Not terribly long ago, I got a letter from the Dramatists Guild—of which, let me say right away, I am a proud member—telling me it was time to pay my dues. The letter was so disappointing that I feel I need to share a few thoughts.
The letter made four significant errors:
- It treated me like a number by opening the letter with “Dear Member.”
- It told me that my dues went up, but confused me about why.
- It confused me about how much, exactly, they were.
- It did nothing at all, really, but ask me to send in a check.
There was no sense whatsoever that the Dramatists Guild knew me, cared about me, or had anything of value to offer me. If I were being kind, I might call it a missed opportunity to deepen my engagement with the organization; a less generous interpretation from someone not inclined to forgive them (and I am) would call it a total form letter failure.
Here’s what the letter should have done. It should have addressed me by name, for starters; in this day and age, that’s a technologically simple matter. It should have explained the dues changes to me in simpler terms, reminding me of when they occurred and laying out the membership levels with precision and clarity. Finally, and most importantly, it should have reminded me of everything I get out of being a member. Nothing fancy, really, just a quick list of bullet points to make sure I know I’m not sending my money off into the ether.
Because that, really, is what the Dramatists Guild is fighting: the sense among many playwrights–and I’m not telling tales out of school here–that the organization doesn’t really do anything. When I suggest joining (and again, I do, often), so many of my fellow dramatists ask me why they should part with $90 (or is it $130?)… and the answer is hard for me to articulate.
First of all, I tell them, you get a really great magazine. I read The Dramatist from cover to cover. So that’s maybe $35 worth of value right there.
On top of that, I suggest somewhat meekly, if you end up needing contractual help for any reason, they might be able to lend a hand, though it’s not really clear how. I even know a couple of playwrights who’ve taken advantage of the service, and they seemed pretty happy… though I can’t say I’ve needed help myself in the last nine years or so. But that’s got to be worth something, right? Hard to say how much, though, since (like life insurance) you really don’t want to use it.
Then there’s a bunch of little stuff, like discounted tickets to things (if you live in New York, mostly) and access to a cool rehearsal room (again, if you live in New York), and… well… you can put it on your resume that you’re a member. I guess I’d pay a buck or two for those things. And I’m sure there’s more I can’t remember off the top of my head… though I suppose if I really valued whatever that “more” was, I wouldn’t forget it. (Oh! A discount to the Dramatists Guild conference, which is now only a few days away… though that did still cost me another few hundred dollars.)
I know this all sounds critical. That’s because it is. Being a proud member doesn’t mean being silent about my complaints any more than being patriotic means you can’t criticize the government. I want the Dramatists Guild to thrive, so I share these thoughts in what I hope is a constructive manner. Part of the reason I sent them the check they asked for, in fact—and I did send it—is that I want to keep investing in the organization, to help keep it alive and give it time to figure itself out.
You’re going to have to do better than this last letter, though, Dramatists Guild. Your brand is challenged, and you can’t keep relying on the loyal opposition (like me) to keep ponying up the dough. Time to rally!