Why a dues resolution?

By Sean Monahan

I’ve submitted a resolution concerning monthly dues, in addition to the amendment I’d already submitted. The text of the resolution is below. I know it may sound strange to try to put an amendment and a resolution up for a vote if they’re on the same topic. But let me explain the reasoning. The amendment and the resolution do different things.

The amendment establishes general principles: now our standard form of dues will be monthly, rather than yearly, we’ll have a separate dues category for low-income members and for brand new members, and so forth. The things that are written in a constitution and bylaws should be general, not specific, so there’s a lot of flexibility for the policies that are actually put in place. The elected leadership—the NPC— are tasked with figuring out the best ways to apply the principles put in place in the constitution and bylaws taking into account all kinds of moving pieces: the size and shape of the organization itself, the priorities of the organization, and the changing political and social forces we’re interacting with. To get too specific in the constitution and bylaws is to put binding requirements on a DSA that may encounter very different circumstances in the two years until the next conference when such rules can be changed again. That’s a big mistake under normal circumstances, and it would be an especially big mistake now, given the unusually high degree of flux our organization’s probably going to be in over the next two years.

My dues amendment would change the basic principles behind the dues structure but it wouldn’t get into any specifics. The specifics are where the resolution comes in. The resolution gives the new NPC concrete guidelines for the kind of monthly dues system we want to see and also commits ourselves as members and chapter leaders to helping with the push to promote the new system. But even the resolution leaves the NPC with a lot of flexibility in adjusting the monthly dues system, in consultation with staff, chapter leaders and members, to make sure what we end up with is something that works well for the organization. It gives the NPC a more concrete set of principles to base their work on in designing the drive for monthly dues.

Now, the constitutional amendment needs a ⅔ majority to pass, whereas the resolution only needs a simple majority. The resolution is worded in a way that makes it valid even if the constitutional amendment doesn’t pass. Its significance would just be different in that case. We would still be redesigning the monthly dues system and making a big push for it after the conference in either case. But if the constitutional amendment passes as well, that push will be a transition to a new dues system which will be the standard one. And if only the resolution passes but not the constitutional amendment, it the push would just be the redesign and promotion of our current monthly “sustainer” dues system, which is just a supplement to the standard yearly dues. Alternatively, the amendment may pass and not the resolution, in which case monthly dues would still become our standard form of dues, but the NPC would be on its own for designing and implementing changes, without more specific guidelines from the convention.

The goal is for both the amendment and the resolution to pass, but even if the resolution passes alone and we get a few thousand members on the redesigned monthly sustainer dues system, that would be a great achievement and expand our national budget considerably. Thank you and read the text of the resolution below.

Why a monthly dues resolution?

DSA has grown tremendously in the past two years, and with great growth comes great needs. A majority of our chapters now have been formed just in the past year, and we have hundreds of organizing committees and leads around the country. Few of the people involved in this blossoming of local groups have much in the way of experience doing organizing work, and are in great need of learning essential skills, from as basic as how to organize an effective meeting, to more complex questions of how to choose, plan, and carry out a campaign to build power locally in a way that can win. There is a great need for more trainings, materials, and other resources, to be provided by the DSA national organization to its local chapters and its members at-large, particularly hands-on support and training from organizing staff prepared to help local members develop the skills they need to thrive. Ramping up DSA’s support in this way, however, requires a lot more money than we currently raise. To enable DSA to become a more successful and powerful political organization across the country, we should encourage all of our members who can afford it to pay monthly dues.

Further, our current system of dues renewal creates needless loss and inefficiency. Large numbers of members fail to renew after their first year, and we need a high rate of new membership just to keep up with high rates of membership attrition through non-renewal. The resources invested in encouraging renewal are considerable. Many members themselves feel that renewal is an inconvenience. It would be an improvement all around to switch to a system of auto-renewal, requiring those who no longer want to be members to actually cancel their memberships. A system of auto-renewal would have the benefit of eliminating much of the loss of members and funds we regularly experience from non-renewal, as well as cutting the costs devoted to encouraging renewal.

Not everyone will be able to contribute more to DSA than they do now in the form of monthly dues. But those of us who can, should. This resolution commits us to revamping our monthly dues system and trying to get as many of ourselves onto it as can afford it. The extra money raised is prioritized to go towards developing a system of national and regional support adequate to building up local organizing capacity across the country.

The text of the resolution

We resolve that the National Political Committee, in consultation with staff, chapter leaders and members, shall re-design the system of monthly dues and devise and implement a plan to promote the payment of monthly dues.

We offer the following guidelines for such a plan:

  1. That the members choose their own level of monthly dues, with the only firm requirement that they be above a certain minimum necessary to make such dues worthwhile for the organization;
  2. That there be a system of determining a suggested amount for monthly dues, based on the member’s income level, whether based on a percentage of that income or a fixed set of categories for different levels of income (low, middle, upper, etc.);
  3. That such guidelines be put forward in order to inform the member of shared expectations, but that it be made clear that members choose their own levels of monthly dues, and no one shall be reprimanded or censured for their choice;
  4. That there be no expectation that those with low or no disposable income pay monthly dues, though they retain the option;
  5. That, instead of requiring yearly renewals, dues shall automatically renew until members cancel their membership or alter their dues levels;
  6. That, to reduce costs associated with credit cards and updating information with expired credit cards, we will encourage the use of electronic funds transfers (EFTs) directly from bank accounts, or payment systems with similar benefits;
  7. That, to promote retention of members, this plan will be phased in over an extended period in which members may renew using the existing yearly dues system;
  8. That, as soon as financially and logistically viable, a system will be implemented whereby local chapters receive back from the national organization 20% of the amount the members in their jurisdiction contribute in the form of monthly dues, at regular intervals;
  9. That, in the use of the additional funds raised in monthly dues, priority be given to direct assistance in the form of trainings and resources, to local chapters and organizing committees, including hiring a number of regional organizers as soon as financially possible.

The NPC, in consultation with staff, local chapter leaders and members, shall design a system based on these guidelines. The guidelines may be adjusted as necessary to better promote the goals of: minimizing non-renewal of existing members; maximizing new membership; maximizing total dues revenue; maximizing chapter growth; and expanding our capacity to do deep organizing and pursue our priorities. The system may be substantially revised if, during implementation, it results in outcomes contrary to these stated goals.

We resolve, further, to contribute to implementing the promotion of monthly dues. Chapters will take an active role in encouraging their members to renew on the basis of the new monthly system.