What matters to members? We found some surprising answers with our recent membership survey

March 23, 2015 Trina Cody

Did you know that 15% of people don’t join societies or associations because they’ve never been invited, or that 72% of society members actively read the society’s publications? Would you have guessed that the most valued member benefit is a society’s peer-reviewed journal? Or, that the top reason that people join societies is the quality of their research-based content? We confirmed many suspicions and uncovered several surprises with a recent, broad-based society survey we conducted, We therefore thought we’d dedicate this full week on Exchanges to “Membership Matters” a blog series devoted to discussion of the survey results alongside the challenges and opportunities societies face.

Last November, we invited 1.2 million individuals to participate in our online survey to assess their sentiments toward, and satisfaction with, societies and associations. With almost 14,000 respondents,representing 75 research disciplines, and every type of employment setting we reach,Wiley has just completed what may be the largest ever survey of its kind.

We undertook this study as part of our ongoing effort to gain a deeper understanding of the needs of society and association stakeholders so that we can help our society clients develop and execute   their strategies for information and education products and services.

Before explaining the findings in further detail, I must point out the restrictions to our findings: the audience invited to participate in the survey are heavily skewed towards the scientific, technical, medical, and scholarly communities (as these are the communities we primarily serve). Also, this study is intended to be a snapshot in time, and is not meant to represent trends in the market or changes in behavior. Because we plan to repeat this study in future years, we will be able to start to uncover trends and changes over time and we look forward to sharing results with you.

Who Responded?

Our respondents are geographically diverse with more than 170 countries and territories represented. The average respondent is 44 years old, though all four generations are represented with equal proportions of Baby Boomers (born between 1945 and 1965), Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980) and Millennials (born between 1980 and 2000).

They are highly educated; more than 80% have an advanced degree with 37% holding doctoral degrees. University or college is the most popular work setting, however we did hear from many professionals who work in hospitals, corporations, government and nonprofits. More than half of the respondents have more than 10 years of work experience.

The majority of respondents indicated that they have been a member of a society or association in the past 12 months; 26% have not been members. Surprisingly, 5% are unsure if they have been a member.

Why do they join?

We asked the close to 9,800 individuals who identified as society members to rank the top reasons why they joined their organizations in the first place. Interestingly, the top reason is the quality of the society or association’s research-based content, closely followed by the prestige of the organization. The membership requirement to attend the annual meeting, career certification requirements , and networking opportunities round out the top five.

These responses surprised us; most membership studies that we have seen report that networking is the primary reason members join associations. Similarly, when we asked respondents what is the first word that comes to mind when thinking about societies, “networking” was the overwhelming winner.

Why don’t they join?

We asked respondents who identified themselves as non-members why they have not joined a society or association. Almost one quarter said that the cost is too high. This is not surprising; any time cost is a factor, respondents will frequently cite it as a barrier.

What IS surprising is that 15% said they haven’t joined a society because they have never been invited! This is closely followed by “I don’t know what is available in my field” and “It never occurred to me.” These types of responses raise some important questions: Are there misconceptions in the marketplace regarding society eligibility requirements? Are societies placing enough emphasis on outreach?

About 10% of the respondents didn’t identify with the options we provided and wrote in their own responses. An interesting point here: many write-ins identified themselves as students without enough time or adequate credentials to be society members.. It’s puzzling when you consider that we hear again and again from our society partners that they are actively recruiting students and early career researchers, yet at the same time these individuals do not feel as though they qualify for membership.

What do they value?

Members and nonmembers alike highly value societies’ peer-reviewed journals and opportunities for continuing education. Whereas members value the peer-reviewed journal first and continuing education second, the order swaps for nonmembers. Interestingly, both members and nonmembers indicated that they value membership magazines third.

After the top three benefits, there was more variance in the responses of members vs. nonmembers.While members value standards, guidelines and reference guides, and live events, nonmembers value expert advice from professionals in their fields and opportunities for leadership experience.

Surprisingly, the least valued benefits are the same for members and nonmembers. Newsletters, peer mentoring (both as a mentor or mentoree), salary benchmarking, local chapters and member discounts all ranked lowest among the 16 identified typical activities and resources provided by societies and associations.

For more on the survey, view an infographic of results and download the membership survey whitepaper.

What do you value as a society member? Do these results surprise you? Tweet us @WileySocieties or share a comment below.

Image Credit/Source:exchanges.wiley.com//uploads/2015/03/people-at-conference.jpg



About the Author

Senior Customer Experience Manager, Wiley // Trina Cody is Manager, Strategic Market Analysis at Wiley. She has been focusing on learning everything she can about the challenges associations are facing and figuring out how Wiley can help. She also recently completed her MBA at Boston University in May 2014, concentrating in Strategy and Organizational Transformation.

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