The Cost of Serving on Council

I’m about halfway through my final year of serving on SAA Council. One thing that we’ve talked about in various ways throughout my time on Council has been member engagement — and specifically how do we get members to actively engage in leadership within the organization. There are lots of personal issues that might stop someone from pursuing a leadership position within SAA. And there are a lot of institution-specific things that might stop you (like your employer not providing leave time for participating). And then there’s the cost of service. So, I wanted to take an opportunity to just talk about the actual financial cost of serving on SAA Council.

I’m lucky that my employer allows me to participate in SAA leadership on work time. I don’t have to take leave in order to travel to Council meetings or participate in Council conference calls. So, there’s no cost to be there. But, if you work in a situation where that’s not the case, there may be a burden (even if it’s not a direct financial cost).

Also, I don’t have kids, and I have someone who can take care of the corgis for me when I’m out of town. So, I have no childcare, eldercare, pet care, etc. charges. That said, for the annual meeting, SAA does offer a childcare service option. There is an amount in every annual budget set aside to cover childcare costs for members who are traveling to the annual meeting.

And I work at a university where I’m provided an annual stipend for professional development and travel. I know that not everyone has that luxury, and I know I’m lucky in that regard. So I’m not intending this post to be something that tells you “it’s easy! do it!” Everyone’s situation is different. I’m providing raw numbers from my experience, and there are lots of variables that affect the cost of my travel that might not affect others.

Caveats aside, here goes……

There are four face-to-face Council meetings and a few conference calls that are scheduled throughout the year. Two of the four face-to-face meetings take place in Chicago (where SAA headquarters are). The third and fourth face-to-face meetings take place at the very beginning and very end of the annual meeting.

For the two Chicago meetings, SAA covers all of the expenses — flight, food, hotel, and any other expenses you have (airport parking, transport from the airport to the hotel, etc.). SAA covers the hotel outright, so that cost is paid for you. The remaining expenses are paid through reimbursement (note: you aren’t reimbursed for alcohol, so if you’re a drinker, that’s an expense that’s on you). Reimbursement can be done as soon as you’ve paid the expense (so you request reimbursement for your flight right after you book it, and then request the other on-site charges after you return home). And SAA is really quick about repayment (much quicker than my own place of work). Again, you still have to have the ability to pay up front, but usually reimbursement is received within two weeks.

[Note: I’m not sure if childcare costs are offered for these two Chicago meetings but, based on conversations we’ve had about the annual meeting and childcare costs as well as conversations about reducing barriers to participation, I think that folks would be open to considering covering these costs for leadership meetings.]

The two Council meetings that bookend the annual meeting are the places where expenses are incurred. SAA will cover the cost of one hotel night for Council members during the annual meeting. I have taken advantage of this, and it’s paid through reimbursement. And typically, meals that take place during the meeting are provided by SAA.

So that leaves the rest of the cost of the annual meeting as the financial cost of serving on SAA Council. Typically, the SAA meeting is a Monday-Saturday deal. Austin in 2019 is going to be an exception to this. But for the sake of simplicity, let’s go with a Monday to Saturday scenario. For an SAA Council member, things get going around 8am on Monday with an all-day Council meeting. And they usually end at some point on Saturday (after the programming ends) with a short meeting (about an hour long). In between these meetings, Council members have multiple group meetings to attend as Council liaison. And, while the exhibit hall is open, you’re asked to check in with a number of vendors to make sure that the conference is meeting their needs. And then, if you have time, you can go learn something in the sessions or poster display area! But you really do need to be around for the full week.

So, the financial cost would approximately break down to:

***Cost of travel to the annual meeting (which is going to vary wildly based on where the annual meeting is, and where you live. My home airport isn’t a major hub, so it’s a bit pricier for me to fly most places than it would be if I lived in Atlanta or Charlotte. Last year when we were in D.C., I took the train for about $100 roundtrip and saved about $150+ on travel costs. But flying to Portland cost me about $600, including the cost to check a bag.). So, let’s say $300 as an estimate.

***Cost of transportation incurred during the annual meeting (public transportation pass, cab rides, etc. – getting from the airport to the hotel and back + any other places you don’t walk to). I usually keep this cost relatively low by splitting rides with folks and using public transportation whenever I can, so let’s say $50.

***Cost of food not provided during the annual meeting (For me, this usually means dinner Sunday and Monday night, lunch and dinner on Tuesday and Wednesday, and lunch on Friday. Other meals are either provided by SAA, provided in the exhibit hall, at the alumni event, at the SAA president’s reception, or at the all-attendee reception. I also typically cover breakfast cost by staying at a hotel really close to the conference hotel that provides free breakfast. Or, if that’s not a possibility, I keep coffee and oatmeal in my room for breakfast.). Again, this is a cost that varies based on city, restaurants near the conference hotel, and lots of other factors. But let’s say $250 for the week, a high-ish total which would include a drink or two some nights.

