One AIA: Indispensable Yet Illusive

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Success of AIA’s Repositioning Initiative depends on each one of us taking ownership of the mandate for change. Everyone must view our role as leaders differently, and commit to action that empowers our Components and members to embrace their role in helping remake the profession and AIA.

This expectation, a quote from the consultant’s report to the AIA Board of Directors, revisits the concept of “One AIA,” and clearly stresses collaboration among all AIA components as foundational to Repositioning.


Paul W. Welch, Jr., Hon. AIA

All of us, at the national, state, and local level, know we need to work better together if Repositioning is to have any chance of success. Trust is an issue, and for many years the AIA has struggled, with mixed results, to strengthen the relationship between the National Office and the State and Local Components. We know all too well that the absence of harmony and a lack of mutual respect will foster anger and conflict, exacerbating the challenge of supporting and working together. Clearly, the search for a “One AIA,” a “Seamless AIA, “ or a “Unified AIA” cannot and will not be achieved until several organizational and attitudinal problems are addressed. Accordingly, the next several issues of Notes from the Second-Floor focus on these obstacles: A dues structure under stress; the never-ending search for non-dues income; organizational structure and alignment; the challenges of being a component executive; and, the capacity and capabilities of components.

A Dues Structure under Stress: The dues structure is terribly strained. Dues are perceived high in relation to benefits, and membership in the organization is expensive. The independent nature of the components allows each to establish dues without serious consideration of the total cost of membership across all three levels. Chapters are often the last component to increase dues, frequently after the Institute and state components have done so. As a consequence, in order to maintain programs, state and local components increasingly look to sponsorships and/or vendors for non-dues revenue.

Understandably, the cost of maintaining AIA’s mandated three-tier membership structure is frequently cited as the principal reason that dues are so high. Moreover, in comparison to other professions, the dues are more. Yet such comparisons seldom consider the adverse consequences of disconnecting the three-tier structure, nor the broad variety of programming in response to members’ interests. However, in light of shifting generational values and perspectives, the cost of AIA membership needs to be examined and alternate ways to resource needed programs, and activities should be prioritized.

Never-Ending Search for Non-Dues Income: The search for non-dues income frequently has several adverse impacts on the components:

  • It generates strong competition among the components. State and large urban components, with larger constituencies, are frequently more attractive to vendors. This often results in local components only being attractive to local vendors whose resources are limited. As vendors and manufacturers focus on the larger components in search of the proverbial bang for their buck, an environment of increased competition, tension, and uncertainty is fostered among the components. (Not, to mention vendors receiving multiple requests from several components competing for their contributions.)
  • Frequently, component executives spend an inordinate amount of time recruiting volunteers to raise money, or personally contacting vendors for commitments, fulfilling vendor benefits, and keeping vendors happy. Consequently, instead of delivering member services and engaging the community, executives are understandably preoccupied with raising non-dues income simply to pay their salaries and/or keep the office open.
  • At times, the day-to-day existence of components, especially the smaller ones, is one of desperation, anxiety, and feeling unappreciated and overlooked. Living hand- to-mouth, the constant search for new revenues can have a chilling effect on recruiting new members and chapter officers. Architects are not easily persuaded to serve on boards when the priority is raising money. Consequently, a growing number of smaller components have vacant leadership positions with a subsequent lack of member involvement in chapter activities.
  • Clearly, we are all in this together. We must find ways to leverage the powers of trust, collaboration and faith if the desire is to strengthen and build AIA as indispensable to the practice of architecture.

    In the words of George D. Herron (1862-1925)

    “What happens to one of us sooner or later happens to all; we have always been inescapably involved in a common destiny.”

    Our conversation on the concept of One AIA continues in the next issue. Please take the time and opportunity to participate. Your thoughts are greatly appreciated.



    Paul W. Welch Jr., Hon. AIA

    Paul W. Welch Jr., Hon. AIA and Executive Vice President of the AIA California Council (AIACC), is the former interim Executive Vice President and CEO of the American Institute of Architects in Washington, D.C.

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