ACS Member Dues

It is that time of the year for me when I need to dole out the cash to renew my ACS membership. For the first time I have to pay the full membership price of $145. The process is made more complicated than usual since I need to switch from the graduate student member rate to the full member rate and there is no button available to do it from the website. :sigh:

So with member dues on the brain I went to investigate why they are set at $145. In 1986 the dues were $70 and it was decided to set all future dues to that inflation corrected price. $145 may seem like a lot of money but the ACS Committee on Budget and Finance’s website points out that it is a very middle of the road amount when compared to other scientific societies.

Membership Societies Dues Members
American Institute of Chemical Engineers $199 40,000
American Association of Clinical Chemistry $185 10,000
Association for Psychological Science $179 20,000
IEEE $169 375,000
Royal Society of Chemistry $160 46,000
American Association for the Advancement of Science $146 120,000
American Chemical Society $140 154,000
American Society for Biology and Molecular Biology $140 12,000
American Nuclear Society $140 11,000
Society of Plastics Engineers $140 20,000
American Physiological Society $130 10,500
American Physical Society $118 46,000
American Ceramics Society $110 6,000
Geological Society of America $70 22,000

However, that is not a fair comparison to make. Whenever the topic of executive compensation comes up at ACS we’re always reminded that ACS is a huge publishing house connected to a nonprofit, thus salaries and benefits of the top executives are matched to norms in the publishing industry. In one case it is fair to compare something to scientific society norms, in the other case we have to include the norms of a publishing house.

Out of my own curiosity I dug into the numbers behind member dues and have found that total dues were $15,500,000 and brought in $2,200,000 in net revenue for 2009. So how much does the society make per year? Do we make enough as a society to forgo paying dues into 3 digits? Below is a table showing the finances of the society, I’ve also included the income payed out to the top executives for comparison

Name / Gross Income 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005
Madeline Jacobs $936,827 $849,348 $889,720 $883,818
Flint H. Lewis $363,406 $301,084 $285,271 $273,730
Brian A Bernstein $423,540 $345,076 $347,163 $324,360
Robert J Massie $1,038,836 $1,826,527 $792,030
Brian D Crawford $590,612 $416,940 $401,004
John R Sullivan $392,088
Matthew J Toussant $451,665 $357,233
Brian C Bergner $411,411
Benjamin W Jones $397,395
Peter E Roche $364,055 $577,185 347,935
Rudy M Baum $359,703
Robert D Bovenschulte $1,229,387 $620,360 $617,030
James A Bryne $425,473 $410,407
David Daniel $333,830
Sylvia A Ware $433,678
ACS Finances
Total Revenue $460,000,000 $458,800,000 $442,200,000
Net Revenue $13,700,000 $9,700,000 $9,600,000
Net Assets (unrestricted) $123,900,000 $60,000,000 $212,000,000 $281,000,000 $211,000,000

The society made enough net revenue in 2009 to easily refund 1/3 of our member dues, but it would never do that as I’ll explain. If you look at the table and try to match the society’s executive incomes to performance you will have a hard time, if you can see a pattern please let me know. In 2008 as the society’s net assets decreased in value by 72% the income of the executives increased. As the total revenue of the society brought in slowly increased, the executive income increased faster. As the net revenue of the society has remained flat, besides the small peak in 2009, the executive income increased. So how exactly is the salary and benefits of the top executives valued, it seems disconnected from normal metrics of financial health?

The society will hire an outside firm to decide what the compensation should be. The firm will take into consideration that ACS is a publishing house and a non-profit. The firm will also consider the health of the global economy and other factors and will set certain benchmarks for the executives to meet in order to get bonuses on top of their paychecks. So the reason their income seems decoupled from performance is because the benchmarks they must meet are already coupled to the passions and whims of the national economy.

I will argue that this road for ACS is unhealthy.

If I ask any top executive at ACS what their job is, I’m sure they will tell me that their job is to return as much value back to ACS members while generating as much revenue they can for the society. The society will indirectly self-select individuals that can maximize that function. But this leads to the horrible disease of group-thinking. I have no doubt that Rudy Baum actually dislikes open-access, but I also have no doubt that ACS has indirectly placed people in positions of influence who will maximize the function of revenue vs. value.

I have faith that the net revenues made by the society for 2009 will be used for a good purpose. Maybe it’ll be put towards shoring up the losses in net assets, maybe it’ll be used to make the budget for next year more affordable. However, I do know it will never be given back to members as a rebate on their membership dues. A rebate would be considered an expense and would decrease net revenue the society made the following year and thus decrease bonuses.

There is no clear answer to what would make my favorite chemistry club healthier and more affordable, but the current tethering of compensation and salaries to the same wonderful metrics that financial institutions use seems illogical.



  1. Thanks for the post. Interesting numbers. I was a member of ACS once but I no longer see any benefits of being a member in this Web 2.0 era. No wander their editorial writes about limits Of Web 2.0:

    Is Chemistry Incompatible with Web 2.0?

  2. Thanks for the read. Interesting (and a bit disappointing) to see.

  3. You say the current tethering of compensation and salaries to the same wonderful metrics that financial institutions use seems illogical. Mitch, do you know that several chemists, including Nobel laureate Roald Hoffmann protested by the excessive salaries of some ACS executives?

    Executive compensation and transparency

    Director’s salary makes chemists see red

    • I have read those stories, but thank you for sharing the links in case others haven’t. The point of the blog post wasn’t to rehash old debates as it was meant to simply inform the chemistry community on how these decisions are reached.

  4. Dora Moriarty says:

    My husband was dying from metastatic cancer when our membership renewals came up. I thought that after 31 years of dues-paying, ACS might see fit to extend his membership for the remainder of his life. I checked off the category for “disabled” and applied for a waiver. They sent back a letter saying, yes, you qualify for this option because you’ve been paying full dues for at least 10 years. Please know that you need to have been fully disabled for one year and have a physician’s note to certify this fact, and then send back this form, etc. My husband passed away April 15, 2010. I did not renew his membership, nor mine. I do not regret my decision. My husband’s legacy does not depend on his membership in ACS although he had published in ACS journals before, and an avid user of Scifinder at work. But as far as other membership benefits, he never needed them. Once upon a time, it was considered essential to be an ACS member when you “become” a professional chemist. Is it still true? Do they understand their membership? Really, do they think a 31-year member will stoop to cheating ACS out of an annual membership if he was not disabled?

  5. William Penrose says:

    Well, it confirms why I dropped my membership seven years ago. All I got for my dues was handfuls of junk mail.

  6. Well, we now know where $40,000,000 is going.

    Here is a very interesting blog covering ACS and its engagement with Google, PubChem and LeadScope.

    hmmn, looks like an increase in the dues is due.

  7. I dropped my membership recently because I do not want my fee to feed those greedy CEOs/Presidents/VPs, no more!

  8. I have a question: If you don’t want to renew your membership with ACS. How we are supposed to that? Is there any procedure to follow?

  9. Nina, you can just stop paying. You’ll get lots of mailer notices and possibly even phone calls reminding you to renew, but if you don’t then your membership expires.

  10. Thanks Bender for your answer

    Cause I am from Quebec (Canada) and I am a member of “Ordre des Chimistes”. I would like to stop renewing with that group but it seems impossible cause they pursue you for 10,000 – 15,000$CA. It’s very expensive fee around
    500$CA. I don’t have that money to feed all that people.
    I am afraid with ACS if I have the same problem.

    I contacted a lawyer and the only answer I got “you have to paye”. Poeple here in Canada just paye, you can rise taxes they will give you money.

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