By Susan Picquelle, APLDWA Treasurer

Where does the money go? This is a common quandary for most of us. In this article I will attempt to answer that question as it applies to our APLD finances. Every year when we renew our membership, we likely ask ourselves if we're getting our money's worth from our membership fee, doing an informal cost/benefit analysis in our heads. Or not! Many of us are so committed to the organization that we renew without question. But we all deserve to know what our money is used for, even if we're not curious.

Our chapter (APLDWA) and the national organization (APLD) are BOTH non-profit and operate on balanced budgets. Each fall, both the chapter and APLD National create a budget for the following year where our income equals our expenses. The budgets are reviewed and approved by the respective Boards of Directors. Let's look at our chapter's finances first. For the 2021 APLDWA budget, we predict total expenses at $16,550. Where does all that money go?

APLDWA logo graphic of tree on hill and words Association of Professional Landscape Designers Washington Chapter
Our expenses can be categorized as general operating expenses and committee expenses. Our major general expenses are very mundane and can be considered "overhead" – our zoom subscription, the rental cost for our storage unit (where we store all the paraphernalia for our events), credit card fees, and our mass emailing service (Constant Contact). A few operating expenses are more fun – the holiday party, stipends to send our chapter President to the APLD International Conference, and publicity endeavors such as hiring Janine Anderson to write quarterly articles for our newsletter and blog, hoping to bring potential clients to the APLDWA website.

Each of our committees may have expenses and they participate in our budget process by submitting Committee Activity Proposals where they document what they plan to do in the following year and what expenses they expect to incur and income they hope to generate.

Our two committees that have the greatest expenses are the Digital Media Committee and the Program Committee, although our programs ideally generate sufficient income to cover their expenses. The Digital Media Committee oversees our website and newsletters, and these are the most expensive line items in our budget. These items include maintaining and hosting our website, publishing our newsletter and event announcements, and website updates. The website is the face of APLDWA and keeping it fresh and relevant with regular blogs and other updates is vital to our Chapter's work, not just to generate client interest, but also new member and sponsor interest.

People in room listening to speaker and taking notes.
2020 Marketing Program - Photo by H. Walther
The Program Committee's expenses vary greatly with the programs they produce and thus their annual outlays vary greatly between years. A major benefit from moving our programs from in-person to virtual is that the program expenses are greatly reduced by not needing to rent a venue and provide refreshments.

So that's where our money goes, but where does our money come from? Our sources of income are membership dues, sponsorships, and our programs.

The amount of the membership dues we pay varies with membership category. This link explains the six different levels and dues. For the three professional levels and the allied category, our chapter is allocated $75 per member, but we never see $50 of that as it goes directly to the APLD management company to pay their chapter administration fee (which basically covers the overhead of managing our finances). In addition to the $25 we receive from each professional and allied member, the chapter also receives $6/member for each student and educator member. So in a typical year, APLDWA brings in between $1,500 and $2,000 in membership dues. As you can see, your membership dues fall far short of covering our chapter expenses! For 2021, your dues will basically cover the rental cost for our storage unit and our Zoom subscription.

The sponsorship program was begun in 2003 by Tina Nyce, FAPLD, and has slowly grown into a major funding source thanks to the hard work of our current and past Sponsorship Committees. Ideally, our sponsorship income comes close to covering our website expense. Last year we brought in $5,775 from our much appreciated sponsors. Please, send your business to our sponsors if that fits with your needs and be sure to thank them for their sponsorship; for a list of our sponsors, go to

People on patio with plantings and wooden trellis listening to speaker.
2019 Wood Structures Program - Photo by S. Picquelle
Our programs are self-sustaining and receive no funding from our membership dues. In a perfect world, our programs would generate just enough income to cover the associated expenses. Our programming is a major benefit to our members and we would rather not charge any more than we have to, keeping the program registration fees at a minimum so they are not a hindrance for any of you. But, in fact, we have remaining expenses that need to be subsidized by our program income. By charging non-members higher registration fees, we not only provide an incentive to join APLD, but we also use that added income to keep registration fees for our members more affordable. Our typical target is to have our programs generate a surplus of about $5,000 per year, which allows us to cover those unfunded expenses and have a balanced budget. In reality, our program income varies greatly between programs and between years and is nearly impossible to predict because attendance is so variable. Happily, another benefit of putting our programs online is that attendance and thus the income produced has greatly increased because attendance is no longer restricted to our commuting area. We've had attendees from all across the US and one attendee for a recent event was even in France! Yes, we all miss gathering in person and we will eventually return to that mode for some of our programs, but many programs will remain as online webinars well into the future. In past years, our program registration fees were often $75 for members, and recently we've been able to reduce that to $35 or even less thanks to the benefits of going virtual. This pricing is also in line with the webinars presented by APLD National.

