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Growing and Retaining Membership in 2022: What Societies Need to Do Differently

Academic societies have good reasons to fear declining membership in 2022, for various reasons such as income loss during lockdowns, lack of interest because of limited networking opportunities, and limited institutional support due to budget cuts. Conventional strategies to increase or retain membership (e.g., bring a friend schemes, loyalty pins) are losing their relevance or appeal in a world where interactions are increasingly going digital. To grow and retain membership, societies need to look at different member segments and meet their needs effectively.

Make Students Aware of Your Benefits

Students need to know how joining a society will benefit them directly. Societies need to cater directly to students’ various needs, to build a thriving pipeline of younger members. For instance, the Academy of Management’s Doctoral Student Development Program offers student members access to videos on sophisticated research methods and data analysis techniques, as well as video lectures. Programs or schemes targeted towards students, especially undergraduates or recent graduates, should be promoted through channels popular to their generation (e.g., TikTok rather than Facebook).

Enable Practitioners to Apply Research

Healthcare practitioners join societies to access research that can benefit them in their daily clinical practice. Societies can best meet this need by providing easily digestible summaries of the voluminous literature they produce, so that busy practitioners can stay updated without devoting a significant amount of time to reading. The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) catered to this need by partnering with Impact Science to develop concise and attractively designed visual summaries of multiple oncology papers, intended for clinicians. As part of this collaboration, ASCO’s 60-page annual report was distilled into a 3-min video.

Help Researchers Stay Updated

A fundamental need of a society’s researcher members is to stay abreast of latest developments in the field. With many researchers working from home due to lockdowns in various parts of the world, Societies need to make sure their peer-reviewed content is easy to access and consume even outside the traditional university/institutional environment.

Help Early Career Researchers Advance

Early career researchers account for a large portion of the academic workforce, but society leadership is generally dominated by senior researchers. One way societies can retain early career researchers as members is by offering them opportunities to lead, share their opinions, and influence Society decisions. For instance, the American Society for Cell Biology instituted COMPASS (Committee for Postdocs and Students) to help young scientists build connections within the Society, network with policymakers and leaders, enhance their skills and expertise, and advance in their careers. The American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics has set up PharmTalk, a platform to inform young researchers about career options and share best practices.   

Get Creative With Membership Fees

Although you may feel your fees are priced reasonably, your calculations are probably based on “normal” (i.e. pre-pandemic) times. When faced with budget cuts, job insecurity, or other financial constraints, your members will probably re-evaluate whether their society memberships are financially worthwhile. Now’s the time to explore affiliate or loyalty programs if you haven’t done so before: for example,  the American Chemical Society offers existing members a one-year waiver on their dues, as well as special waivers or discounts for not just student members but also those pausing their careers to care for their families, those who are disabled, and those serving in the US Armed Forces.

Foster Connections Among Members

It’s an understatement to say that all types of members are probably craving more connection with their peers this year. Even those fortunate enough to return to their workplace have to grapple with new travel restrictions, which prevent them from attending conferences to network as they used to. While virtual and hybrid (online/offline) conferences will likely dominate the scene in 2022, Societies can host various large and small virtual networking events throughout the year. For instance, AHRA (American Healthcare Radiology Administrators) offers both members and non-members the opportunity to host a free virtual networking event, while providing logistical and marketing support.


Owing to the pandemic, the needs and environment of society members have changed, often drastically. Successful societies recognize and adapt to these changing needs, ensuring they are relevant and valuable for all member segments in the long run.

Marisha Rodrigues

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