Much Ado About Dues

It’s time to answer another one of the questions we’ve been getting asked frequently: what are the dues to be a member of Judge Foundry?

You can skip to the part of this article that directly answers that question (do a CTRL-F for “the part with the specifics”), but we’d like to talk about finances in a general sense first, so you can get an idea of where your dues will go and why we need to charge them.

Shawn, Mani and Nicola plan ODE placement at Grand Prix DC in 2017. Photo © John Brian McCarthy
Shawn, Mani and Nicola plan ODE placement at Grand Prix DC in 2017. Photo © John Brian McCarthy

A bit of history

Being a judge used to not cost money.

Well, that’s not entirely true.

Judging has always cost money, however that cost was mostly invisible to the average judge.  Tests just existed.  Websites were just there.  An infrastructure was already provided. There were already places to go to read articles or apply for events, grind practice tests, or publicly praise another judge for exemplary behavior.  But whether judges used,,, or there have always been fees and administrative costs shouldered by a combination of companies or individual contributors that the average judge was unaware of.

Times changed.  With the end of the Judge Program, Judge Academy came to replace it and many judges were suddenly made aware of a lot of the services they had previously just received for free suddenly cost money. Judge Academy had expenses – full-time employees, lawyers to parse international law, website designers who couldn’t work for free. Judge Academy had to start charging dues to be a certified judge. This amount changed from year to year as Judge Academy struggled to find a budget that could maintain a largely invisible global infrastructure while providing more visible/tangible perks to members.

This brings us to today, or more accurately, to the very near future when Judge Foundry officially launches and starts collecting dues

What do I get for my money?

This is a question we’ve been asked in various forms, at events and online, since we announced that we’d be collecting dues to fund our operations. We’ll try to answer it here, and we want to be clear that this is the answer for today – as time goes on, opportunities open up, and organized play changes, we expect to see benefits change and new benefits become available. 

So let’s start with this: you get a legal organization of which you can be a member. Being a legal organization is a big deal, because it means that Judge Foundry can negotiate with entities, sign contracts, and own things, unlike the pre-Judge Academy judge program that didn’t have any legal status. As a 501(c)(6) nonprofit business league, Judge Foundry must collect a substantial portion of our funding from members. That’s the IRS talking, not us – legally, a business league needs to be funded by the businesses whose conditions it’s improving. Even in a world where a judge wins the lottery and decides to perpetually fund Judge Foundry, we’ll still have to charge some nominal dues to remain a nonprofit (note: if you won the lottery and would like to perpetually fund Judge Foundry, please email us). 

With that legal organization, you get a stake. Every member can vote on major program initiatives. Every member can vote for our board of directions to set the agenda for the next year. Every member can participate in discussions about the future of the organization, and have the respect of other members as a peer and an equal. 

This may not sound like much, but to us, it’s everything. We’ve never tried a judge program owned by the judge community before, and we think that this experiment will create a better experience for judges, tournament organizers, publishers and players than anything we’ve tried before.

The second thing that your dues get you is the privilege of calling yourself a member of Judge Foundry and a Foundry-certified Judge. That title is only as meaningful as the organization backing it, and our commitment to quality ensures that tournament organizers and players will recognize the value that certification brings. 

Your dues are your investment in the organization, but they’re also a connection to an important part of your identity. Judges are proud of our history and culture, and by paying your dues each month, you’re ensuring that that history will continue and that future judges will be able to follow in your footsteps. Judging has made so many of us richer in spirit than we could have ever thought possible when we first took a rules test. Being a member of Judge Foundry helps others follow you on their own journeys of self-improvement and fellowship through judging.

The third thing you get for your dues is a platform to support judging. Judge technology is built off the volunteer work of judges, but there are some things that can’t or shouldn’t be paid for by volunteer labor. Website servers cost money, and the kind of hosting we need is a little more involved than what we can get on Geocities. We have to pay a number of government filing fees each year, and we also need to pay accountants to ensure that our filings are accurate. And while no judge wants to hear the words “We talked to our lawyers…,” for some things, we do need to talk to lawyers, and lawyers are really expensive. Finally, there are a number of fundraising costs, like credit card fees and payment portals, that take their cut if we use any dues-paying method more sophisticated than a tip jar.

