Jeffrey H. Altschul
At the Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, I will end my term as treasurer. Certain aspects of the office, I will be glad to leave: the continual monitoring of financial statements, working on the budget; and the constant worrying about the size of the Annual Meeting. Other parts I will miss: the camaraderie of the Board; the interaction with the staff; and the sense of accomplishment that comes with hard work. In this column, I reflect on the financial history of the last few years and look forward to the future challenges SAA will face.
Without a doubt the most important accomplishment of the past 2 years is the replenishment of SAA's long-term reserves. In 1997, SAA reserves were at a historic low of less than 8 percent of the annual operating budget. With a sense of urgency, the Board of Directors set a course to restore these funds. Costs were cut by reducing staff and not expanding member services. In 1998, the Board passed a new policy, setting an ambitious target of 30 percent of the operating budget as the minimum level for long-term reserves. Our expectation was that it would take 5 years to achieve this goal; it took three.
SAA enjoyed budget surpluses of around $150,000 in both 1998 and 1999. Much of this money was placed in the reserve account, which, after next month, will stand significantly above the 30-percent minimum target. The surplus also has been used to create a technology fund, launch a monograph series, and add needed staff to support the Society's programs.
We should all take pride in the financial accomplishments of the past few years. We must realize, however, that many factors, some of which were beyond our control, were instrumental in this turnaround. Perhaps the most important factor was the health of the U.S. economy as well as the economies in many other countries. Economic expansion, particularly in private and government CRM sectors, has led to more archaeological jobs, and has allowed many institutions and corporations to subsidize attendance and sponsor events at the Annual Meeting.
As discussed often in this column, SAA's revenues are tied to the Annual Meeting. Large meetings lead to surpluses as registration fees exceed meeting costs and attendees become members. Record attendance at Seattle and Chicago has been central to SAA's swift financial recovery.
In examining factors leading to our prosperity, we also see signs of weakness. We must have large meetings, now defined as more than 3,000 attendees, to make our budget. Annual Meetings of this size require nearly half of our members to attend. A major downturn in the economy could be disastrous.
In the last few years, I have written of the need to augment old and develop new revenue streams. Given that SAA is a membership-driven society, the obvious place to start is with adding new members. In all the good news surrounding our finances, perhaps the most ominous sign is that membership has remained flat for the last 3 years, around 6,500 members. If this number represented a high proportion of professional archaeologists in the world, then our challenge would be to ensure that our member services remained at a level to keep them. My guess, however, is that this number represents a small fraction of the archaeologists who should be members of SAA. Although I have no statistics to back up my speculation, I would venture a guess that many academic archaeologists in U.S. institutions are members and that a lower, but probably respectable, proportion of senior government and private and institutional CRM professionals also are members. I also suspect that a very small percentage of mid-level government or CRM professionals, and an even smaller proportion of archaeologists outside the United States (academic, government, or CRM) are members of SAA. It is these last two categories that probably represent the fastest growing sector of the discipline. Bottomline: 6,500 represents a relatively small percentage of professional archaeologists in the world, and that doubling or perhaps even tripling SAA membership is not out of the question.
What would attract archaeologists who are not members to join SAA? Simple. Services and products that can be perceived as a "good deal for the money" and "essential" for a professional archaeologist. When I ask members what they receive for their SAA membership, the answer is generally American Antiquity and the Annual Meeting. We must change this perception. We need to show members that their current membership does much more for themlobbying, public education, workshops, etc.
We also need to listen to members and be open to change. Academic debate in the form of our journals and at our Annual Meeting is a key SAA service. We must continue to provide this service well. The face of archaeology, however, is changing. Many professional archaeologists are not drawn to the topics discussed in the pages of American Antiquity, Latin American Antiquity, or in the papers at the Annual Meeting. Many, particularly archaeologists in CRM, are more interested in the nexus between archaeology and competing interests, such as development and Native rights, than in discussions of method and theory. Others are drawn to improving their field and analytical skills in concrete ways, such as workshops and mini courses. Still others are concerned with using archaeology to enlighten and educate the public.
Our immediate goal must be to attract new members and retain old ones. Achieving this objective requires evaluating how well current products and services meet the needs of all professional archaeologists. Do we enlarge the scope of our flagship journals or create new ones? Do we enlarge and diversify the Annual Meeting or establish regional or topical meetings? These choices come with financial risk; however, so does remaining still.
My term as treasurer has been a rewarding experience. I have stayed the course plotted by others, particularly my predecessor, Bob Bettinger, and former presidents Bill Lipe and Vin Steponaitis. The insight and care of SAA Executive Director Tobi Brimsek has made my job relatively easy and painless. In many ways, being treasurer at a time of crisis was easy; I just said "no." It is now that the challenges facing SAA must come to roost. In that respect, we are lucky. Knowing the current Board as I do, I can honestly report that they are up to the task. ·
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