, “a few days of sunshine does not a summer make and although recent trends have been encouraging we have a long way to go.” Prophetic words. Ten weeks later the stock market took a nosedive and by December the worst recession since the Great Depression was officially underway.
The longer answer is that there are sound financial, structural and spiritual reasons why we should welcome to opportunity to have skin in the game:
1. A sense of belonging – When I pay a membership fee for an organization, I feel a greater connection to that organization, an investment, and an interest in how that money is spent.
2. The power of the purse – Dues account for a significant percentage of the annual budget. The power of the purse is (most often) used wisely by singers. Nevertheless, those setting the budget are more likely to listen to the views and concerns of those contributing to it. Most boards listen and take their responsibilities very seriously, but what of those that don’t and what of the future? Boards come and go, ED’s come and go and organizations go through healthy phases and phases that are less healthy. Although rarely exercised, the power of the purse is a healthy mechanism that helps ensure that neither the board nor the membership succumb to the temptation to make a rubber stamp out of the other.
3. Financial stability – Diversity is one of our core values as a movement and one that should apply at all levels, including funding sources. Smart organizations seek to diversify their funding base by having several revenue streams – sponsors, foundations, box office, merchandise, special events, donors, membership dues etc. This means that fluctuations and conditions that negatively affect one area (i.e. concerts) don’t end up sinking the ship.
4. Member services cost money – Think about all the work that goes into providing member services: The telephone calls, emails, administration, rehearsals, music and so on.
5. Donor Cultivation – A financial investment in the wellbeing of your chorus can be the first step on the road to becoming a donor. A quick look at your chorus’ donor list will probably reveal that somewhere in the neighborhood of 50% of your top donors are members and staff.
6. Fundraising Potential – It is tempting to think in terms of getting someone else to pay for whatever it is we need, but philanthropic contributions are enhanced and amplified when funders and donors see the organization’s board and members showing leadership and contributing, either by donating or paying dues.
It is also worthwhile remembering that for some choruses the payment of dues is completely voluntary. For example, the variety of dues plans that the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus offers allow for 100% of dues to be satisfied by the provision of volunteer labor. Even, then waivers exist in special circumstances.
No matter how much money your chorus has it will always be a good idea to have a dues structure. I hope, by sharing the reasons for this with you, I have been able increase your understanding and appreciation of this part of your chorus.