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You are here: Home 2004 Vol.36 No.2, March/April 2004 The SIGCHI Financial Challenge
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The SIGCHI Financial Challenge

Treasurer's Report 2003, Rob Jacob outlines the tough times ahead.

The job of Finance Chair has changed dramatically. When I started this job two years ago our membership and conferences were growing, our conferences were generating surplus funds and our finances were strong. We were maintaining a good emergency fund to protect us from a future downturn, and our biggest problem was balancing among the requests for funds for launching new projects. But then things began to get more interesting.

Both the high-tech recession and the international situation had a big impact on both our conference attendance and our balance sheet. We have had to use much of our emergency fund in the last two years, and must now manage our finances much more conservatively.

ACM requires us to maintain an emergency fund balance of about US$ 700K. Until a couple of years ago, our fund had been growing steadily, as each year's CHI Conference surplus added to the fund. The fund peaked at about twice the required amount. With recent losses from the CHI Conferences, we are now down to just the required amount. We have made major changes in planning the CHI Conferences to reduce their expenses and potential losses.

The problem is that conference planning is highly asymmetrical with respect to income and expenses. You must commit to most of your expenses years in advance, but you don't know your income (attendance) until a few weeks before the conference. For example, convention centers are typically booked five years in advance; contracts for professional services must be signed before the work begins, often a year or two ahead of the CHI Conference. For CHI2002 and CHI2003, at the time we were planning, the prospects looked very bright; by the time we saw the downturn, most of their expenses were already committed, and the conferences dipped deeply into our reserve fund. Without this fund, these losses could have bankrupted us. In the past, maintaining such a large fund sometimes seemed unnecessarily conservative, but now it seems like a very good idea.

So, we are changing the CHI Conference and the SIGCHI budgets to adjust to new situation. Spending will be more austere for now. In particular, this means that we will rely more on volunteers and less on professional staff for organizing the conference – so please volunteer to help us! And, while we are still in decent financial shape, this is not a good time to propose an expensive new initiative. My goal is to see us through this downturn and make sure that we emerge from it in good condition and ready to grow and prosper again. And, finally, let me thank you [I think :-)] for re-electing me to this position, it has certainly become more interesting and challenging than I expected.

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