***Cost of the hotel for five nights (check in on Sunday and SAA covers Sunday cost if needed; covering hotel cost Monday through Friday, with checkout on Saturday morning). This is going to be the biggest cost. You can, of course, have a roommate and cut this cost in half. But, let’s say you’re like me and you want to go back to the room and sit quietly at the end of a really busy day filled with lots of social interaction (a luxury, I know). So the cost here for me is usually about $1200 (including all of the hotel taxes and fees).

***And then there’s the conference registration cost. $330 last year at the early bird rate (same cost for Council members as well as everyone else).

So, for me, the total annual cost of serving on SAA Council is about $2130. I could cut it down to about $1530 if I shared a room at the annual meeting.

If I wasn’t on SAA Council but was still going to the annual meeting, I might not travel into town until Wednesday, and then I would leave on Saturday. That would eliminate two nights at the hotel (about $480) and a couple of lunches and dinners (about $120). But I would still be paying about $1530 just to attend.

I’m lucky that my place of work provides us with an annual stipend of $1700 per person for professional travel. And I’m extra lucky that our Office of Research has a pot of money that’s specifically set aside for faculty members to get up to $500 of costs associated with conference leadership or presentations reimbursed by them. If you’re thinking about taking on a leadership position with SAA (or any other professional organization), I highly recommend asking around about any resources your employer might offer to help with costs (if you don’t get an annual travel allotment, maybe your boss might see the benefit to the organization of having a professional association leader on staff and agree to cover some costs).

Also, we do have a pretty measly per diem allowed for meals (compared to the actual costs typically incurred). And, of course, I can’t be reimbursed for alcohol. My place of work is incredibly slow at reimbursement. Usually it takes six weeks — sometimes longer. And since I use my personal credit card to cover the hotel cost, I do have interest incurred.

Additionally, my employer doesn’t pay or reimburse us for professional organization membership fees. That’s another $250 — money I would have paid regardless of Council service but money that is required to have that service opportunity.

So, in the end, the actual out-of-pocket cost to me each year for service on Council is about $450. That’s primarily the cost difference between per diem and meal cost at the annual meeting, the interest charged to carry over the annual meeting hotel costs one month on my credit card, and my annual membership dues.

Anyways, that’s my situation and my cost. For someone who shares a room or who doesn’t drink, that cost will go down. For someone who has childcare or eldercare or pet care expenses, that number may go up. For someone at a different income level in the SAA dues structure, the membership cost will be different. And for someone whose employer doesn’t provide any kind of professional travel stipend, the out-of-pocket amount is high.

All that said, Council isn’t the only way to participate in SAA leadership. There are only 12 people on SAA Council at any given time. There are many, many, many more who are leaders of sections, committees, task forces, and other SAA groups. For those positions, there are ways to participate without traveling to the annual meeting. Some component groups have done a fantastic job of providing virtual participation options for members (including the ability to participate in their group meeting at the annual meeting in a virtual way), and all component groups have access to an SAA-provided listserv for their leaders to do their work. So, for most component groups, you don’t have to travel to the annual meeting in order to be a group leader (although travel to the annual meeting is the best way to meet people and learn about SAA and leadership options, so there’s that).

I’m happy to answer any questions folks might have. And I want to reduce barrier to participation in SAA as much as possible. And I am aware that there are a ton of other organizations that folks might find better suited to them. But that’s my SAA Council experience. For some reading this, that might be a higher cost than they anticipated. And for others, it might be lower. But I hope it helps some folks better understand the financial costs of these types of positions.

0 Replies to “The Cost of Serving on Council”

  1. Erin, thanks a million for breaking these costs down. I have been tracking my own out of pocket/reimbursed expenses for all manner of professional involvement for the last couple years. It’s eye opening, and I think we owe it to to generation of leaders coming up after us to be transparent about these costs – on a micro level so folks aren’t taken by surprise, and on a macro level so hopefully we can start thinking more thoughtfully how to cover these expenses for people who want to serve but don’t have the financial luxury to make interest-free loans to various institutions while waiting for reimbursements.

    1. Thanks, Eira!

      I will credit SAA greatly for quickly reimbursing costs for flights and meals and other expenses related to Council meetings in Chicago. It still requires payment upfront (which can be problematic), but I’ve usually received my reimbursement check within two weeks of submission. Meanwhile, I’m still waiting for reimbursement from my employer for a grant-related purchase that I had to make on my credit card on February 5th. And now I also have the $200ish charge for the first night in Austin for SAA 2019 on my card (which won’t be reimbursed until after the conference). If I was better at math, I would try to calculate the amount of interest I accrue every year waiting for these reimbursements.

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