How we grow: Investing in capacity
29 August 2019 – Sharon Leon
Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series that illustrates the role of the NCPH Endowment in supporting the work of the organization. To find out more about how the NCPH Endowment Fund supports the work of public historians and to make your gift, please visit: https://ncph.org/giving/endowment/.
In this post, our Secretary/Treasurer, Sharon Leon, reflects on NCPH’s long-term staffing needs and the role the Endowment can play in growing NCPH’s capacity.
As the NCPH annual meeting program committee swings into proposal review season in anticipation of the 2020 40th anniversary meeting in Atlanta, all of us should take a minute to step back and appreciate the labor that goes into making such a meeting possible. With proposal submissions up by more than 30% this year, that labor is undoubtedly significant. In the spring at annual meeting time, it may seem as if there is an army of helpful people to support the attendees as they go to sessions, working groups, workshops, and tours, but much of that support is provided by volunteers who are only available for the days of the meeting itself.
The other 360 days of the year, our public history community is served by NCPH’s dedicated staff of three: Stephanie Rowe (Executive Director); Christine Crosby (Membership Manager); and Meghan Hillman (Program Manager). Together, these very capable staff members support the ongoing needs of 1,600 members and the work of over 20 standing committees, plus all of the ad-hoc committees and task forces, that pursue our work and mission.
As an organization, NCPH has experienced tremendous growth over the past ten years. During that time our membership has increased by 70%, and our meeting attendance has increased from a 2009 high of roughly 600 attendees to more than 950 in Hartford (our largest stand-alone meeting to date) and more than 1,000 in 2016 when we met with the Society for History in the Federal Government. This dramatic growth reflects an overall shift in the place of public history in the larger field of history. Among other things, we have worked hard to nurture new voices on our meeting program and to provide meaningful and welcoming opportunities to graduate students.
But, this growth also reflects the ways that NCPH strives to respond to the needs and interests of the membership in ways that larger professional organizations and societies, with much larger staffs, do not. These organizations serve more members than NCPH and their staff numbers reflect that. By comparison, the American Association for State and Local History has a staff of ten; the Organization of American Historians has a staff of eleven; the American Historical Association has a staff of twenty. However, unlike in years past, the AASLH and OAH meeting numbers are no longer double or triple those of our organization.
Given the changing needs of the organization, we have undertaken an endowment campaign to enhance our ability to pursue our goals and values. Right now, the interest earned by the endowment is central to our awards process but also to new diversity and accessibility initiatives. Additionally, it contributes to our efforts to take on the full responsibility for the salaries of our staff. NCPH operates on a very lean annual budget that hovers around $380,000. Currently, our host organization, IUPUI, makes important contributions to paying the salaries of two of our staff members, but we are realistic about the funding climate for public universities. Outlined in our long-range plan is the goal of increased fiscal independence. We made concrete steps in that direction when, last year, we assumed full responsibility for the Program Manager’s salary and benefits.
There are several ways we can get closer to being able to afford this goal of fiscal independence. We can raise dues. We can raise the cost of the annual meeting registration. Both of these options are possible but limited, given our commitment to making membership and attendance at the meeting an affordable option for our community. For example, to cover fully these costs, individual member rates would need to increase nearly $90 a year, and no one wants to do that. Our final option, therefore, is to fundraise for the endowment. Meeting our goal of increasing the endowment to $1,000,000 will make it more possible for us to achieve that goal of fiscal independence, while also growing available funds for diversity, inclusion, accessibility, and programmatic initiatives as outlined in the campaign.
We also have to recognize that our dedicated staff are at the limits of their capacity. If our organization continues to grow and attract new members, we are going to require additional staff. What might this mean in financial obligations and commitments? Consider what it would take for NCPH to be able to fully fund a fourth staff member earning $40,000 annually without affecting membership or annual meeting rates, or requiring separate fees to offset the cost:
- We would be responsible not only for the base salary, but also for fringe benefits at roughly a 40% rate or $16,000. Therefore, the total amount needed to fund a staff person would be $56,000 annually.
- An endowment investment account can generally be expected to earn 4% interest on its principal annually.
- As a result, we would need to raise an additional $1,400,000 of endowment principal to generate $56,000 annually from interest.
Clearly, we are a long way from having the fiscal resources through the endowment or direct income to be able to afford a fourth staff person, but it is an important goal to keep in mind if the membership continues to grow. If we want to maintain the vibrant and responsive work of the organization, we need to invest in the staff that supports it.
Undoubtedly, the scale of these numbers are enough to given anyone pause, but together our commitment to NCPH is strong, and there are so many ways that each of us can contribute: by making a donation to the endowment campaign, by actively serving on a committee, and by working to make NCPH a diverse, inclusive, and responsive professional organization.
Sharon M. Leon serves on the NCPH board as the Secretary/Treasurer. She is an associate professor of digital history at Michigan State University.