Treasurer’s Report for FY2013

  Treasurer’s Report for FY2013
John DiGilio
SLA Treasurer 2013-2015
Vancouver, BC   •   June 2014

Accompanying Slides

Hello SLA!  Hello Vancouver!  Hello to each and every one of you who has traveled from far and near to join us here today.  I extend these greetings to all who have joined us here in the flesh and to all of our colleagues who are joining us in spirit from home.  Whether you are sitting here today or following along from a distance, you are an integral part of this Association, its success, and its future!

[Slide 1 – SLA Map]

Over the years, I have never failed to be awestruck when coming through the conference doors and seeing the diversity, dedication, and enthusiasm that is part and parcel of our SLA. Just look around you.  We do not do the same things in our jobs.  Our families and networks vary.  We do not always agree on what needs to be done.  But yet here we all are – united in a love of this industry and this Association.  I know I risk sounding like a broken record . . . but WE ARE ONE SLA.

[Slide 2, Tap 1 – “ONE SLA” Text ]

My time on this stage before you today is short.  Know that you have my ear throughout this conference and beyond, however.  For the sake of maximizing our time together here and now, I want to talk to you about three things.  If you have been following the discussions this year on SLA’s finances and future, these three items are probably already at the very top of your mind.  Yet, if I succeed in just one thing today, let it be sending you out of this session with a burning desire to keep this discussion going.

[Slide 2, Tap 2 – “Challenges, Opportunities, Actions” Text ]

I ask that you give me your ears these next several minutes while I share three important themes with you: the CHALLENGES SLA has  and continues to face, the OPPORTUNITIES we have before us as an organization, and the ACTIONS each and every one of us can take as individuals to ensure the health and vitality of our beloved Association today and for generations of librarians and information professionals to come.

You have heard me talk about the challenges SLA faces before.  They really do not change from year to year or even among organizations.  But as you have also heard me say before, the Special Libraries Association is not just any organization . . . it is our organization . . . our home.  Thus, if it sounds like SLA leaders have long talked about these same challenges over and over again, it is because we cannot afford to let down our guard or become complacent in addressing them.  This protracted period of global economic instability as well as changes in the way our industry works and networks have made confronting these challenges even more immediate.  I am talking specifically about the challenges of balancing revenue and expenses, maintaining membership, and offering a successful annual conference.

[Slide 3 – CHALLENGES: Revenue & Expenses]

Let’s start with the challenge that most prominently comes to many of our minds – the issue of revenue and expenses.  I say it comes to mind first because, when it comes to money, most of us immediately think of balance sheets.  Just over a decade ago, the world economy was different.  Our industry was different.  SLA was different.  Perhaps most importantly and clearly reflective of those days, our Association’s balance sheet was much different.  Our revenue was outpacing our expenses, setting us up for a period of exploring who we were as an organization and where we aspired to go.  This surplus period was short-lived to be sure.  Yet it put us in a position to not only stave off the early days of the downturn, but to tackle additional investments as we sought to both celebrate our history and redefine our future.  No one could have predicted the market retractions that were coming or that economies would slide on such a global scale.  As the world’s markets turned downward, so did our own revenues.  As members found themselves in challenging financial positions, we were challenged as an Association to bring our own expenses in line with those shrinking revenues while still taking care of our own.  The battle of the budget sheet was long and hard, but SLA proved it was willing to put up a fight.  With budget cuts and staff cuts and myriad other measures, we have been fighting the battle to balance since.

It was almost a year ago that I stood before you and, in giving my first speech as your Treasurer, recognized our hard-working staff at headquarters for the work they were doing to balance the operations budget and even generate some small surpluses.  I ask you to join me in offering them our gratitude and our applause yet again.

[Pause for Applause if Offered]

In that same speech, I also told you, however, that balancing that budget alone was only going to get us so far and that there were other factors that weighed in just as heavily and which are more attributable to us as members and in our units.

[Slide 4 – Membership]

Thus that brings me to the next of the major challenges facing SLA and perhaps its most fundamental – Membership.  It is no secret that our Association is smaller today than it has been in quite a number of years.  Relatively speaking, we still boast a membership number that many organizations would be thrilled to reach.  But we have to remember that underlying what we bring in as income, the things in which we are expected to invest, and the money we have to spend on services and programs is directly tied to those membership numbers.  Members pay dues.  Members come to conference.  As the pool shrinks, so does the liquidity it has to offer.  The good news is that membership finally seems to be holding steady.  We are a leaner bunch, which should make us more nimble.  But this does not mean that we should rest on the status quo.  No, our mission is quite clear.  Our challenge is not only to grow our membership, but to retain and re-engage the members we have.

[Slide 5, Tap 1 – CONFERENCES graphic]

Re-engagement is the perfect segue into the final major challenge I wish to address today – our conference. SLA’s current financial model counts on membership for just over a quarter of our annual revenue.  The really big fish in the pond is our annual conference, on which we rely for over half of our Association’s revenue.

