By Tony Overman
When I was a young photographer working in Albany, Oregon, I didn't have enough money to pay my student loans and car payments, let alone $55 to NPPA. I remind myself of those days with every proposal for a dues increase, or increase in registration fees for our events.
I think about it every time people ask me “What do I get for my $90 in dues?” Or now, "What do I get for my $110?"
Here is list, and it's only a partial one, of my answers:
A much improved magazine, the voice of professional photojournalism in this country, maybe the world;
Our Web site, with its constantly updated news, forums, and other features;
The business tool kit, including the cost-of-doing-a-job business calculator;
The Find a Photographer program;
The Mentor program;
Regional and national job information banks;
How about our members-only Apple discount? Buy one laptop and you've saved nearly two-years membership;
The new disability insurance for independent photographers;
And then there's NPPA's advocacy efforts which are working to support photographers, even those who don't support NPPA. Our advocacy results have been huge, and I can't overstate its value to journalism and First Amendment rights.
And I haven't even mentioned the Best of Photojournalism contest, which in five years has gone from a mere concept to being the second-largest photography contest in the world. And there's regional and national clip contests (which are going online this year).
There are all sorts of regional and national educational programs which offer instruction on the latest technology, as well as the opportunities to network with old friends and make new ones.
We're very proud of all these features, and they're only growing and getting better.
But we didn't approve a dues increase to make these programs grow. We did it to ensure they would survive.
I was elected to the board of directors in the middle of several years of six-digit deficits, ultimately depleting NPPA's bank account until the organization was in danger of not having enough money to pay its bills. The organization was on the verge of bankruptcy because we had failed to accept the decline in sponsorships, the increase of all costs, and the need to increase rates for programs and services.
I was seriously concerned that NPPA was going to cease to exist.
I spent the last three years on the Finance Committee, cutting, cutting and cutting our expenses while working tirelessly to increase revenue from advertisers, sponsors, and in-kind donations. Last year, NPPA was able to put $60,000 back into the reserve fund, the first time in years that the fiscal year ended with a surplus. This was the result of countless hours by the executive director Greg Garneau, two treasurers, nine finance committee members, and more than 30 members of the board of directors over the past three years.
As NPPA's treasurer Jim Sulley pointed out on the NPPA-L:
"The hard reality was that if we did not raise dues then we would not be able to continue the programs and services we have in place now. The board has over the years cut every single program, that while important to the membership, did not bring in money. What was left this time would have been the magazine, and any drastic cut in that budget would have hurt us more. And even then we did cut back some on it. It is my opinion that much of the ground work that we have been laying for more diversified sponsorship and ad revenue will start to come in this year and the we will show even better numbers than budgeted for. However, it would be irresponsible for the finance committee to present a budget that spends money that we don't have yet. The board has done this in the past and it has hurt us every time."
So we did the hard thing and raised dues yet again. Nobody was happy about it, but after many months of discussions the finance committee, the executive committee, and the board of directors - even those members originally dead set against any increase at the beginning of the process - saw no other way.
We're always open for ideas and discussions on ways to diversify our funding, from grants and sponsorships to adjusting our fee structures for events and activities and any other suggestions our members may have. Washington Post assistant managing editor for photography Joe Elbert suggested selling Christmas cards, and if push comes to shove we'll consider it.
The bottom line is that we have a very important job to do, and we will do it. The NPPA is the moral compass of photojournalism, and during a time when someone with a cellphone camera can get his or herself published, we need it more than ever.
I owe my career to this organization and the thousands of volunteers who have given their time to make us all better photojournalists. NPPA is too important to let it starve itself to death. I will not let that happen.
That is how I justify the dues increase.
National Press Photographers Association