2012Q3 Reports: Treasurer

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ACL Treasurer's Report to Membership, June 2012


Graeme Hirst, Treasurer

Attached are four files summarizing the ACL's finances for the calendar year 2011.

FILE 1: Our balance sheet, which shows a snapshot of our assets and liabilities at 31-Dec-2011:

On 31-Dec-2011, we had about $576,000(*) in the bank and another $127,000 in abstract assets such as deposits and advances that we have prepaid for future conferences. Against this, we had liabilities of $46,000 (largely multi-year memberships and money owed to The MIT Press for Computational Linguistics), giving us equity of about $658,000. That's substantially up from last year, when we fell below $600,000, a dangerously low level; ideally, it would be substantially even higher.(**)

(*) This is $200,000 less than the year before. However, our bank balance on 31-Dec-2010 was artificially high because we still had substantial unpaid bills from ACL 2010 Uppsala at that point. Our accounts payable at the end of 2010 was $218,000; this year, it's $7500.

(**) We need to maintain substantial equity for two reasons: (a) We need to be able to survive disastrous losses on conferences, perhaps two in the same year, as in 2010. (b) When we sign contracts with hotels and convention centers for $100-400K of conference services, these businesses are extending us a very large amount of credit (even though we also pay big deposits), so we undergo credit checks which, obviously, we need to have sufficient assets to pass.

A substantial proportion, about 40%, of ACL's equity is in the subaccounts of chapters and SIGS. NAACL's subaccount balance (taking into account the conference results below) was $75,000, and EACL's was €7500 on 31-Dec-2011. SIGs collectively have $180,000, of which $114,000 is SIGDAT's (surpluses from EMNLPs are piling up) and $33,500 is SIGDIAL's. Other SIGs have balances ranging from a few thousand dollars down to zero or less (SIGPARSE has a $2800 deficit).

FILE 2: Our overall profit and loss statement (technically so-called even though we are a non-profit organization and therefore have surpluses, not profits):

Note that some lines on this sheet are misleading because they are horizontal sums that aren't particularly meaningful (such as the sum across conferences of the costs of each component of the banquets at Portland and Edinburgh). See below for the more-interesting details of major expense and income classes.

FILE 3: Profit and loss statement for conferences:

(a) ACL 2011 Portland was large and successful, and the net surplus was $90,750 on gross revenue of $580,000 (including sponsorships, registration, and banquet tickets), which is the 15% that we aim for to support our other activities. The surplus is divided between SIGs that sponsored workshops at the conference (on a per-person-day basis) ($12,750), NAACL ($39,000), and central ACL ($39,000). One less-happy note is that the banquet lost $12,250; our goal of making banquets a revenue-neutral activity is not being achieved.

(b) EMNLP 2011 Edinburgh achieved a surplus for SIGDAT of $22,700 on gross revenues of about $164,000, about 14%.

FILE 4: Profit and loss statement for the CL journal, membership, and operations:

(a) The journal, of course, has no income any more. The costs, estimated to be about $70,000 in 2011, are supposed to be covered by membership fees and surpluses from conferences. The actual amount paid in 2011, shown in the spreadsheet, is much less because of erratic billing by The MIT Press; we owe them a large amount of money for past services that we are just waiting for them to invoice us for.

In 2012, our new journal, TACL, will start incurring costs. This journal has been designed to be cheaper than CL by foregoing both the quality enhancements of professional copyediting and typography and online distribution through a publisher.

(b) Membership is required for attendance at any ACL conference, and not many people pay for memberships any more except when registering for their first conference each year. (Also, we still have many multiple-year memberships current from past years when we "gave away" one-year memberships, or membership extensions, with HLT registration.) We grossed $79,400 in memberships in 2011; the cost of processing and other membership services was about $13,700, leaving a net income of $65,700 in this class.

(c) Miscellaneous income and operating expenses: Income here includes such things as interest on our bank accounts and bonds, and expenses include office rent and utilities, insurance, bookkeeping and accounting, Business Manager's time not allocated to other specific classes, and the cost of maintaining the ACL Portal. Our net operating cost was $52,500. Covering these expenses from membership fees leaves us with about $13,000 for the costs of the journal, giving it a deficit of about $57,000.

(d) Not shown on this spreadsheet, because they cut across a number of categories, are scholarships, sponsorships, and other awards. These include awards to students to attend conferences and the annual Johns Hopkins Summer School, and contributions to the cost of events organized by other CL and NLP groups. These awards are made by chapters from their subaccounts, by central ACL from the Walker Fund, and by the organizers of student research workshops with funds that flow to us specifically for this purpose from sources such as the U.S. National Science Foundation. In 2011, these awards totaled $41,400.

GENERAL COMMENTS: Our conference surplus for 2011 is a sign of hope after the losses that we sustained in 2010 (ACL 2010 Uppsala just broke even, and NAACL 2010 Los Angeles lost $67,000, $8500 of which was due to a reneged sponsorship). But to sustain our other activities, we need a greater and more-reliable income from conference surpluses and perhaps from continuing organization-level sponsorships and from page charges.

At present, ACL, unlike many other open-access publishers, does not ask authors to cover any of the costs of publication. Although revenue models weren't considered at all when we switched to open-access for the journal, publication without charge to authors is now an explicit policy of ACL. Indeed, it was felt that authors used to the former reader-pays model would not tolerate an author-pays system. However, it is not clear that an ACL-pays model is sustainable in the long term, and as author-pays open-access journals are now gaining acceptance, the policy should be revisited.

I have commented before that we also need to rethink how conferences interact with chapter and SIG finances. Under the present arrangement, it is the chapters, not top-level ACL, that take most of the surplus or loss of *ACL conferences. Specifically, the chapters get 100% of the surplus or loss of their own conferences, and 50% of that of the international conference when it is held in their territory. Only when the ACL conference is held in Asia and is not joint with AFNLP can ACL get 100%.

The rationale for this arrangement made sense at the time it was made. Central ACL and the journal were largely self-supporting, and this arrangement gave the chapters a little revenue for Good Works. This is no longer the case; central ACL operations, especially publications, require more funds, and, arguably, the chapters require less -- or, at least, they do not require half or all of the 15% surpluses that we aim for. Equally, in view of the NAACL Los Angeles results, the chapters and SIGs might wish to be more insulated from large losses.

Last year, I therefore proposed that ACL should make a new arrangement with chapters and SIGs, including (a) a contribution from chapter conferences of perhaps 50% of any surplus in return for a picking up, say, 30% of any loss and (b) reducing the chapter's cut of any ACL conference surplus from 50% to perhaps 20% but not passing on to them any losses. The explicit goal is to make chapters poorer and central ACL richer, because this is necessary for the organization's goals. But in compensation, the chapters will have a more-reliable stream of income. Similarly, large SIG events should be expected to contribute some part of any surplus to central ACL's activities such as journals. This proposal remains on the table for further discussion and parameter-setting.