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Roadmap for a more vibrant, inclusive, and relevant ACS

by Brian Mathes, chair, ACS Committee on Membership Affairs
March 15, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 10

This is a photo of Brian Mathes.
Credit: Tod Martens Photography
Brian Mathes

In my Comment last year, I wrote about the American Chemical Society’s priority to modernize its membership by being more responsive, flexible, and relevant to all chemists. This priority requires that ACS be able to provide the value and support that our members want and need.

The question is, “How can we engineer a system that allows for faster, better, and more dynamic ways to deliver value that is needed and sought out by all chemists?”

In the past 2 years, we finally reversed a decade of decline in membership numbers. In 2019, ACS added nearly 1,800 members—a 0.9% growth with respect to the previous year. A majority of these new or reinstating members joined through a traditional recruitment method (57%). However, a significant proportion of the new members (43%) were at least partially incentivized by one of our market tests, which I will discuss more below.

We know through ongoing market research that, for some, the cost of becoming a member outweighs the benefits of joining or renewing. The Committee on Membership Affairs (MAC) and other ACS groups are working to close this value gap through a series of market tests that allow us to explore new pricing options and incentives. Meanwhile, we are working with the entire organization to pilot new offerings, such as ACS Industry Matters, an industry specific newsletter, and access to LinkedIn Learning.

A preponderance of evidence has made clear that ACS needs to provide new and more tailored ways to affiliate with the society, and that realization has allowed us to collectively rally around a solution that will help us do just that: we need more flexibility within our governing structure.

Therefore, MAC is working with ACS governance to propose a process change to how membership benefits, dues, and discounts are developed, revised, and submitted for council consideration. This petition is up for council action. The petition itself does not immediately change the status quo—our membership and processes for 2021 would be identical to what they would be without it—but it does create a process for the council to take action on transforming membership in the future.

Meanwhile, ongoing market tests are experimenting with value creation, especially for segments of the membership that are continuing to decline, such as industry members, by creating retention incentives, revising benefits for some, and varying introductory dues. Additionally, these tests are adding data to validate what we are proposing at the governing level.

The current active market tests are as follows:

Membership bundling: Bundling ACS membership with existing products or engagements, such as offering membership to students who are also registered to attend a regional meeting. This effort produced more than 5,700 new members in 2019.

In-line join and register: Improvements to the process of becoming a full-paid ACS member while engaged in another transaction with the society.

Renewal drives: Renewal incentives offered at select events.

Introductory discounts: Encouraging individuals to become members by providing a discount on their first year.

New graduate multiyear membership: Building off the existing 1-year 50% discount for new graduating bachelor’s students and adding an additional 3-year offer for new graduates of all degree types.

Joint memberships: Exploring joint membership and shared discounts with other societies, such as the American Association of Chemistry Teachers and the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers.

Country-specific dues pricing: Providing varying discounts for countries defined by the World Bank as upper-middle, lower-middle, or low income.

International recruitment incentive: ACS international chemical sciences chapters are provided an incentive to recruit members.

All members are invited to email their ideas to

I want to close by revisiting the aforementioned successful membership growth for 2019. While we celebrate those numbers, there is an outlier: a resounding 5% decline in our industrial members. This decline validates the need for the work we are doing in market testing and lobbying the governing body for change to ensure that we are on the right path for the society and for chemists worldwide.

Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.


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