While everyone likes to focus on the programs of their favorite nonprofit organization, the bottom line is that running a nonprofit is no different than running a business. The simple truth is that NRHS is selling a $50 product for $40, and no business can do that for long.
NRHS has been committed to providing a consistent package of benefits to its members: four editions of the NRHS Bulletin, six editions of the NRHS News, a national convention, a website and Facebook page, and of course the Railway Heritage Grants program and RailCamp. We’re mindful of the economic realities for our members and chapters, so we’ve resisted raising dues. However, as with similar organizations, we face a declining membership and a largely fixed-cost structure. In the past calendar year, this led to a loss of approximately $10 per member.
We have recommitted NRHS to focus on funding, education and outreach to the preservation community. To that end, we have engaged professional fundraising counsel to help us secure additional funds from both outside and inside our organization. These funds will help us increase the reach and scope of our programs. However, the cornerstone of this plan is a sound budget. No corporate sponsor, grant-making foundation, or knowledgeable major donor will make any substantial financial support to an organization that is losing money on basic operations.
The national NRHS board is convinced we are delivering genuine value. In a recent conversation with the editor of Railfan & Railroad magazine, he estimated the newsstand cover price for the NRHS Bulletin would be $7. That’s $28 of your dues you get back in the beautiful photographs and compelling stories that comprise the Bulletin. Our ongoing programs are equally valuable in supporting our mission of saving our country’s endangered railroad heritage, while engaging cities and communities to aid our cause.
NRHS has always had a two-level funding structure: your annual dues pay for basic services that benefit all of our membership, while programs such as Heritage Grants and RailCamp Scholarships are funded by additional gifts from members and chapters. With your participation, we’ve already raised the amount of additional gifts to program activities by 700 percent over the past three years. This allows us in 2013 to award one of the largest dollar amounts in the history of our preservation grant program. However, we cannot use donations to subsidize basic membership benefits.
With these considerations in mind, and after reviewing membership levels at similar non-profit organizations, we will institute a new dues structure in 2014 of $50 for primary NRHS members and $7 for family members. Reduced rates for student and youth members will remain the same, as we strive to bring younger members into the hobby and the society. We realize that for some members this increase will be a financial strain, so we are working to introduce a two-part payment plan for primary members.
We’re also committed to providing greater resources to our chapters, who are vital to our rail preservation mission. In late May we’ll begin to offer public relations and marketing support to chapters to help them increase visibility and better promote their monthly activities and special events. The board has appointed a committee to investigate additional new services for chapters – such as providing information on how to raise additional gifts, apply for grants, and engage in special events that will attract new members from local communities.
None of us on the board desired this outcome, and please be assured we are continuing to look for all possible ways to reduce operating costs without substantially reducing the benefits you receive from membership. But the timing of our dues bill cycle required that we raise our 2014 dues or face a significant cut in services.
We are continuing to review and make changes in our operations. Our intent is to create a financially stable environment so we can focus on the needs of programs, particularly the re-launch of our popular RailCamp program in 2014. With RailCamp we have to cover administrative cost increases, but more importantly we seek to improve the program to provide more hands-on learning for the next generation of railfans.
We ask for your understanding, and we’re happy to answer any questions you may have. Send them by e-mail to info@NRHS.com, or by letter to:
100 North 20th Street, Suite 400
Philadelphia, PA 19103-1462
The need for rail preservation funding is critical, and that need is increasing by the moment. If we are to make a difference, we need to raise serious money. That means we have to be serious about running the business. We hope you will view this increase in dues as an opportunity to help us ensure a future for our nation’s railroading heritage.