[Talk] AUUG'S Declining Membership

david.newall at auug.org.au david.newall at auug.org.au
Wed Jul 24 15:09:42 EST 2002

The recent discussion on AUUG and LUGs prompted me to write this:


How do we reverse declining membership?

 o Mailing lists should be available to everybody
 o Conference CFPs sent to all Asia Pacific universities
 o AUUGN on web, not on paper
 o Exec to meet electronically
 o Can we afford a business manager?


We are facing declining membership.  Why is that?  As a group we are
well focussed on unix, which is our mission, and I think everybody (who
knows us) understands this fact.  Therefore the decrease in membership
is due to our value proposition.

What do we get for $110?  My opinion:

 o Annual conference
 o Mailing lists
 o Other random and occassional events (c.f. AOSS)

If I could have only one of these it would be the annual conference
without any doubt.  I'd cheerfully do without all of the others; not
that I expect anybody else to share my values.  That being said, the
conference is also the biggest dollar item on budget.  Fortunately it
runs at a surplus.


Conventional wisdom suggests that to increase the size of our member base
we need either to advertise better, or improve our value proposition.
I won't talk about advertising because I don't know enough about it.
I'll just talk about improving the value that we offer.

We would offer better value if we could do more for the same money,
or do the same for less money.  What's this?  Do more??  I don't know
what else AUUG should do.


The mailing lists are close enough to a zero dollar expense, which
is great, but if nobody uses them then they are a waste of effort.
I hasten to point out that there is any number of good mailing lists
that provide the same member-based support that AUUG offers.  Linuxsa is
an excellent example.

More active subscribers on our mailing lists would improve our value
proposition.  It would act as a magnet for new AUUG members.  If we
allow non AUUG members to subscribe to our lists they would either
lurk or participate.  Lurkers cost us nothing but increase our "brand
awareness."  Participants are even better because, by asking questions
or providing answers, which is our mission after all, they improve the
usefulness of our lists, thus they improve the perceived value of AUUG.
Also, I suggest that non-member subscribers to AUUG mailing lists are
the most likely people to become new members.

At least some of our mailing lists are restricted to AUUG members, and
I think we thereby do ourselves an injustice.


I've already made clear that I think our conference is the most important
member benefit.  I'd very much like to see the conferences increase in
size, both in content and in attendees.  Just because we are Australian
based is no reason to limit our horizons.  Being part of the Asia-Pacific
region, as well as a rich and developed nation, makes us a prime candidate
to attract international speakers and attendees; but we have to tell them
about the event.

We should call for papers in universities and colleges all around the
world, but particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, because the more
people who present, the more will want to attend.  And if more attend,
more are likely to join AUUG (particularly since it's cheaper to join
AUUG and attend the conference than to attend as a non-member.)

I say again: Promoting our conference at the universities in the Asia-
Pacific region will increase its content and attendance.

It's worth noting that each conference returns a surplus, which pays a
large chunk of our business manager's salary; which is a fancy schmancy
title for secretary.  (Sorry, Liz, don't mean to offend, just to speak
plainly.)  We absolutely depend on a successful conference for our
continued survival.


AUUGN, because it is printed and posted quarterly, is a substantial budget
item.  Thinking outside the square: Isn't paper far too 20th century?
Doesn't it make sense for the AUUGN editor to be the AUUG webmaster,
and the AUUG web to be our newsletter?  I could read it in any internet
cafe in the world, and save trees in the bargain.  It must cost $10 per
year to send AUUGN to me.  Some members do value the printed version,
while others seek to reduce membership fees.  This could be an optional
component.  Indeed I can print it in my office cheaper than AUUG can.

Better yet, put AUUGN on the web (make it be our web) and we underscore
the benefit of AUUG membership.  Non-members who read AUUGN on the web,
and through it see what we do, might just join.  The down side?  It would
cost nothing so there is no down side.

In fact the CDs distributed with AUUGN are a great member benefit, and
you wouldn't get them on the web (without paing ruinous download costs.)
Probably most of us would elect to receive printed copy (just for the
CDs), while the non-members could only read about it (thus giving them
incentive to join.)


There's not much that I can say about the minor events, such as AOSS,
other than that they go to the very heart of what we do, and we need
to do more of them.  Sadly our finances are very delicate at present,
and we can't afford to lose money on them; and fortunately we don't.
If we save money in other areas we can hold more minor events (and risk
losing a small amount of money on them.)  That makes us a more attractive
organisation to join.


Does the executive need to meet in person?  They meet four times a year,
at an annual cost of around $15,000.  Presumably most of this is travel
expenses.  Can we not, in this, the age of the Information Superhighway,
have an exec that meets electronically?  I'm sure we can.  We'd save
about $40 per member, which added to the the $10 "saved" by publishing
AUUGN on the web, halves membership fees!


Okay, I know this is going to ruffle some feathers, but the question
must be asked: Can we afford a full-time business manager?  Please,
please, don't anybody misunderstand my intent in asking the question.
This is not an attack on Liz, our business manager.  It's a very sensitive
issue, particularly as it's Liz's livelihood that we must talk about,
but it is of great importance and needs discussing.

We have about 350 members.  Somebody employed as a business manager in
Sydney would cost between $50K and $100K; apparently between $150 and
$275 per member.  (Just as well that the conference surplus subsidises
the business manager!)  What would happen if our business manager only
worked part time?  Would the conference still be held?  Would the random
other events continue?  On the numbers, this appears to be an area that
needs careful consideration.

Where do we go from here?  Well, I've stuck my neck out by asking the
question; I hope it doesn't get chopped off.  I hope we can have some
restrained and considered discussion.  Please, somebody else take it
from here!

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