A $30 dues hike sailed through the Assembly of PRSA on Oct. 15 by a vote of 209-53 after less than ten minutes of discussion.

The clinching argument was that 90-95% of members don’t pay their own dues and their employers aren’t going to balk at a $30 jump.

About half of the Society’s members are in government, association, educational, healthcare and non-profit posts where belonging to a professional association is seen as a mark of a professional and necessary for continuing education.

The financial squeeze on PRS tightened as it reported a loss of $852,720 for the first nine months vs. a loss of 462,688 in same 2010 period.

Dire actions had been threatened if the dues hike did not go through including suspension of the in-person Assembly, cancellation of the $140,000 “weekend in New York” for 134 chapter presidents-elect, section and district heads, and cancellation of the free webinars that PRS has been providing helped by the sponsorship of Reuters.

Having obtained the increase, leaders now say none of those draconian measures are needed.

An ominous note was struck when leaders said there will be a new “loyalty program” that will reward “the most valuable members.”

This points to more gravy for the insiders such as those who go to the “Leadership Rally” each June.

Also highly loyal are the more than 20 living ex-presidents and chairs who are being urged to become Assembly delegates.

They get free conference admittance and free dues for life and can be counted on to support board aims.

Leaders talked several times about the “speaker stipends” that are sent to certain chapters, probably those most in tune with the aims of the staff and national board.

There is no record of how this money is doled out to the chapters.

“Loyal” members can be rewarded with reimbursement for travel, meals and hotels related to Society activities.

Dues Hike Is a Gamble

There has been plenty of opposition to the hike from individual members and some chapters including Richmond, Central Illinois and Sierra Nevada.

Those opposed to the hike say the average chapter member pays about $50 a year to the chapter but will now be sending five times as much to national ($255) to support the $5.6 million payroll and $750,000+ occupancy costs (about $35 per sq. ft. for the 22,500 sq. ft.

PRS traditionally renews about 75% of members meaning a loss of $1.1 million in dues income (at the $225 rate) that will have to be replaced by new or returning members.

The $30 hike will gross a little over $500,000 because many of the 21,000 members are either retired or pay a lesser rate because they’re just out of college or some other reason.

The increase at the national level makes it difficult if not impossible for any chapters to raise their dues.

Form 990 Is Being Withheld

IRS Form 990, which has the pay/fringes of the eight highest paid staffers, was withheld from the Assembly for the third year in a row. Delegates only got the nine-month report on the morning of the Assembly.

VP-PR Arthur Yann, asked where the 990 was, said that legally the Society has until Nov. 15 to file it. He gave no indication as to when it would be available.

In the past two years, a printed copy has been waiting for this reporter upon returning from the conference. This is O.K. but what’s needed is a 990 in electronic form. That can be linked in a web story or in an e-mail to someone. The electronic version of 990s take from three to six months to get posted on GuideStar or Foundation Center 990 Finder because of formatting work that needs to be done.

Attendance Is 2,500+

An initial listing of registrants totaled 950 but PRS provided registrants on Oct. 13 with an expanded list of about 1,460.

Yann said there were about 1,000 students present and the final total full package, day tickets, supplier personnel and press would total nearly 3,000.

The media room at this year’s conference was a far cry from media rooms of a couple of decades ago.

At that time the press room was located adjacent to the main registration desk and had typewriters, phones, copying machines as well as fruit, pastries and coffee. In later years, PRS supplied computers and printers.

A table and chairs was set up so Society leaders could be interviewed by the reporters in the room. A bulletin board was decorated with placements about PRS in the local and national press

Cut to this year and the media room is on another floor far from the flow of traffic. There’s no equipment at all and no copies of speeches or the financial report.