Installment Plan Suspended
09 February 2012
This February, the STC Board of Directors voted to indefinitely suspend the Installment Payment plan for membership dues. Ongoing technical issues and a renewed commitment to organizational fiscal responsibility made this difficult decision necessary. We understand that this will present significant challenges to some of our members, and we sincerely apologize for the inconvenience. In the interest of transparency, we’d like to provide some context and background on this important decision.
In 2009, as the global financial crisis unfolded, many STC members found themselves unemployed or underemployed. In an attempt to bridge the gap, STC conceived of and offered a new dues payment option that allowed members to cover the cost of dues in four interest-free payments.
The response, at first, was minimal. Only five members took advantage of the offer in 2009. But as the economic shockwaves spread throughout the industry, the numbers began increasing. In 2010, 271 members used the Installment Plan. In 2011, the number of members using the plan jumped to 893.
What had started as a short-term relief measure had become an increasingly popular membership payment option, comprising more than 10% of the applications submitted by new and renewing members. And since the Society required no affidavit of hardship, the Installment Plan was understandably used not only by those in need of work, but anyone wishing to defer their payment at no additional cost over a four-month period.
The Installment Plan was never intended for wide adoption. Paying by installment is not a common association practice, and there is no provision made for a plan of this nature in our Association Management Software (AMS). This means that every Installment Plan application must be processed manually—not just once, but on each of the four months of the plan. Manual accounting reconciliation, membership database updates and data entry are all required, using significant amounts of staff time. To complicate matters further, when a number of credit cards were declined on subsequent months of the installment payments, staff had to follow up to try to correct these errors. In some cases, the members could not be reached, leaving outstanding balances unpaid by individuals receiving full membership benefits. Three full-time staff members were spending a significant portion of their time addressing these issues.
In short, the current process for handling Installment Plan payments is simply not working. And continuing the Installment Plan at current levels of adoption would require hiring an additional part-time staff member, as well as extra contract hours with our AMS support vendor—expenditures we simply can’t afford post-recession. With fewer staff members and tighter financial controls being imposed across the entire organization, programs like the Installment Plan no longer make good business sense for STC.
We’ve evaluated a number of options we might extend to members experiencing financial hardship, but none that are currently available to us are cost effective for an organization that is running lean and analyzing every expense as a result of the recession. There may be additional options available to us as we continue our AMS upgrade path, but the initial investment in hardware, software, and infrastructure required to take the next step is prohibitive and will have to be delayed until our overall financial situation improves.
These are tough times. Our industry, our profession, and our association have all been deeply impacted by the repercussions of the global economic situation over the past few years. Purse strings are tighter, decisions are being made more deliberately and with greater reflection, and your membership in STC is something we must earn. We want you to know that we don’t take you for granted. We strive every day to provide valuable services and benefits to our members while pursuing our mission of advancing the arts and sciences of technical communication throughout the world. We want to thank you for sticking with us during the hard times and working together with us to build a better tomorrow for those working in our vital and growing industry.