During the American Chemical Society Spring 2019 National Meeting in Orlando, Florida, ACS president Bonnie Charpentier called for a special council discussion on the value of ACS membership. Such discussions offer a unique opportunity for the ACS president to bring a topic to the council and gain feedback from councilors who represent ACS members—in short, taking the pulse of the organization.
I heard comments from councilors, such as, “I would challenge the society to really think about how we can tailor the value proposition for all of our members at the individual level and thus increase membership,” as well as comments about lowering ACS conference fees and offering variable membership fees. This feedback represents what it means to the society to have a happy and thriving membership—one that is growing and sustaining now and in the years to come.
Like most professional associations, ACS has until recently been facing a decline of its membership base, and we must strive to continue in the positive direction. As President Charpentier said, “Greater numbers can bring in diverse views and talents that can help us harness our collective ingenuity and keep ACS evolving along with our profession. We need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to ensure that ACS membership continues to be relevant and provides the value that today’s and tomorrow’s chemists are looking for.”
After repeated surveys, focus groups, evaluations, panel discussions, personal conversations, and the council’s special discussion, we’ve validated that ACS needs to increase the value of membership to attract and retain its members. We believe that for some, the cost of becoming a member is greater than the potential benefits of joining or renewing. So the Committee on Membership Affairs (MAC) and others are working to close this value gap by market testing new pricing options and incentives while working with the entire ACS organization to pilot new offerings that are relevant and useful to current and future members. We are also working to change the statutory limitations in our governing documents that are hindering our efforts.
Collectively, we have identified a solution to rally around: flexibility. I heard it over and over on the council floor, and it keeps emerging in discussions throughout the society. How can we engineer a system that provides greater flexibility to allow for faster, better, and more dynamic ways to deliver value to members, and allows the society the flexibility to respond more quickly to changing forces in the market and the chemistry enterprise?
In Orlando, we made two great steps toward exercising this flexibility: (1) by electing to freeze the dues for 2020 by not allowing automatic increases to take effect and (2) by voting to pass the governance streamlining petition.
You heard me right. Per the ACS treasurer, the society will not increase dues for 2020. This might not seem like an example of flexibility, but this was the first time in 18 years that the society didn’t automatically raise the dues by the standard formula stipulated in the ACS bylaws. This decision aims to address the value gap between dues and benefits while working to increase benefits. To me, this was a step in the right direction.
In an overwhelming majority, councilors also approved the Petition to Streamline the ACS Governing Documents and agreed to move a great deal of the rules and procedures from the bylaws into a new document called standing rules. This approval created a streamlined process that allows ACS governance committees, such as MAC, to have the autonomy to amend rules and procedures within its jurisdiction, with council approval. The result is more flexibility and speed, making it twice as fast to bring issues before council and adapt to changing forces.
In the coming months, MAC will work with colleagues on a variety of ACS committees, including the Committee on Budget and Finance, the Local Section Activities Committee, and the Committee on Divisional Activities, to examine how we can further strengthen the positions of the ACS local sections and technical divisions. They are the backbone of our value proposition for members, and when they are strong and robust, ACS membership is strong and robust.
Unfortunately, the membership challenges over the past few decades, through a noticeable reduction in allocations to local sections and divisions, have begun to erode the capacities of those units. My governance colleagues and I will be examining ways to strengthen the position of our local sections and divisions. By being flexible, we can create a sustainable future for the grassroots units and ensure an engaged and vital ACS membership.
Because some of the changes that the council voted to approve involve amending the ACS Constitution, the entire ACS membership must approve those amendments in the upcoming ACS national elections. I urge you to cast your vote affirmatively for these changes. By doing so, you will be voting to help create a better and bigger ACS in the future.
If you have ideas for how ACS can add value and benefits for members, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.