Economic challenges prompt Executive Committee to cut ACES’ budget, raise membership rates

Like the journalism industry and the economy as a whole, ACES is tackling tough financial challenges, leading the Executive Committee to make cuts in ACES’ budget and raise rates.

Only a couple of years ago, ACES had reserves of $300,000, with an annual budget of less than $200,000. The reserves were built over several years largely with generous sponsorships from news organizations, allowing ACES to run conferences at a profit while still keeping membership and conference-registration rates among the lowest for journalism organizations.

Those sponsorships disappeared with the good economy. Also, fewer employers paid for employees’ memberships or reimbursed members’ costs to attend the national conference. Inevitably, conference attendance dipped, yet ACES was locked into hotel contracts for each conference, which must be set up 18 to 24 months in advance.

Membership rates will change Nov. 1 to $75 for professionals and $40 for students; an announcement has been emailed to all current members. We want to hear from you about these changes. Leave your comments below or email us at info@copydesk.org.


Board notes: Read more about the board’s work from President Teresa Schmedding

In 2009 ACES had a deficit of nearly $98,000. In 2010, the deficit was $106,000. Two-thirds of the reserves were wiped away.

This year, with the Phoenix conference, we had a hotel contract that better suited our situation and the economy, and we got a lot of help from Arizona State University. So ACES nearly broke even on the conference, after last year losing more than $63,000. We’ve also negotiated a better hotel contract for our conference in New Orleans in 2012, so we hope to meet our expenses without dipping further into reserves.

We’re also making cuts elsewhere in the ACES budget. We’re considering a PDF version of our newsletter, for instance, to save mailing costs. We’re not buying ACES merchandise that isn’t selling well. We’re working to get conference items like the tote bags sponsored. We’re better targeting our promotional expenses.

Elected members of ACES’ Executive Committee, who serve as unpaid volunteers, have been reimbursed for their travel and hotel expenses at the annual conference, and they were given a $30 per diem to cover meals and other incidental expenses. The same was true for the board’s annual midterm meeting, held in the fall and serving as only the second time each year the board meets in person.

We decided this spring to no longer supply the per diem or cover any meals for the board. For our midterm meeting in the past couple of years we’ve also met and stayed at hotels with far cheaper rates than our conference hotel offered in its conference package. For this fall’s meeting we’ve similarly negotiated half-off discounts on hotel room rates. We actually debated over three phone meetings not having our midterm gathering at all this fall, but we concluded that it’s our most effective forum for making big decisions, undistracted by last-minute details, as we are when we meet the day before the conference in the spring. Yet we realize that, depending on finances, we later may have to cut our meeting expenses even further, possibly even paying more ourselves in order to have them.

And finally, we will have to raise membership rates for only the third time in ACES’ 15-year history. Later this year, the standard individual, professional annual rate will rise to $75, still among the least expensive for journalism and other professional organizations. The new rate comes closer to covering the actual costs of membership, which we determined in 2010 to be $82-$85 per member.

Conference rates have already risen, too, to ensure that conference expenses can be covered. Conference costs this year dropped more than 60 percent from last year and were 55 percent lower than the 2009 costs. They were 37 percent lower than those of the least expensive conference in the past six years (the Cleveland meeting in 2006). Yet the Phoenix conference still cost roughly $200 per registrant, or more when you consider some registrants attended only one day. For next spring’s conference our early-bird member rate has increased to $200 from $175. Other rates will rise as well, but we are keeping student registration rates the same.

Adding to your costs is not something the Executive Committee wants to continue, so we will keep working to find new ways to raise revenue for ACES, such as with new sponsorships and grants. ACES’ new status as a 501(c)3 organization, allowing donations to ACES to be tax-deductible, also will help ACES secure grants and other funding.

Meanwhile, we know ACES owes so much to you, the members, especially those of you who have been a part of the organization for so many years. We need to balance our budget, yes, but our top goal always is to advocate for you and provide you with knowledge, training and networking to help you advance your career and celebrate copy editing.

Editors’ note: We want to hear from you about these changes. Leave your comments below or email us at info@copydesk.org.