Budget for New Ideas From Staff

One association puts money aside to fund new initiatives that come from staff.

What's the great idea? Offer a new-initiatives fund to support innovation among staff.

Who's doing it? American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)

What's involved? Great ideas often come with a price tag. That's why ASHA created a "new-initiatives fund" for staff ideas on generating nondues revenue.

In 1997, ASHA established the new-initiatives fund, a pool of $500,000 per year available to the executive director to explore new ideas. Chuck Cochran, chief staff officer for operations of ASHA, says funding comes from ASHA's net assets but is kept outside of the operating budget.

"The challenge for most associations is that when you have a new idea and you have to fund it out of the operating budget, that's hard because good ideas don't generally make money the first year," Cochran says. "Our theory is that the new-initiatives fund is set up on a three-year basis, and we assume that the first year we're going to lose money, the second year we'll break even, and the third year we'll make money."

To receive funding, staff members deliver an informal presentation to a set of managers involved in generating nondues revenue. If the managers are interested in the ideas, staff must prepare a business plan and three-year budget with all costs, such as new personnel. If necessary, staff can call on the aid of the finance department to prepare their budgets, which Cochran says encourages staff from all functions to pitch ideas and ensures that a working budget is created from the start. As the new initiative progresses, staff report income and expenses each year.

What are people saying? ASHA's staff have had some major successes in the past few years, such as a journal self-study program that made money in its first year. ASHA has added four positions for new initiatives utilizing the fund, and any revenue flows back into net assets and becomes part of the operating budget after three years.

"It helps people think that, if they have a good idea, we can find ways to fund it," says Cochran. "Especially now when times are tough and there's pressure not to increase dues, then we're always looking for new sources of revenue, and it turns out that staff oftentimes have ideas that none of us think of. And giving them a way to put that idea in place and in practice probably is … a morale booster, because it eases up the pressure on the staff to make sure the budgets aren't as tight as they might have been otherwise."