[Slide 5, Tap 2 – CONFERENCES highlight box]

From the members who show up for quality programming and to peruse the booths in our exhibit hall to the sponsors and business partners whose presence here and throughout the year help make that programming and those displays possible, SLA heavily on a successful annual gathering to keep it financially viable.  When you hear our leadership encouraging us to invest in ourselves by coming to conference, what they are really saying is “Come…learn, network, grow, and INVEST IN YOUR ASSOCIATION.”  A smaller pool of members means we need to attract a greater percentage to attend and that, in turn, means we need to be offering a conference that is worthy of your investment.  I am going to say more on this shortly.  But I do know that as I look around the room and see many familiar faces, some of us are saying, “He is preaching to the choir.  We are here every year.  Wouldn’t miss it.”.  But trust me when I say that every one of us here . . . whether we are attending our first conference or our fifteenth, can get involved in making this annual event a continued draw and a continued success!

[Slide 6, Tap 1 – Opportunities graphics]

You see my friends, it is in these trials that SLA is presented with its greatest opportunities for growth and future vitality. How we rise to meet these challenges here and now ultimately determines the destiny of this great Association. We have heard enough about declining revenues, reduced expenses, budget cuts, and the like. The necessary course of action is beyond debate. It is time we turned these trends around!  Opportunities wasted are opportunities lost.  As your Treasurer, I say to you without hesitation that though I clearly see the challenges we face, what I see more importantly are the opportunities our Association needs to embrace.

[Slide 6, Tap 2 – Arrow graphic]

To seize the possibilities and face the challenges is going to take the commitment, enthusiasm, and hard work of everyone in this Association – every member, every staffer, every leader – every first timer and every fellow – every caucus, chapter, and division. We are in this together. We have to be. It took more than a handful of people to build this Special Libraries Association and it is going to take even many times more than that to maintain it.  I have said it before and I will say it again. We are ONE SLA and there is no finer an Association for library and information professionals anywhere.   My friends, if we really intend to keep it that way, it is time for action!

[Slide 7 – Actions]

During my speech last year, I promised you that the Finance Committee was going to be re-examining not only the budget at the time, but also the way in which our Association operated and what that could mean for its future.  It was an amazing exercise that led us to present the Board with a striking recommendation.  We cautioned that we could hold the line on spending and keep trying to balance the budget, but that in the long run, such an approach was simply not sustainable.  Immediate and radical change to the way SLA operates, we warned, was essential to our longevity and vitality.  I have since been heartened by the actions I have seen our Board and staff take.  Task forces made up of Board members, staff, and member volunteers took on everything from revenue generation to conference re-envisioning and even unit restructuring.  Every stone is being turned in a magnanimous effort to ensure that the legacy of SLA is secure and that its future remains promising.  Change is certainly afoot.

As we know all too well, however, change and the actions it requires are seldom easy.  Even the most reasonable minds may differ over how best to achieve a single and shared purpose.  What matters most in such circumstances is that we not lose sight of the goal we share nor the need for respect and dialog among colleagues.  It is imperative that we not forget that we are in this together.

You heard me talk about what the Board and the Staff and some of our task forces have been doing.  But the solution to the puzzle is far bigger than all of them.  It requires involvement and investment from every one of us. One of the things we learned from the recent membership survey is that cost is seen by many as a barrier to greater involvement in SLA. I get that.  But my concern is this…  Is the cost not greater to deny yourself the unparalleled networking, education, and professional support that an Association like this can provide?  If you are worried about cost, I challenge you to change your perspective.  Stop seeing involvement in SLA as an expense and look at for what it really is – a SOLID investment.

Your activity in the Special Libraries Association is not only an investment in this organization.  It is an investment in yourself and your future.  We wring our hands over our future as professionals. We want our employers to invest in us and our services.  But how can we expect other to invest in us if we are reluctant to invest in ourselves.  Whether you simply want to be a member or take on a leadership role or become one of the donors who supports us via the Loyalty Club or a bequest, there is no investment too small when it is an investment in tomorrow.  SLA is an investment in tomorrow, my friends.  I encourage you to consider getting involved and contributing.

Change in the Association and change in the industry start right here with each and every one of us.  Ask yourself what the future of your profession and your professional association mean to you and then ask yourself whether you have invested enough.  At the risk of sounding cliché, I can only add that we have to be the change we wish to see.

[Slide 8 – Map again]

I started this presentation by showing you a map and that is how I am ending it. The Special Libraries Association has come a long way since its founding.  What once started as a few members committed to a profession has grown into a truly global family of professionals.  Geographically, the sun never sets on SLA.  It did not happen over night.  It did not come without change or sacrifice.  We built this Association with hard work, dedication, mutual respect and investment.  If we commit ourselves, each of us, to those same ideals, then I have no doubt the sun never will set on our SLA.  It is up to us and I personally could not ask for a better group of colleagues with which to face change and face tomorrow.  Thank you for investing your trust in me and in the Special Libraries Association!




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