by George F. Hayhoe
Reprinted from Usability Interface, Vol 7, No. 2, October 2000
In a recent discussion on TECHWR-L, an e-mail discussion list for technical communicators (not affiliated with STC) several posters debated whether STC SIGs are worth the $5 per SIG assessment the Society instituted a few years ago for SIG membership. Some writers noted that they didn’t see any value returned from the SIGs that they belonged to, while others believed that their experience had been quite different.
I belong to seven STC SIGs. Admittedly, some provide more value for the dollar than others (at least in terms of tangible benefits such as newsletters and listserve activity), but all of them have been well worth the investment. I’d like to offer a few observations based on my experience as a SIG member as well as four years on the STC’s board of directors and two years on the SIG advisory committee in the early 90s.
SIG dues are not paid to volunteers.
As with chapters, each SIG’s level of activity is entirely a result of volunteer effort. None of the $5 SIG dues is paid to volunteers, who donate their time. The larger, more enthusiastic, and giving the membership, the more bang the members get from the money. The most tangible SIG products are their newsletters. Paper, production, printing, and postage are incredibly expensive, and those costs continue to rise. As with most professional organizations, the cost of delivering SIG services exceeds the fee the organization charges its members. The SIG membership surcharge recovers only a portion of the cost per member for the services provided.
STC’s board of directors debated charging for SIG membership for at least four to five years before instituting the additional fee a few years ago. The argument for SIG dues was to shift part of the expense of SIGs directly to those who use the services. The board delayed implementing the surcharge for several years to allow the SIGs to grow sufficiently so that the additional fee wouldn’t have an adverse effect on membership. Despite the additional cost, SIG membership has grown each year, not declined.
How SIGs add significant value.
The thoughtful and informative Annual Conference sessions offered by many SIGs (amounting essentially to SIG stems in a couple of cases) that have added significant value to the conference, which was an extraordinary value to begin with.
The ID SIG became the first SIG to sponsor a section in an issue of STC’s journal, Technical Communication. The May 2000 issue featured an introduction, three commentaries, a bibliography, and three articles on information design.
Would I prefer that there was no additional fee for STC SIG membership? Of course I would, but I know that it isn’t a realistic expectation, and I’m quite satisfied with the return on investment in my seven SIGs. If I belonged to any SIG that was not returning adequate value for my financial investment, I’d have two alternatives: I could either volunteer to help solve the problem by taking an active role in the SIG or “vote with my feet” and not renew my SIG membership next year.