Membership trends and dues
by Bill Goichberg


        USCF dues are too high.  We once could successfully address financial problems by raising membership fees, and I supported increases before becoming Executive Director, but this method no longer works.  The most recent dues hikes effective January 2003 provided short term help, but caused a sharp downward membership trend which would have been disastrous if not reversed. USCF lost 7566 Full Adult members in 8 years (1995-2002), then 4014 more in just 14 months (1/03-2/04).  After the changes I initiated in 3/04 (Activity Means Members program, $38 promotional memberships, better written and more frequent renewal mailings), we actually showed a net gain of 47 full adults in the following 12 months, and Full plus Economy declined by only 446 compared to 3445 in the previous 14 months.


        The following chart shows membership totals for our largest categories as of the beginning of March each year since 1989, plus those at the beginning of January 2003, when the dues increases went into effect.  Beginning January 2003 an Economy Scholastic membership without a magazine was also offered- "M" indicates magazine, "NM" no magazine.


            Full Adult   Youth   Schol/M  Schol/NM  Total Scholastic           

3/89     29730        4243        1907           

3/90     28425        4271        2955

3/91     30112        4718        5097

3/92     30095        4933        10118

3/93     31291        5128        16207

3/94     31783        5393        20103

3/95     32799        6670        25224

3/96     31869        8579        26684

3/97     30741        9679        28199

3/98     29566        10725      29087

3/99     28497        12147      28602

3/00     28135        13325      31749

3/01     27073        12570      35196

3/02     25727        11858      38302

1/03     25109        12338      42264     1                  42265

3/03     24808        12661      40641     2025            42666

3/04     21095        11883      23338     16936          40274

3/05     21142        10755      19631     16339          35970
        The $38 promotional membership for new or returning adults has been an important factor, and we must reduce other dues as well.  I suggested dues reduction to the Executive Board prior to the 2004 annual meetings and their response was generally favorable, including approval of a proposed $2 online discount, but at Fort Lauderdale they couldn't find the time to discuss this important topic in order to make a recommendation to the Delegates. My motion for a $4 Regular decrease and $2 Youth decrease would probably have been approved were it not for unexpected Board opposition.  Instead, the proposal was referred to the Board with the suggestion that they could enact lower dues as promotional memberships.  The Board ignored the idea.  

        We urgently need these decreases, to accelerate Adult gains and reverse our Youth decline (down 13% since 1/03).  And Scholastic, our fastest growing category until 2003, is now shrinking, and also needs the reinvigoration of a $2 reduction.  This would bring the online cost to affiliates down to $13, the same price as Economy Scholastic, a category that should be abolished (membership without a publication has a poor renewal rate).  From 2000 through 2002 we gained 12,632 Scholastic members, all with a publication.  Since the changes of 1/03 (Scholastic dues raise, new Economy Scholastic category, ending of separate scholastic publication), we have lost 22,633 of our 42,264 Scholastic members with a publication!  It was hard enough to convert Scholastic members into eventual Adult members before, but we did covert some, and this is far harder to do with kids who receive nothing from USCF but a membership card.


        Do not be concerned that USCF would lose money on $13 Scholastic memberships with 6 issues of a publication; the cost (magazine plus processing) of adding each such member should be only about $7 to $8 (roughly $4.50 to $5.50 for the magazine, $2 to $3 for processing).   


        Even considering Scholastic plus Economy, we are down by 6295 kids since January 2003. The changes made at that time are not working and must be reversed.  We should also consider returning to a separate School Mates if we can afford to, but it should be for the elementary age group (Under 11 or Under 12), rather than Under 15 as before.  The School Mates insert in Chess Life every two months has not seemed to be effective in regaining Scholastic members.


         Just as the dues increase of Jan 2003 made money for USCF that year but set in motion an unacceptable long term trend, I expect that a dues decrease now will lose money in its first year but create a favorable trend for the long term and ultimately be profitable.  We must look ahead and choose growth over stagnation.

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