Some years APLDWA ends up in the black and some years in the red, depending primarily on how well attended our programs are and how generous our sponsors are. And as a non-profit, we are careful to not bank too much money and find ways to return value to our members if we become too flush. As an example, for many years we had such a generous surplus that we held random drawings and gave away free registrations to the APLD International Conference. We haven't found ourselves in that luxurious position for a few years now, but who knows what the future will bring!

APLD logo graphic of tree on hill
APLD National operates their budget similarly, but of course on a much larger scale; that budget is in the range of $500,000. Because we are a national organization with multiple chapters, there are lots of moving parts and legal considerations. Our national umbrella protects each chapter and gives us the freedom and confidence (and insurance!) to pursue our active agendas. The bulk of our membership dues go to APLD National, so what is that money used for?

APLD has many more expense categories than our chapter does because they do so much more. The single largest expense is for "Management Services", which is the professional management company that has been with APLD since 2001, Calabrese Management. That includes equipment, office space, supplies and such, but the main expense is the company's staff that provide the expertise and continuity that keeps our organization purring along, something that a series of volunteers cycling through are not able to provide. Other elements that also fall under "Overhead" include insurance, bank and credit card fees, tax expenses, postage, and more.

People at the Spheres in Seattle at a cocktail reception.
2019 APLD International Landscape Design Conference - photo by S. Picquelle

Another big ticket category is marketing and promotion. This includes APLD newsletters and the two magazines Design Online (monthly) and The Designer (quarterly). It should be noted that Design Online has an excellent readership rate and The Designer generates advertising and subscription income that offsets some of its expenses.

The last major money outflow is the annual International Conference; it is hugely expensive to produce. Smaller ticket items are no less significant. A wonderful service that APLD provides to its chapters is leadership training to enhance our leaders' skills and to facilitate cooperation among them. And just as for our chapter, APLD's many committees also incur expenses and some generate income and all that activity is budgeted using the same Committee Activity Proposals.

People in seminar, sitting and facing camera with speaker in background
2020 Leadership Training - Photo by B. Goff
APLD also has more sources of income than the chapter does and benefits from the economy of scale. Their largest single source, unlike the chapter's income, is membership dues, producing almost half of the income; in recent years APLD has had between 500 and 700 members. Their second largest income source is profits from the Conference and webinars, which, similar to our chapter's programs, receive no funding from membership dues. The Conference and webinars are priced to produce significant income thanks to large attendance, and that income is used to fund other vital activities that are not income-generating such as advocacy tasks that protect our right to practice. Sponsorships come in as the distant third largest income source. And just as with the chapter, some committees generate income that is used to subsidize the remaining unfunded expenses. Many important activities give big benefits with little or no financial impact, thanks to the energetic troupe of volunteers on the APLD Board and its committees.

People at the Spheres in Seattle at a cocktail reception.

If you really want to get down into the weeds, I will happily send any APLDWA member a copy of the APLDWA 2021 budget (email me at with that request). And you may download APLD National's budget by going to to, click on the Member Login button at the top, log in to your account, then on the Member Page click on the Membership Documents box a ways down on the page on the left, then on the Membership Documents page scroll down to the bottom, and click on the link "2021 Approved Budget". The most interesting part of that 31-page document is the many Committee Activity Proposals where the ambitious plans of each committee are laid out. I encourage you to read through these and see if any inspire you to participate as a committee member at the national level. Of course your chapter always needs more volunteers so please consider joining one of our committees as well!

*Apologies to Trevor Noah of the Daily Show for stealing his recent segment's title and apologies to Olivia Newton John for conjuring up her classic sexy song for such an unsexy topic.