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Making the Tough Decisions
by Dr. H. Paul Shuch, Executive Director

It's deceptively easy to run a nonprofit organization during good times. When the economy is booming, and the world is at peace, all one need do is identify a cause, articulate a worthy goal, assemble an enthusiastic team, give them a push in the right direction, and sit back, basking in the glory of their accomplishments. That's how it was with The SETI League during our first half-dozen years. The success of our Project Argus launch, hardware and software projects, moonbounce beacon, SETICon symposia, and even the Very Small Array development all occurred relatively painlessly. You, our members, made me look very good indeed.

Running the show during times of global conflict and general economic slowdown is another matter altogether. And, unfortunately, that's where we've been for the past year or so. Suddenly, those of us tasked with making policy decisions find ourselves agonizing over the really tough questions of what programs to retain, what benefits to cut, and which worthy efforts to sacrifice so that others might survive.

The SETI League's first casualty in this triage process was the monthly press release. For nearly eight years, we have been sending hard-copy announcements via post to seven hundred journalists worldwide, keeping the public abreast of our efforts and accomplishments. This has been beneficial in terms of publicizing the SETI enterprise. But printing and postage costs have escalated of late, making this practice a luxury we can ill afford. Fortunately, most media outlets today enjoy email and internet access, so we are still able to issue monthly press releases, by making the transition to electronic delivery. This change will save us several hundred dollars per month of your generously contributed dues, with (one hopes) little negative impact.

Technology similarly had a hand in our next economizing move. We recently established a password-protected "Members Only" section on our website, at <>. We'll be sending you a password with your next membership renewal. Now, we have a more economical way to distribute such proprietary material as our annual membership roster (which costs over $1000 of your money to print and post), as well, possibly, as future issues of SearchLites, our quarterly newsletter. Those members lacking access to the Website will, of course, be given the option of continuing to receive such material in the mail. But as the technology becomes more pervasive, I can foresee a time when we need no longer spend our limited resources killing trees and shipping their remains around the world.

Our next such decision was a little more painful. Since the inception of our League, we have issued twelve-month memberships, with everybody's term expiring on the anniversary of joining or last renewing. Thus, we have been sending out renewal notices and processing responses year-round, which has proved administratively burdensome. In order to stretch our organization's limited resources by streamlining operations and reducing overhead, we recently made the difficult decision to transition SETI League memberships to a calendar-year basis. It has been my intention to make this process as painless as possible. Your SETI League is striving to ensure that no member will be financially disadvantaged in the transition.

Effective immediately, all new and renewing memberships processed in January through April will be at full dues, and will expire at the end of the year. Those processed in May through August are invited to remit half the normal dues (or such other amount as the member feels to be fair and equitable), for expiration at the end of the year. Members joining or renewing in September through December will pay the normal dues, with their memberships extended to expire at the end of the following year. This is detailed in our latest online membership application form, as well as in the Policy Manual posted to our website. It is my hope that, by 31 December 2003, all SETI League membership expirations will thus be synchronized with the secular calendar.

You'll notice that a dues increase (which has never occurred in the history of The SETI League) is not one of the options on the table. If we are struggling, it is not because you, our members, have been anything less than generous. It behooves us all, in difficult times, to do more with less. Thus, any suggestions which you may have will be very well received, and much appreciated.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in editorials are those of the individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the position of The SETI League, Inc., its Trustees, officers, Advisory Board, members, donors, or commercial sponsors.

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