If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.



Membership: Where have we been, and where are we going?

by Margaret J. Schooler, Chair, ACS Committee on Membership Affairs
July 3, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 27

Credit: Courtesy of Margaret Schooler
Photo of Margaret Schooler
Credit: Courtesy of Margaret Schooler

The Committee on Membership Affairs (MAC) continues to explore new and creative ways to recruit and retain new members. Moreover, the commitment to provide benefits and services of value to the diverse spectrum of membership remains at the core of the committee’s activities.

Over the years, the evolving demographics of chemists and the growth of multidisciplinary sciences has sparked multiple initiatives to redefine membership. Throughout the past decade, the American Chemical Society has recognized the need for broader inclusivity. MAC has responded to this through a series of bylaw amendments that have enabled ACS to reach a wider audience in both domestic and international markets.

In 2008, ACS Council approved bylaw changes that modified eligibility requirements to become a full ACS member and revamped member categories. These changes enabled undergraduate students, teachers, and scientific professionals working in chemistry-related fields to enjoy the benefits of full membership.

In 2010, a joint Board-Presidential Task Force on Society Services & Associated Dues Pricing Models was convened. One of the outcomes of this task force included a recommendation to test-market alternative membership models. MAC acted on this recommendation, and in 2012 the council approved a bylaw amendment allowing MAC to conduct market testing of society memberships, services, and benefits, including special dues categories. Two provisions of this bylaw require that MAC limit testing to 10% of the total ACS membership and that each test is limited to three years without prior consent of the council. Moreover, market data test results must be reported to the council annually. Multiple tests are currently under way, with many nearing their three-year completion date.

Most recently, in San Francisco, the council approved an expansion of the rights of local section affiliates, division affiliates, and society affiliates. Such affiliates provide an active, integral volunteer base for many local sections and divisions. This is tremendous progress, but more remains to be done to create a sustainable future for ACS.

A second finding from the 2010 Board-Presidential Task Force on Society Services & Associated Dues Pricing Models was a call to minimize dues category information in the bylaws to allow greater flexibility to adjust to market needs. As early as the 1990s, the potential benefits of alternative membership models were recognized. Over the past 20 years, multiple proposals have been put forth and subsequently abandoned. Many creative ideas have surfaced in committees and subcommittees regarding joint memberships with sister societies, enterprise/institutional memberships, and cafeteria-style membership plans.

One of the primary obstacles to implementing such models resides in the complex nature of the bylaws, which can take up to two years to amend. Although the 2012 bylaw change to allow market testing paved the way for MAC to collect data on the effectiveness of alternative membership models, it does not go far enough to create the flexibility required in a modern organization. Given the fast pace of today’s technology and the speed at which the market reacts to change, a more agile response is required to maintain the level of service expected by ACS members.

While maintaining membership in a professional organization has numerous benefits, such as networking, professional development, and access to technical information, membership has slowly yet steadily declined in a variety of professional organizations. Pundits have argued that the traditional “one size fits all” approach to association memberships is not sustainable. Today’s generation of young professionals has ample access to networking through social media, and the wealth of information available to them through open access content continues to grow. Case studies show that organizations that have successfully bucked this trend of declining membership are those that are able to embrace and effect change rapidly.

At the fall ACS national meeting in Washington, D.C., MAC will consider the simplification of bylaws as a means to provide more flexible membership options. The goal of such changes is to achieve the society’s objective to empower our member community while embracing the core values of inclusion and diversity.

Additionally, at the fall meeting, MAC will participate in an ACS-facilitated Strategic Planning Retreat. The objective of this retreat is to revise MAC’s vision and mission statements as well as define SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound) goals that will position the committee to deliver greater value to all ACS members.

▸ MAC welcomes your input and feedback, especially concerning the following:
▸ Current MAC activities and initiatives
▸ Pending petitions for changes in the ACS constitution and bylaws
▸ Nontechnical benefits available to ACS members
▸ Member recruitment and retention activities
▸ Initiatives that MAC should pursue
▸ Ways to increase the value of ACS membership

You can contact us at Please include your name and ACS member number, if applicable.

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



This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.