Membership fees: what are you paying for?


This question I have posed may seem to have an obvious answer, but this is the nub of the Publicity, Membership and Website (PMW) committee deliberations at the moment!

Our thoughts have turned to the annual question of membership fees for the next financial year. Last time we increased in line with CPI, which was our medium term strategy. That ‘expired’ last year so now we also need to review and agree a new one.

Whilst there is a threat to the Society’s significant income source from the moves towards open access for publications, we have been looking at alternative revenue sources; we are not alone in this as the informal research on the future of scholarly societies demonstrates.

For some time, we have been working to increase our membership numbers, both by attracting new or lapsed members and retaining the ones we already have. We have done well over the last two years to grow a little, thanks to our efforts to market and promote both the Society’s work and member benefits. There have also been improvements to the membership journey, which is all about how smooth our processes are and how well we engage with you.

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However, inroads into generating revenue that comes anywhere near what we may lose from publishing are very slight.

To the original question I posed; maybe fees are solely to provide an equivalent direct benefit to individual members. Or perhaps they should be funding wider charitable, campaigning and educational activity of the Society. If so, what is the balance between individual and Society? To give you some insight into our thinking, here are some live issues that we are debating!

  • How do we compare to similar societies in the UK? (The answer is – we are relatively good value for money!) 
  • Has our member offering significantly changed to justify (in either absolute or psychological terms) any increase above inflation?
  • Is membership purely ‘transactional’? Do members join for other less direct or tangible reasons?
  • What is the role of professional accreditation in creating value and encouraging membership? How do we generate value in this to employers?
  • 20-25 percent of our members join via corporate membership. Should we change the corporate charging structure before any changes for individuals, who may be more affected by cost of living increases?
  • How can we focus on creating higher retention rates?
  • Can we look at the other side of the equation and reduce costs e.g. changing our magazine offering? (There are pros and cons to this, but we do know that at most, only 25 percent of you are reading this).
  • What are the alternatives to income generation via membership?
  • Should we be having a broader conversation about the Society’s activities, what we generate income for and where should it come from, how much we ‘need’ and how we achieve our charitable purposes? (The advancement of knowledge, interest and education in OR.)

As we discuss these, we are coming up with a set of potential options for action, which may not be mutually exclusive. As we agree what we believe to be prudent, fair and equitable, we will of course be letting you know.

Finally, I would like to plug the member survey that is either coming out shortly, or may already have landed in your inbox by the time you read this article. We have spent significant time refining the questions, so it will look very different to anything you may have filled in for us before. It’s a lot shorter and more targeted, and we’ve used the input from a focus group to inform what we’re asking. Please fill it in, to help inform our deliberations!

As always, if you want to contact me with any feedback about membership of The OR Society, my inbox is always open.