Tapping a healthy surplus generated in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies Board of Directors approved several new member benefits at its Oct. 9 meeting in San Diego. The $267,000 surplus resulted almost entirely from the exceptional performance of AAN CAN, the classified advertising network that now accounts for more than 70 percent of the association’s annual revenue.
Before they approved the new programs, the board first considered how much of the surplus should be devoted to the organization’s “rainy-day” fund. AAN Executive Director Richard Karpel told the board that an association should strive to maintain a reserve fund equal to 25 to 50 percent of its annual operating expenses, depending upon variables such as the organization’s growth rate, and the reliability and diversity of its revenue sources. At the time of the meeting, AAN’s reserve fund was approximately $764,000, which equaled 54 percent of its fiscal year 2005 operating budget of $1.4 million. The board decided unanimously that AAN should maintain a minimum reserve of $625,000.
The board then turned its attention to a smorgasbord of potential new member benefits that had been discussed at previous board meetings or recommended by AAN committees. Most of the benefits ultimately approved by the board focused on the organization’s annual convention and regional conferences. Others were designed to help AAN papers compete, or to encourage participation in the organization beyond the senior-management level.
“Since our long-range planning session in San Francisco in January, the Board has put a lot of thought and effort into getting more staffers at more member papers involved in AAN programs,” says AAN president Clif Garboden. “We need volunteers, we need active participants, and we need funding for programs that encourage people to get involved. Without those, AAN becomes an underutilized resource. AAN CAN has provided us with unexpected riches, and the decisions reached at the October Board meeting demonstrate that we’re willing to spend to make AAN accessible to more people.”
The biggest chunk of the surplus was devoted to programming at the San Diego convention and the AAN East and West conferences. The additional $50,000 authorized by the board for professional speakers and presentation collaterals increased the existing programming budget by 100 percent.
The board also approved a new program for this year’s convention under which every AAN paper will qualify for two free registrations. One of the complimentary registrations will be offered to the classified manager or AAN CAN representative at each member paper. The other will be awarded to every AAN paper that registers at least three people for the convention (not counting the complimentary registration for classified managers). The free pass for classified personnel is intended to reward the employees who are most responsible for the AAN CAN-generated surplus, to promote the continuing health of the classified network, and to help member papers improve their classified sections.
The board also approved an expenditure of at least $10,000 to resuscitate the AAN-Medill writing workshop, and to reduce the registration rate for the conference, for AAN members, to $25, The workshop will be held at the Medill School of Journalism on the Northwestern University campus in Evanston, Ill., on Aug. 12-13, 2005, in conjunction with the final weekend of next year’s summer class of the Academy for Alternative Journalism. AAJ is a summer residency program designed to train and recruit minority journalists to work at AAN papers. It is funded primarily by grants from AAN’s Alternative Newsweekly Foundation.
Several thousand dollars were also devoted to an increase in the rate of expense reimbursements paid to volunteer board and committee members who are required to travel to attend meetings. The reimbursement rate was boosted from $250 to $350 per member per meeting.
Finally, the board also approved seed money to investigate a potential alt-weekly readership study, and a special promotional party for video game executives that would be designed to increase video game advertising in AAN papers.