The AIA, to join or not…
May 21, 2008, 9:08 am
Filed under: Architecture

The architecture advocacy group here in town, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) recently contacted us and encouraged BUILD llc to take up membership. We haven’t been members for several years and decided to do a little homework before making up our minds this time. There are probably many reasons to join (or not join) for instance the social aspect, the professional networking, the credentials, the representation they provide, etc. We’ve always been curious as to whether or not the AIA makes financial sense for a small firm like ours, so for today’s blog post we’re going to do a quick comparison between the AIA membership fees and the tangible resources they provide. For those of you who aren’t affiliated with a small architectural firm and/or don’t enjoy extremely dull blog posts, I’d pull the rip cord now…

Cost of AIA membership for a small firm
An individual membership is $442 per year and costs $600 each year thereafter to renew. Adding your firm of 5 or less employees costs an additional $100 per year. So for a small firm (like ours) a typical non-introductory annual fee would be $700 per year. Ouch.

A typical year of AIA resources for a small firm
Within a one year period, let’s say that you buy the basic contracts “necessary” for a small firm (A101, A114, A201, B141, B143), take AIA classes to fulfill the required 18 learning units (for pricing purposes we chose the next available classes which add up to 18 credits), attend the annual awards and submit one project for the awards. Here’s how it breaks down:

…………………………………………….AIA Member………………Non Member
(18) Learning Units……………………..$240……………………….$415
Enter (1) project in awards…………….$250……………………….$345
(4) Tickets to awards…………………..$54…………………………$60


This gives the members a $291 savings over the non-members, but this is after the hefty $700 annual fee. NOT joining the AIA saves a little firm like us about $400 per year. If we were members we’d be a little miffed that standard services, like the ones above, cost almost six extra bills a year above and beyond membership dues.

So from a financial and resource standpoint the AIA membership gets a big thumbs down from us at BUILD llc. Naturally the other factors mentioned above have varying degrees of importance depending on your firm and your goals. The AIA obviously has its merits though, and we’d be happy to hear other people’s thoughts…


8 Comments so far
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I work in a mid sized firm and I don’t believe that very many people are individually members, primarily because of the hefty fees. I personally don’t have a need to buy contracts or other forms since I don’t deal with these items. So, to sum it up, I’ll have to give it a big thumbs down.
I call it the A1A because I believe they sit around and pat each other on the back and try to outdo one another. From a recent office presentation on the AIA, I heard that most of their income comes from selling forms and nothing else.

Comment by Lasse Jaakola-architect

This is a very good post and a good case is made for not joining AIA.

As executive search consultants to the architecture and engineering industry, we try to get an idea of our clients’ vision of what they want to be before advising membership or non-membership.

If a firm wants to grow from 5 to 50 one day, AIA could provide a network of good people that could one day make future hires. If the owners of the five-person firm are having fun and are content with remaining at this level, the AIA membership may not be cost effective given the breakdown posted in this blog.

John P. Kreiss
President & CEO
SullivanKreiss, Inc.

Comment by John P. Kreiss

as long as your work is getting recognized, i think you’ll find a somewhat steady stream of contacts. frankly, since dues are supposed to go towards lobbying issues, and they haven’t done well in that realm historically, it’s a bit of a joke.

Comment by mike

The AIA can get the nutsack!

Comment by Kevin

Like anything in life, you get out of it what you put into it. I’ve been an active AIA member for over four years, and while I do consider it expensive, I also think it is worthwhile. I initial joined for the networking and educational opportunities since I was concerned as a one-man firm I might stagnate on my own.

I put very little cash into the organization aside from my yearly dues. I currently use my own contracts (although that may change soon), and don’t bother with the award ceremonies. Most of my educational credits are free, usually in the form of Chapter meetings, Small Firm Roundtable discussions, or lunch hour presentations. Almost all of these include a free meal.

I do give a fair bit of my time. I sit on the Board of Directors, moderate the Small Firm Roundtable, and am a member of the Virtual Design and Construction Committee. This usually consumes about 4 to 6 hours a month.

I have enjoyed being a part of what the AIA does behind the scenes, including it’s donations to local and national causes, interaction with the local municipalities, and lobbying efforts. Among other things, our chapter is currently working to bringing a bill before the senate which will allow Phoenix architects the ability to self-certify their projects.

Certainly much of what the AIA provides could be found elsewhere for free. I read a statistic once that something like 80% of the people who join the AIA only join so they can put “AIA” after their names, because to the layperson that means they are an architect. That’s sad.

I agree that membership is something that each firm must decide for themselves, especially a small firm with financial or time constraints. I just wanted to provide another viewpoint.

I’m a proud, active member of the AIA! Now where did I put my lapel pin?

Robert Pearce, AIA (Phoenix Metro Chapter)
Pearce Design Studio, LLC
Phoenix, AZ

Comment by Robert Pearce

The representation the AIA provides is an important aspect – it might be to their advantage to play that one up a bit and let us small firms know how the lobbying is improving the industry. It’s difficult to connect the dots with the current AIA management here in Seattle.

Comment by buildllc

YOU WOULD BE AMAZED: Get involved. if your for or against – try it for one year (but that is not long enough – architects you took 5 years of school and 3 years of internship to get to the test to use the privilege of ARCHITECT term.
The AIA is an (THE) organization PROTECTING YOUR LICENSE and RIGHTS.
—Interior licensure issues, Lobbyist, Bills to back (energy, civil rights, etc) = Government is a complex Beast but I feel better that my small donation of 500 =/- dollars are protecting my ability and CHOICE to practice the profession that I love. I feel it is protected by a sum larger and SMARTER than me… and more of a focus on issues.

I am happy to be a member for many years, but only active for the last two, it gets you face out there as well as you company name. Other firms will see you at the organizations functions and as you get involved you become an expert of sorts (you define this). (You will be AMAZED as to what you WILL LEARN from being INVOLVED in an organization so focused on architecture – (yes money making too).
Q: But when has your BANK (insert business) actually helped you with your account, the AIA will help you support you and give you a plethora of information that is overwhelming, and YES THEY ARE TRYING HARD TO CHANGE – That is why I got involved – to keep the “younger crowd” involved and feeling their voice can be heard and change such a large organization. Change in technology, economy, etc are happening fast we need these younger individuals as future leaders – use your local AIA as a mentor, stepping stone, or what ever you wish, but get to it!

Put your opinion out there someone will listen and agree or best of all dis-agree and you’ll learn something but most of all get involved !!
It is not easy but a worthwhile cause it is your profession!

Comment by John C. Workley

Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation :) Anyway … nice blog to visit.

cheers, Urchin!

Comment by Urchin

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