A number of other comments came up, which I think merit repeating, but which I wouldn’t say were themes, per se:
- There are people who join professional associations for help getting jobs – networking, getting better known in the field.
- Some people really do value the continuing education that our associations provide. Daniel Cornwall wrote, “I want ALA to find ways to change their revenue streams so that they can offer free or really low cost ($25 or $50 per course) training to members. Or maybe offer discounted blocks of training to members. Nonmembers could take training at higher rates. I personally could accept higher dues if I could get more training opportunities out of it.” (I actually disagree very strongly, but then, the professional development I most need isn’t going to come from libraryland. Overall, this might be a good approach.)
- Several people appreciate the awards that our associations give out, not just externally (though definitely that), but also internally to the profession.
- Scholarships and grants are also appreciated.
- Listservs are appreciated. (Shudder. I mean, love. But also shudder.)
There was a really good piece of advice about prorating dues, aimed mostly at state associations: If you don’t do your dues on a rolling schedule, then it may seem very important to your members to be able to join at a specific time (in AkLA’s case, October). If they join late, they may feel they aren’t getting their money’s worth for the year. So, if they end up busy or strapped for cash when renewals happen, they are far less likely to pay dues. Rolling deadlines for the win.
I would add to that: ALA got a few extra months’ worth of cash out of me by printing my “continuous years” on my membership card. I wouldn’t have cared, except the card came, and I found it absolutely unbearable that my paying a bit late one year took my count back down to one. So I got them to fix it (and, obviously, in return, my payment became a few months retroactive, so they could bill me sooner for the following year). So, there’s something in that, perhaps.
One other observation: if ALA ever lets people join roundtables or sub-associations, without joining big-ALA, its members will be thrilled, and big-ALA will be hosed. Speaking as someone fairly engaged with ALA right now, there were three years (out of my total of six, continuous :)) when I paid my ALA membership extremely grudgingly, solely for the right to join a $10 roundtable, and there were several comments along the same lines, pointing at other groups (GODORT and GLBTRT). Allowing sub-association/roundtable membership without ALA membership would be such a welcome change, among the library community—and would probably help the sub-associations tremendously—but I think it would be really, really hard on big-ALA’s finances. I don’t want to come down as a voice against this—see me repeating the “welcome” and “helping sub-associations” piece, here?—but I can understand why they don’t allow it.
I think perhaps allowing people to “twofer” their ALA-sub-associations and their state associations might be worth looking into, though — ACRL has some state-level deals, as I understand it. (And I think Alaska’s already looking into that.)
I was talking all of this over with my department head (who is not into social media and does not read my blog), and he raised a great point about association dues: he seems them as a donation. But not all that many of us do. I’m not sure what to do with that, other than reiterating the suggestion to decrease dues, to help foster that feeling. I’m not sure why I demand something from an organization that I put $100+ into, but I don’t at $50 or less. (I’m not sure those are hard numbers, either. I don’t know where my own pain point sits, exactly.) I’m not sure if there’s a magic number that covers most people, either. But I think it’s worth looking at! And maybe some more marketing around “the things the association does for the profession” wouldn’t hurt, either, to help stir the charitable impulses of potential members.
At this point, it feels like I should do some kind of wrap-up, but what else is there to say? This stuff is hard. There’s no magic answer. Making it easier to get involved will help a lot of people, but others are going to be busy, or focusing on their Twitter presence instead of your association’s committees, or what-have-you. Communicating more will help some people feel more invested, but might annoy others. (I suggest you risk it, though, myself. Transparency for the win!)
I guess my advice to any association is this: find out what it is your members want. When people leave, see if you can get them to tell you why*. When someone joins, try to find out what attracted them, what they want from the association, and what they want to achieve with the association’s help. Ask your long-time members why they’re still members. Ask your fairweather members if there’s anything you can do to win them over more consistently. Be kind to your new members, and give them the reins (or at least part of the reins) early and often—they’re your best shot at lasting more than the next couple of years.
And, seriously, lower your dues. Or at least look at the numbers and see if you can justify lowering your dues.
*Unless you’re representing a section of an association, and it’s clear that the person left the whole association, not just your section, and this is the first time you’ve ever reached out to them. Sorry, guys. I’m never doing that survey. Stop sending it.
The whole series: