AMS Ten Year Vision Study: Meetings Financial Analysis
(Updated 8 February 1999)


1. Introduction

For the past year, the elected AMS Council, through its Executive Committee and Planning Commission, has been undertaking a "A Ten Year Vision Study" to explore where the Society should be ten years from now. This is a question that has no easy answer; rather it requires considerable thought, discussion, and analysis. A number of broad areas are currently being examined, including: publications, service to members, breadth of the Society, coordination with other societies, outreach, and meetings. Given publications and meetings are the largest continuing programs of the Society and also have the most significant impact on the Society's budget (both income and expenses), they have been given very high priority. The elected leadership of the Society feels strongly that there should be significant interaction with the membership as we go through this process. To that end, the AMS Home Page is serving as a primary medium for this communication. Member feedback is not only requested, but it is critical to the success of Ten Year Vision Study.

2.  Background

This article will focus on meetings. It is clear that the meetings process will undergo a number of changes in the next ten years, mainly due to the rapid changes in technology. Given the significant importance of the scientific exchange process enabled by AMS meetings, it is critical that these changes be managed in a strategic way, for the benefit of the science, the membership, and Society. Several years ago, the elected AMS Council established an Ad Hoc Committee on Meetings under the leadership of AMS past-president Ronald McPherson. In order to obtain significant membership input, the committee designed a questionnaire and conducted a survey for member response. The questionnaire was designed to gather information on a variety of meetings issues from the attendees' point-of-view. In response to those comments and suggestions, a number of changes has already been implemented, with favorable reaction from the membership. The committee also gathered and analyzed financial and statistical data covering several years of the Society's annual and stand-alone (specialty) meetings, as this was an important first step in the process of establishing a baseline from which we could examine future meetings' alternatives.

As we develop our ten year vision, the meetings activity will continue to undergo change in response to technology and other dynamics. How we manage and implement these changes will have a profound effect on the Society's ability to serve its membership and continue to provide a forum for the scientific and technological exchange. For example, AMS's current initiative to implement electronic submission of abstracts is just the beginning. Internet, e-mail access, and data projection have been an important part of the past several annual meetings, and are now also available at all specialty meetings. However, these services incur significant expense, so the Headquarters Staff has paid close attention to managing these costs within the framework of the overall meeting budget. In fact, the seed money to implement electronic submission of abstracts was obtained from the special initiative fund, which is made available through interest earned on reserves.

3.  Present Financial Strategy

As you know from reviewing the AMS budget summary presented annually in the June Bulletin of the AMS (and the reader is encouraged to refer to that summary as additional background to this presentation), the Society's elected Council established an overall meetings program financial strategy to balance income and expenses over time. Just as in weather some years are "above climatology" and others are "below climatology," some calendar years will find the AMS meetings program with more expenses than income; others more income than expenses. And similarly as weather does not recognize the artificial bounds of the calendar year, neither do the vagaries of finance. However, the reality of the budget process is that we must create these bounds, so below you will find data from the years 1995, 1996, and 1997. Taken individually, you will see that there are significant swings not only from year to year, but from meeting to meeting. But taken as an ensemble, these three years come very close to achieving the balance of income and expenses anticipated by the elected AMS Council. Please recognize as well the complexity of designing and managing the AMS meetings budget. Registration rates and page charges must be set a year or more in advance of a meeting, even though the number of registrants expected and papers published can only be grossly estimated based upon past performance. While costs for venues and services can be estimated as well, membership and program committee requirements (audio-visual, computer, facility, food/beverage, etc.) can similarly change long after registration rates have been set. Thus, meetings planners find themselves budgeting with many equations and even more unknowns!

4. Meeting Planning Process

A few brief words about the meeting planning process are in order. Most of the AMS conferences and symposia are organized by the AMS Scientific and Technological Activities (STAC) Commission, though a few others (Integrated Observing Systems, Education, Broadcast, IIPS, Global Change, etc.) are the responsibility of other bodies within the Society. The AMS Council has established a guideline which encourages the STAC committees to meet on a three-meeting cycle that brings them to an annual meeting, alone the next, and in conjunction with another committee the third meeting in their cycle. While all committees cannot follow this cycle, it has proven to be one of the best ways to foster exchange both within and across disciplines: When at the annual meeting, the advantages include the ability to visit a number of different conferences' sessions as well the meeting-wide symposia and the large exhibit program. At stand-alone (individual) meetings, there is more "personal" attention and a narrower focus; meeting jointly with one other disciplines allows for significant cross-discipline activities. Thus over a multi-year period (generally greater than five years, as many groups meet every 18-24 months), attendees will have the advantages (and admittedly disadvantages) of each type of meeting style. Yet as meetings must be conceived and planned a number of years in advance, and by volunteers from all segments of our Society, Headquarters Staff aims to work closely with organizers to achieve their individual requirements within the larger context of the long-term strategy. This is accomplished through oversight and guidance provided by the AMS commissioners and interaction with Headquarters Staff. Thus, some years have more stand-alone meetings than others; five to seven is typical, though fewer or more can occur in some years, depending on the phasing of the individual committees' cycles and the size of the annual meeting. This resulting level of meeting activity has a direct and substantial effect on the meetings income and expenses in any given calendar year.

5. Financial Data

As a result of the aforementioned membership survey and the recommendations of the Ad Hoc Committee on Meetings, in 1995 the Headquarters Staff began to collect a significant amount of financial data. As you review the information, think about where the AMS meetings program should be in ten years, and how necessary changes can be managed in a fiscally sound manner and in concert with ensuring an uninterrupted exchange of science and technical information that is so critical for the evolution of our science and the ensuing benefits to our society.

Three years' data are now available for review. In 1995 and 1996, there were five stand-alone meetings (with one in each year being a joint conference of two committees); in 1997 there were eight (with one joint conference as well). Table 1 presents the important statistics from each of these years, as well as income and expense figures. You'll note that in general, stand-alone meetings run a slight deficit of funds, while the annual meetings run a surplus. The annual meeting enjoys significant economies of scale, as well as a large exhibit program and corporate contributions which offset costs. However, the annual meeting also presents greater logistical and venue costs not associated with stand-alone meetings. It's also interesting to note that a particular committee's meeting in one year can generate a surplus, then a deficit in another year. This again is due to variations in attendance, facility costs, etc.

 

6. Going Forward

The discussion above presents an overview of the budgeting process involved with the AMS meetings program. Over the three-year period studied (1995-1997), income and expenses nearly matched (within 1.5%) in line with the elected AMS Council's policy of working towards a break-even financial situation for meetings. In order to provide the level of member services desired by the AMS membership, income source fees are set in advance, and costs are controlled to support this policy.

However, in the years to come, change will come rapidly to the meetings process. Electronic submission of abstracts is only the first step in a continuing evolution. Where will we be in ten years? Where do we want to be? What impact will these changes have on us financially as a Society? The AMS Executive Committee and Planning Commission want to hear from you as they continue to develop the Ten Year Vision. Please take the time to submit your feedback, by sending an email to: amsvision@ametsoc.org.