Business of Academic PublishingResearcher Engagement

Building long-term membership value and member stickiness: How societies are catering to the needs of financially struggling members

As an aftermath of pandemic-related supply chain disruptions and the Russia-Ukraine war, many countries are currently seeing sharply rising inflation. 70% of Americans consider inflation a major problem, while Europe, Asia, and Latin America are seriously affected by spiking food and energy prices. These problems are taking a toll on researchers, especially early career researchers (ECRs) and PhD students, who have, even otherwise, been facing financial difficulties. Research societies are likely to be directly impacted by this, since society memberships are on a steady decline, with lack of funding being a key driver. This article looks at how societies can reduce the impact of inflation on members by catering to diverse needs, which will ultimately increase member engagement and retention.

See also:  Early Career Researcher Members Have Unique Needs. Here’s How Societies Can Engage Them

1. Membership fee waivers in addition to the usual discounts for students and early career researchers. Societies have already realized that multiple member segments are struggling financially. By offering discounted membership dues, they create a positive image of themselves as empathetic to the needs of their members. For example, the American Physical Society has waived dues for up to two years for unemployed members. Similarly, the American Society of Microbiology has offered a one-time membership fee waiver for members experiencing any kind of financial hardship, especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Likewise, the Society of Toxicology offers a dues waiver for financial hardship for reasons other than unemployment. Interestingly, the American Chemical Society (ACS) provides a unique discount for members who have had to leave their full-time jobs or studies in order to care for their families. Another example of a society trying to be equitable about membership fees is the African Society for Ecological Economics, which uses a scaling system where members with low annual salaries are charged only a nominal fee. Finally, recognizing the hardships faced by Ukrainian scientists, the European Society of Endocrinology has offered free membership for 2022 to members based in Ukraine.

2. Including other benefits with membership. Society membership typically comes with access to learning resources, discounted subscriptions to the society journal, discounted conference fees, etc. Some societies offer additional benefits and incentives to members, helping them save significant sums and leading them to value their membership more. For example, the Royal Society of Medicine offers members free annual eye tests and discounts on gym membership.  ACS membership comes with discounted auto rentals and shipping (FedEx) charges. In addition, the American Society of Civil Engineers offers members discounted life, pet, home, health, and auto insurance while the American Society of Mechanical Engineers offers financial aid and scholarships for higher education to members, as well as discounts on Dell and Lenovo products. Also of note, the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research offers family care travel grants to enable members to use paid care for their dependents so that the former can attend the society’s annual meeting. These perks do more than merely save members’ money; they also promote member loyalty and stickiness. For example, a member would think twice about leaving a society if it means they end up paying more for health insurance. Discounts on rentals, shipping, devices, and technology can make it easier for members to travel for society events or set up home offices to take advantage of the new flexibility of work-from-home.

3. Innovative solutions for career support. Career support is one of the main reasons researchers join academic societies, and hence, societies make it a point to offer members various career-related benefits. For instance, the African Academy of Sciences and the British Toxicology Society both offer members mentoring that focuses on career growth. Similarly, the American Astronomical Society and the Sleep Research Society offer free jobs boards, with the latter catering to early career researchers specifically.  Going beyond mere job listings, the American Society for Cell Biology offers an online CV review service that also includes interview tips and advice on framing a cover letter for job applications. And to ensure that members thrive in their careers, the Royal Society of Chemistry offers members a biennial report on salaries, pensions, and benefits for various jobs in the chemical sciences, and ACS has set up an inflation-adjusted salary calculator that provides members similar benchmarking information. A comprehensive mix of career support services helps societies by not just improving member welfare but also by ensuring that those who leave academia for industry will still find value in society membership.

Conclusion

In the current financial environment, societies can improve their brand perception and build member goodwill by demonstrating that they care about members’ financial difficulties and that society membership is not an unnecessary expense. To successfully grow and retain membership, societies need to understand and cater to members’ needs, including needs outside the lab, thus enhancing their value.

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Marisha Rodrigues

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