PERC had been discussing the question of funding since at least 2008. In PERC’s initial years, the organization was funded by the DEP. Don Brown, PERC’s founder, had 80% of his DEP time allocated to working on PERC. DEP gave additional support. That is no longer the case.
As part of our application for 501(c)(3) status, we submitted a five year budget projection to the IRS . That budget foresaw hiring a part time executive director for 2010, phasing that position to full time in 2011 and phasing in a program manager as well as added infrastructure in subsequent years as the organization grows in participation, activity and impact.
After doing some research, the Executive Committee confirmed their original conjecture: a successful association organization must have a foundation of dues to pay for dedicated staff and infrastructure. On top of that foundation, the executive committee foresees the institution of yearlong sponsorships as well as conference underwriting and registration fees. Our initial revenue source projections are depicted in the chart below.
In addition, when we apply for grants, many funders look for a dues structure-- a dues structure shows that an organization is stable and viable. In fact, we have been told directly that having a dues structure would strengthen our proposals.
We didn’t take this lightly: We looked at a number of other non-profit organizations and studied their revenue models, especially the most similar organization—NJHEPS, the New Jersey Higher Education Partnership for Sustainability—in a lot of ways, our clone. We had a series of conversations with NJHEPS’ Executive Director about their funding.
The leading, most effective sustainability organizations have dues. The Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) has dues. AASHE has dues. NJHEPS has dues. We looked at all of their models.
We struggled to find the most affordable dues structure. We took into account a number of factors:
- Overall price per school
- Cost, when view as outlay per enrolled student
- Total funds each model raised
We ran and discussed multiple variations. And we talked about this being a challenging time financially for colleges and universities
At the end, we decided our recommendation would be to follow NJHEPS basic model (which ranges from $1,000 to $4,000), but lower the dues fees substantially for implementation in Pennsylvania. Once the Executive Committee had a recommended dues structure, it moved to communicate to PERC membership about both the new PERC mission, vision and plans for the future as well as the dues plan to partially fund that vision.
The Executive Committee held two webinars as part of the ReVision 2010 process during May, covering PERCs plans for the future and a proposed plan to fund those plans. The proposal included annual corporate sponsorships, conference fees and underwriting as well as dues. The proposed dues are shown below. A recorded version of the webinar was made available for those who couldn’t attend.
A vote on the proposal was requested. Some schools cast their vote during the webinar; others cast via email. The result: the motion carried. Out of 35 institutions participating via the Webinars, 24 voted “yes” and 1 voted “no.” The PERC executive committee moved to implement the dues structure.