With all that infrastructure, though, your dues unlock a vast web of volunteer-provided resources. Judges have always shown a remarkable willingness to share their knowledge to help other judges, and your dues make it possible to provide a platform to enable that. Have you ever consulted the Annotated IPG to help you understand policy? You were benefiting from the contributions of dozens of judges, from those who wrote the annotations to those who maintain and update them to the judges who set up Judge Blogs to the judges who provided feedback to improve the final product. And while you might say that even non-members are already getting that, that may not always be the case, and certainly isn’t the case for the many projects that fell fallow during the Judge Academy era.

Since we announced Judge Foundry, the exploratory committee has been inundated with questions from judges, asking if their favorite projects are coming back. From Anniversaries to Welcome to the Fold, judges are eager to contribute to and enjoy the fruits of the efforts of their peers again. Your dues make that happen by providing the infrastructure in which we can make that happen, and as a nonprofit organization, we’re excited to welcome back those volunteer contributions.

The fourth thing that your dues provide is community. That includes an online community (with our new website launching soon, plus various social media communities), but more importantly, we’ll be providing in-person community opportunities. We’re presently targeting two dedicated get-togethers a year. The first is our annual meeting, every fall, where a new board is elected and where we report on the past, present, and future of the organization. This two-day event (which will move around from year to year, and have opportunity for remote attendee participation) will provide training and fellowship opportunities on top of all the official business, and we expect it to be the biggest judge party of the year.

We’re also targeting a series of “regional mega-conferences” each spring. These conferences (which we also expect to move around from year to year) will provide additional chances for judges to get together, share knowledge, network and have fun. These conferences will also provide prime opportunities for judges to connect with mentors and to participate in promotion interviews. Additionally we want to make sure they provide good area coverage for judges throughout the United States and Canada. Judge Foundry will be paying most of the costs of hosting these conferences to keep them accessible for judges.

All of that is what you’re getting for paying your dues to Judge Foundry each month.

Xander takes a match slip at MagicFest Oakland in 2019. Photo © John Brian McCarthy
Xander takes a match slip at MagicFest Oakland in 2019. Photo © John Brian McCarthy

Why don’t you get money from someone else?

We know that judges would rather not be the only ones paying to make Judge Foundry happen, and we’ve been exploring alternative revenue sources. However, these relationships will take time to bear fruit. 

Judges are the ones who can best understand the value of Judge Foundry and who will benefit most from it. Our mandate is helping judges improve their business conditions – the training and certification we provide makes judges better at judging. We understand that everyone else in the tabletop ecosystem also benefits from judges – a judge certified in having the qualities Judge Foundry values is so much more than just a person who passed a rules test, and they can provide better experiences for tournament organizers, publishers and players. We are actively working to bring in revenue from other entities, so stay tuned.

There are other ancillary sources of revenue we’re also considering – you’ll read about one of them in the very next section. If you’ve got an idea, please email us, because we’d love to hear it! 

We designed our budget so that we can be self-sufficient using just dues payments. Everything we can bring in on top of that (such as the aforementioned lottery winner’s donation) will go on to making our program better. We have a ton of great ideas on how we could spend more money to improve Judge Foundry’s offerings, and we’ll continue working to make those ideas happen. But in the meantime, we wanted to ensure that Judge Foundry would be most accountable to its members and securing our self-sufficiency by doing so.

Uniform Expectations

While this update is mostly about dues, there is a related topic that we need to address, since we’re talking about revenue, and that’s judge uniforms.

Broadly, Judge Foundry has heard your desire for us to make uniforms available, and we’re on it. We’ve been researching vendors and determining requirements, and hope to have specifics to share with you on this topic very soon. Our current plan is to make available a Judge Foundry dress shirt (similar to the Magic Judges dress shirt), a Judge Foundry polo shirt (similar to the regional judge polos), and a nametag (similar to… all the various nametags). We’re open to additional merch as well – these were just the three things about which we’ve been hearing the most requests. 

The reason we’re bringing it up here is that it’s related to dues in a few ways.

