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A world without NCRA?

By Debbie Dibble

As the NCRA 2024 Conference & Expo in Louisville, Ky., draws ever near, it is time to don your giant Derby hats and start to consider this year’s motions so you will be educated and prepared for vigorous discussion, debate, and voting on the proposed changes to the Constitution & Bylaws, the governing document that guides your Association.

Of utmost importance this year is the upcoming vote on a membership dues adjustment. While I pride myself on being positive and always looking at the bright side, sometimes we need a cheerleader … and sometimes we need straight talk and candidness.

Ten years ago when I was first installed as a director of the NCRA Board of Directors, I had no idea of the grave situation we were in financially. All was rose-colored glasses and flowers. As those first years progressed, we realized that a very concerning practice was being employed of creating a budget and then reassessing at midyear and moving the budget to incorporate all the overages. In 2019 NCRA 2.0 ceased this practice and committed to creating and enforcing a workable budget. A massive spending overhaul was undertaken at that time and continues to this day. The Board then set the goal to balance the budget in three years’ time, but we got it done in year one by leaving no stone unturned as we looked for spending cuts. We were in the black for the first time in ten years during my first year as Secretary/Treasurer, and we continued that for three straight years even during a worldwide pandemic. 

This link will take you to an in-depth enumeration of the monumental efforts that were implemented, but the high notes include rightsizing our headquarters resulting in $250,000 a year in savings, scaling back the size of NCRA events, downsizing the Board of Directors, and almost eliminating Board and committee travel expenses by shifting most meetings to Zoom.  

But what DIDN’T we do? We did NOT cut back programs that impact member value! We DID cut staff. When I first started serving on the board in 2016, we had 40-plus staff members. In 2023, my last year on the Board, we had 25. Those 25 people are providing the same amount of services, if not more, than a staff of almost twice that size. Why? Because we have been blessed as an Association to have found the most amazing people on this planet,  people who are dedicated and loyal to our membership.  

I recently attended legislative meetings to lobby for a rate increase for our court reporters in my state. One of our platform points was that court reporters had not seen an increase in page rates in 14 years. Do you realize NCRA’s Executive Director has not had a raise in years and doesn’t ask for one? Who does that? Not a penny since he came back to save the day as our interim CEO and didn’t increase his rate even when he agreed to stay with us permanently to help us through very difficult times. That is the type of staff leadership we have, willing to do what it takes for the betterment of the whole organization.

To review and analyze the true costs of programs, our Executive Director and the NCRA Board created a Priority Funnel several years ago through which all of our NCRA and NCRF programs were fed, the big and the small, to assess their effectiveness and identify a cost-value ratio. The intent was to begin the long-overdue cutting. And what programs or services did we cut? NOTHING! NOT ONE SINGLE THING! We just kept adding programs, working harder, and doing more with less.

Add to the equation that the pandemic created additional hardships for us all. The recovery has resulted in circumstances no one could have envisioned as workforce attitudes and consumer climates have taken entirely unpredictable turns. Times have been particularly tough for associations.

So what does NCRA look like if this dues adjustment does not pass? NCRA has cut everything possible expense-wise to provide the decades-long service that has been our culture without impacting our members, but those days are over. We have gotten every drop of blood from that proverbial turnip. Tough decisions lie ahead without passage of the adjustment.

What has to go? What are the next steps if the adjustment doesn’t pass? What are some options for where we start to chop services and programs? 

The JCR certainly gets cut even more. 20 fewer pages? The Board has discussed some alternatives. Electronic delivery for everyone? Only receiving an issue every other month? One issue a quarter? Maybe get rid of it altogether?  Even if we relied solely on the JCR Weekly, this would not cut expenses below the $50 adjustment.

Does the NCRA annual Conference get minimized or even canceled altogether? What is the value of that once-a-year networking opportunity to be with your steno family? to go to dinner? to have drinks together? to laugh? to catch up? to seek out new business opportunities? Where will those new jobs come from to augment your calendar? Do we have hotdogs and popcorn at the Gala — without mustard!? Do we cut the Speed Contest? the Realtime Competition? the Awards Ceremony? 

