“Every threat is an opportunity”

“Move quickly. Be prepared to lose 30-40% of your membership base. Get ahead of the crisis. Don’t wait to make the switch until you’re in the middle of the chaos.”

These are the words of John Dixon, General Secretary of the New South Wales Teachers Federation (NSWTF).

John took over an hour of his busy week to share his experience and insight on losing payroll deductions with labor organizations here in the United States. It is currently a time of great unknown and uncertainty. A time in which labor must hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

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Background

NSWTF had the ability to collect dues via payroll deduction revoked, not once, but twice, by the Australian government. The tell-tale signs that he described are very similar to what is happening here in the U.S. The first time they lost payroll deductions, NSWTF almost went bankrupt. The second time they lost it, they rallied together without much of a plan, but were driven by this thought:

“One of my worst days as a Union Activist was to get all of the Officers’ and staff and tell them that unless “we” could get an invoice out before Christmas we would be laying off half of the staff by the end of January.”

The Switch Campaign

Part of making a major transition such as the one from payroll deduction to direct debit is making the switch. This includes signing members up, gathering payment information and also includes honing in on your cause and mission. For the NSWTF that meant focusing on what was best for teachers and students. Last but not least, communicating that change to their members, assuring them that it works just like payroll deductions and they won’t notice a difference, is a key part of making a successful transition.
(John outlines the switch campaign on slides 12 – 21 in his presentation.)

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His Words of Advice

  1. Move quickly. Be prepared to lose 30-40% of your membership base.
  2. Get ahead of the crisis. Don’t wait to make the switch until you’re in the middle of the chaos.
  3. Have robust systems in place. Don’t take your membership management system for granted it took NSWTF 8 years to find one that could support their direct debit needs.
  4. Be sure you have strong financial reserves to last you at least 6 months.
  5. Look at the rules, see what you can and can’t do legally under them. If you don’t do this, you’ll end up spending money the organization doesn’t have in legal fees.
  6. Go cold turkey  take the payroll deduction option away before it’s taken from you.
  7. Have updated email addresses and phone numbers available for members before you make the switch, in case you need to track down declined payments.
  8. Every threat is an opportunity step up to the plate and fight hard, you might not get a second chance.
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Closing Statement

John ended with a powerful statement that captures the essence of the hardship and journey that NSWTF went through…

“It’s corny to say, but it’s true. Every threat is an opportunity, and you’re now facing the biggest threat of the union’s existence in your country. If you don’t – There’s an opportunity there to step up to the plate and fight pretty hard. My advice would be, go hard. Go prepared to go hard. Because you won’t necessarily get a second chance.”

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