First, we wanted to make sure you’re aware that this is in the works. That doesn’t mean to stop asking us – just the opposite! If you have merch ideas, please let us know!

Second, we are making judge gear a part of our revenue model. We looked at providing judge shirts at cost and increasing dues, but we felt that this model was more fair and should be just as sustainable. We’ll continue to look for other revenue sources that will let us reduce dues or provide you with more value in the future.

And third (this is the biggest reason we’re previewing this announcement today), we’ll be offering a bundled package for judges to pre-pay a year’s dues and get a nametag and either a dress shirt or a polo, specifically designed for judges who are newly certifying or who are leveling up (and this includes the bevy of promotions we expect with launch). This package will come with a slight discount, to get judges entering a new role the outfit they need to look their best while doing their best. 

We’ll be talking a lot more about merch (including pictures and prices) in a future post, once we have everything lined up. But in the meantime, let’s go back to talking about dues…

Eliana leads an investigations workshop at the MagicFest Denver Conference in 2019. Photo © John Brian McCarthy
Eliana leads an investigations workshop at the MagicFest Denver Conference in 2019. Photo © John Brian McCarthy

The part with the specifics

Whether you read everything up until here or just jumped to this section, you’re ready to see the price tag:

With the launch of Judge Foundry, dues will be $5 US/$7 CAD per month.

Your Judge Foundry membership will cost less than you’d pay for ten days of Netflix or a grande cinnamon dolce latte at Starbucks or the airport pickup surcharge for an Uber from DCA or a gallon of gas in Sacramento or 9% of a pair of judge pants or a single set booster play booster.

This is the price for every member, irrespective of level, experience or role. Members of the board will pay the same dues as brand new judges and people who’ve been judging since there were zebra-striped shirts.

Dues and other contributions to Judge Foundry aren’t tax-deductible, but they might be a business expense you can write off – check with your accountant. As we noted in the previous section, we’ll be offering a discounted bundle with a year’s dues + apparel as an option to new and newly promoted judges as a sort of combination of “congratulations” and “it’s dangerous to go alone…”

We believe that $5 per month is a number that’s both fair and sustainable. It’s a significant decrease from the $85 per year that judges were previously paying for Judge Academy membership, and 100% of your dues are going toward our operations as a nonprofit (with public filings of our finances so you can know exactly how your money was spent). 

We’re locking in $5/mo for the first year of Judge Foundry (ending Sept 30, 2024). We expect this dues amount to stay pretty steady for a while – we’ll keep looking at ways to reduce that number, and we hope that future boards will do their best to provide top-tier services while also respecting judges’ budgets.

We also have one more surprise we want to share before ending this article…

Gift memberships

With dues only costing $5/mo, a month or more of membership makes a pretty good gift for the judge who has everything. With the option to pay a judge’s dues for them, stores can support their FNM judges as a way to thank them and to encourage them to continue honing their skills. Judges can sponsor each other for one or more months (a good way to say “Thanks for the ride to the airport” or “Congratulations on passing your L2 exam!”). A TO could even include paying for the monthly dues for members of their staff as part of the compensation of an event. 

We don’t know yet how much use this feature will see, but we’re excited to offer it as a way for friends, family and TOs to give the gift of judging to our members.

Jared, Riki, Patrick and Kali pass out Keystone gifts at Grand Prix Atlanta in 2017. Photo © John Brian McCarthy
Jared, Riki, Patrick and Kali pass out Keystone gifts at Grand Prix Atlanta in 2017. Photo © John Brian McCarthy

Bidding Adieu

We hope that this article helped you understand not just the “how much” of dues but also the “why.” We know how important value is as a concept to tabletop gamers, and to judges in particular, and we want you to know that we’ll be good stewards of your contributions and to use them in furtherance of our mission. Members will receive an accounting of how your dues were spent every year at our annual meeting, and you can verify these statements against our public filings with the IRS.

If you’d like to share your feedback on this article, or anything else about Judge Foundry, you can do so on JudgeApps, Reddit or Discord. You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter or email us. Or just find us at an event – we’ve all had some great conversations with judges about Judge Foundry at shows, so don’t hesitate to share you feedback with us when you see us.