By Merrill Eisenberg
University of Arizona
The SfAA Board met in Denver on October 15-16, and I am happy to report that all is well with your Society! We are coming up on our 75th birthday in 2016, but we are nowhere near ready for retirement! In fact, we are very busy planning for “Beyond 75”.
We’ve come a long way since our founding in 1941, when, as John Bennett recalled in his SfAA Oral History interview, “…we regarded this as a kind of cult formation. That is, I think our attitude was, ‘Well, so what’s all the fuss about?’ It should be applied, you know; it should have some mix… do something that has relevance for the world, for… for men, for humans…’” Our first annual meeting was held in 1941 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The entire group of attendees fit into one room and less than 10 papers were presented. Among the presenters were Margaret Mead, William F. Whyte, and Eliot Chapple.
Today, the SfAA is almost 3000 members strong. Approximately 10% of our members reside outside of the US, in 47 different countries. Thirty percent of our members are students. Approximately 2000 people attend our meetings in a “good” year and hundreds of papers, presentations, workshops, roundtables and panels are held. We’ve come a long way from our cultish ancestors!
Looking “Beyond 75” we recognize our changing world and what that means for applied social science and for our Society. Current models for supporting the work of SfAA will not be viable in the coming 75 years. For one thing, the advent of open access journals creates a funding issue that will be difficult to address. We currently rely on subscriptions to our journals for more than 16% of our annual revenues. Some organizations that publish journals are already starting to make up unrealized subscription fees by charging authors to publish in their journal. The American Journal of Public Health, for example, currently allows authors to elect to make their article available to all without subscription, and if an author so desires, he or she is billed $2500. When all journals go to the open access model, whose voice will be represented in the scholarly literature? Will SfAA have to charge authors as well?
SfAA has always strived to keep costs to members at a minimum in order to provide access to people of all income levels. We have also always been sensitive to the needs of students, and have not only kept student membership dues very low, but also have created 10 student travel awards to support the participation of students at our meetings. Our budget for 2012 relies on the following sources of revenue:
35% Membership Dues
40% Annual Meeting
16% Subscriptions to Human Organization and Practicing Anthropology
As subscription revenues will decrease and likely disappear in the future, it is imperative that we seek revenues from other sources. If we continue to keep membership and annual meeting costs low, some other source must be identified. We have to assume that grant money will be even more difficult to secure in the coming years, so that leaves contributions.
SfAA has never conducted a fund raising campaign, though many members have been quite generous. For example, our student travel awards are entirely funded by contributions, and our Sustaining Fellows voluntarily pay higher dues in order to subsidize the low rate we charge to students and regular members. I know I personally benefitted from this approach to funding SfAA activities. As a student I was very much helped by the low membership and conference rates. In my early career, when my salary was low and household expenses were high, I was able to remain a member and attend conferences because the cost was so reasonable. Now, late in my professional career, I am able to be a Sustaining Member and also donate to some of the student travel award funds. My experience, and that of many others, can be viewed in the context of “the gift,”1 and this is what allows our Society to thrive. Reciprocity works!
Given the fiscal challenges that face us in the future, it will be important for all members to think about what they receive and what they are able to give to keep the SfAA on strong footing. To that end, the Board hopes to encourage a “culture of giving” among our members. It is not the dollar value of what is given, but the act of giving that creates a social norm that can reliably provide the resources we need to support our Society. We should not wait to reciprocate until our hair turns gray! The habit of giving can start small—with the cost of a latte, for example—and grow over time as our situations change. The SfAA has operated in this way very quietly over the past 75 years, but the demands of the next 75 years require that we more deliberately foster a culture of giving.
So, in addition to planning a celebration for our 75th birthday, we will also be launching a campaign to foster a culture of giving among our members. As your President, I urge you all to consider how you have benefitted from your membership in SfAA, how others have made it possible for SfAA to keep dues low and support students, and what an appropriate level of reciprocity would be for you in your current situation. A very modest increase in dues is likely to occur, but our aim is to keep our Society open to all, and rely on concepts like reciprocity to carry us through the next 75 years.
 Mauss, Marcel. The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in x Archaic Societies. W. W. Norton & Company (August 2000)