Mr. Wolfe Goes to Washington

MWGTW06

Another dues increase?

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23 December 2005, Stacy, MN

I should have known things were going too well. I was just getting accustomed to the chauffeur-driven limousine that comes with being an Institute director when I was invited to attend a chapter membership committee meeting. Their intent was not to host a lunch in my honor, but to ask about two Institute issues: customer service response, and the FY 2005 dues increase. The board of directors deals with a lot of important issues - creating and maintaining standards, working with other organizations to improve the construction industry, education, certification, and more - but they must never forget that some of the most important issues are the day-to-day needs of our members.

Most members don't realize it, but our board of directors has made many tough decisions in the past several years. The first time I visited CSI headquarters - back in the good old days - it was in the building we owned. I don't know how many people worked there at the time, but it was a much larger office. Since then, there have been a number of reductions in staff and office space. At some point, publishing the Construction Specifier was farmed out, as was customer service.

During the last five years, costs increased while our income fell, and the inevitable result of this combination was downsizing. Our total staff is about thirty now, down from more than fifty just a few years ago. But, even while staff was being reduced, Member Services was brought back in-house, where it belongs. Currently there are four people in the Member Services department, who handle all e-mail and calls - and process orders, registration, member special requests, and invoicing.

This smaller staff is lean, mean, and hard working, but they are well aware of the importance of customer service and are continually searching for ways to make it better. The IT platform and database they use are being upgraded to make it easier to find information, and one of the reps will soon focus entirely on leader issues and requests, using a VIP Help Desk.

Customer service is largely an issue of perception; we tend to remember and talk about those few things that go wrong, rather than the many things that work as expected. Yes, some member service experiences have been less than satisfactory, but the vast majority have been handled promptly and effectively. There are a few glitches, but overall, Member Services is doing a great job. If something doesn't go as expected, ask that it be corrected. And when things are done as expected, remember to say thanks!

The other issue raised by the chapter - membership dues - attracted a lot of attention last year because the chapter's members faced simultaneous increases from chapter and Institute - the result being a forty-dollar bump in one year. Without new sources of income, dues increases will remain a fact of life. The Board has looked for ways to increase income; it has also cut costs to control our expenses. Those efforts have been successful, and our financial status is improving, but there is no way to avoid the effects of inflation.

Year Dues assessed Dues at 4% annual increase
1997

$155

$155

2002

$180

$189

2003

$195

$196

2005

$210

$212

Using 1997 as the base year, and assuming an annual inflation rate of four percent, it is clear that Institute dues have remained stable in constant dollars. To avoid large increases, should we consider establishing an annual increase pegged to inflation? Would it be better to see our dues go up a few dollars each year, or would you prefer an increase of twenty or thirty dollars every few years?

These are just a couple of the issues that are debated and decided by our board of directors. If you have questions or suggestions related to these or other matters, don't be bashful - contact your region or Institute directors! They need your input to help make decisions in the best interest of our members.

2006 Sheldon Wolfe, RA, FCSI, CCS, CCCA, swolfe@bwbr.com 


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