What about certifications? Will we cut down to only the RPR? Do we reduce the test retention policy even more since we will inevitably have to cut more staff and won’t have the infrastructure to support maintaining passed legs? 

Student advocacy? Do we cut our student scholarships? our mentorship programs? the NCRA A to Z® Intro to Steno Machine Shorthand program? our e-newsletter that uses resources? Do we increase student registration prices for conferences, testing, etc.?

How much are we willing to give to protect our Government Relations activities which, in turn, help protect our jobs? Do we eliminate Bar/Judicial affiliations, research, tracking, or state and federal lobbying and advocacy efforts? NCSA, Leadership, and Boot Camp? We have already minimized the NCRA Leadership event to a small session during the Leadership & Legislative Boot Camp activities, but how long can Boot Camp survive? We have subsidized BC for as long as I have been on the Board so it will remain cost-effective for our state affiliates to send delegates to receive this invaluable training, ensuring we will have recruits for grassroots efforts across the country whenever the need arises — which seems almost constant these days. But for how much longer is that sustainable? Do we cut our National Congress of State Associations (NCSA) and save those support dollars we spend helping to support, train, and develop state leadership?

Will we have to stop sending NCRA Board members to state conventions that have fewer than 200 people in attendance? Right now every state has the right to request a rep for their convention, so do we cut back and only give our biggest states face time with their association representation?

What about my beloved Career Launcher, a tool like nothing else NCRA has seen to turn our high-speed students into polished professionals and get them into the field as superior stenographic reporters their first day on the job? Will we have to cut that and let our new recruits figure it out on their own?

What does a post-NCRA world look like? No certs? No one fighting for us? No camaraderie? We would go further down the road created by social media, back to being islands with no cohesive voice when we need to advocate for ourselves. Your Facebook groups might be great to vent or ask a software question, but that group’s voice does not translate to the halls of Congress when legislation is filed that will impact your livelihood.

We will be voting on the dues adjustment in Louisville which asks the ultimate question: What are you willing to lose to save $50? Even full freight, the entire $350, what does that buy you anywhere else? What does it take you to earn that? We have all seen analogies of how many $8 cups of coffee you would have to forgo to cover the adjustment. Yeah, ain’t nobody giving up their cup of coffee, but is 50 bucks truly too much of a sacrifice for all that NCRA does for you?  We’ll bid $50 on a raffle for a purse with less than 1% chance of winning, but this is a two-year discussion?

Take a step back from the social media noise that all NCRA is doing is finding new ways to take your hard-earned dollars. That’s simply not reality. Your membership buys you resources and an advocate that is tirelessly working to protect your profession, and it costs you only $350 a year which you should be using as a tax deduction. Do the calculations. What is that, two per diems in most states? In some states you’ll make that by 10 a.m. Maybe it’s roughly 150 depo pages with no copy sales, the equivalent of one morning’s work?  

Dues adjustment key

This isn’t a money grab, folks. Been there, heard that, but let me tell you from being on the Board for years, NCRA works on razor-thin budgets and NEVER have I heard at a Board meeting that NCRA wants to intentionally hurt our members’ pocketbooks. The exact opposite! I understand asking for more money from our members is not a particularly popular thing to do with the cost of rent, groceries, and everything else under the sun seemingly going up by the day — and believe you me, no one wants to do this — but NCRA must pay those same increased costs as you for what it needs to pay its staff, to run its certification programs, to keep the doors open.

Maybe just a little cheerleading. We are working tirelessly, all of us, to bring new professionals into our industry. Once we have refilled our ranks and our membership explodes, then we will be in a very different situation, but we must find solutions until that great day comes.

There are no pom-poms and cute cheers for this one. This one is on you. Please vote your support for the dues adjustment August 1. Your vote will be your voice to answer this question: What is NCRA worth to you?  

2024 Voting dates ad

Find more information on the 2025 dues adjustment proposal

Voting on the 2025 dues adjustment proposal will begin within two hours of the Annual Business Meeting taking place on Aug. 1 in conjunction with the 2024 NCRA Conference & Expo.

Learn more about the proposal.

Debbie Dibble, RDR, CRR, CRC, is a freelance captioner and court reporter based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and a past NCRA president. She can be reached at ddib06@gmail.com.

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