In order to better understand why some societies are growing in membership and others are losing members and why each year some societies end the year in the red and others in the black, our SIVB president, David Altman, helped in the development of an External Analysis form to review insights from other related societies. In the last issue of In Vitro Report, I reported results from 2 vertebrate-type societies from interviews with David Jayme and Lia Campbell. In this issue Cynthia Goodman outlines results from her interviews with 2 invertebrate societies. In a future issue I hope to present results from interviews with two plant cell societies.

Interview Date: 4/26/2004
The first Society President I interviewed represented a society with a number of distinctly different divisions that were based on organisms, somewhat like the SIVB. These are the comments he made regarding each of the topic headings.

1) Dominant Economic Features

a) Market Size/Market Growth
Problem noted: Society membership numbers are declining.
Potential reasons given:

i) The number of applied science positions are decreasing and are not being replaced. This is thought to be the primary cause behind the decline in membership (from about 700 to 450). In general, researchers are more interested in genomic approaches and are leaving to go to societies that focus on this. Graduate students and post-docs come and go because they only have a peripheral interest in the society.
ii) The researchers that studied non-insect invertebrates left the society because they were feeling as if insects were being concentrated on too much. This happened even though they had their own division.
iii) Senior members are retiring and not being replaced.

b) Products/Services
Web-site: Currently they have a completely open web-site but are wanting to close certain portions for members only (e.g., meeting abstracts, membership list.)

Publication: They had sold their journal and are trying to buy it back. They have recognized the importance of having their own journal.
Annual meeting: They make it as attractive as possible for families, which include holding them at different sites with interesting attractions and having summer meetings.

  • Schedule includes a colloquium meeting every 4th year and have smaller meetings on the off years.
  • A member personally takes responsibility for organizing the meeting, which includes making arrangements for the hotel; they also buy insurance in case some plans fall through
  • A program chair/committee designs the program and organizes the abstracts.
  • The registration fee covers everything including the social events.
  • The meeting atmosphere is one of a “family” and is casual and relaxed.
  • c) Technology
    AV equipment at meeting only PowerPoint for the past three years.

d) Economies of Scale/Business Office Needs
They tried a large outside organization to run their office and found they were too expensive and offered bad service. Have since moved to having a Business Manager working out of their home and are pleased with the services (includes website, membership renewals, voting and records). They will also be hiring a financial advisor to help with investments.

2) Competition

a) Main rivals = other invertebrate society and a microbiology society (but people often have attended one of those + their meetings).
b) New competitors not expected because the society has a special niche

3) Causes of Change
Travel funds are limited therefore people only attending one meeting per year.

4) Other Similar Societies
A closely related society is getting smaller for same reasons as this society.

5) Strategic Moves

a) Trying to get non-insect people back.
b) Considering holding joint meetings with European society.
c) Considering going to having meetings every other year.

6) Attractiveness
Potential growth if researchers get back to organism.

Interview Date: 5/6/2004
The second Society President I interviewed represented a society that had members from numerous fields of expertise all of whom focused their research primarily on one group of organisms. I posed the same category of questions as above and noted the following responses:

1) Dominant Economic Features

a) Business Office Needs:
They tried to eliminate unnecessary expenses by decreasing staff size and out-sourcing. Found many challenges when out-sourcing membership services. Publications out-sourcing was successful. Found they needed a strong management team within the society to oversee these out-sourced entities.

  • b) Market growth rate:
    They are trying to increase membership and attendance at meetings.
  • Primary problem is in membership retention.
  • Board Initiative = working with International Affairs Committee to try to increase international membership. Considering developing a new Branch or finding some way to integrate them better into the society.

c) Identity/Image = key factor. They want to be identified as the experts in their field of study (i.e., involving their organisms). This will allow specialists in their field of study to become more noticeable by the general public and the press. Goal is to make their society THE society for media, the public, or anyone to go to when needing their expertise (e.g., like the AMA is for medical questions). How to accomplish this = mainly through the Internet:

  • Have current issues in their specialization posted on the website.
  • Have members contact the main office with important stories or issues in their area for posting on the website.
  • Post contact names of experts in fields of interest to the public or media for quick contact. Include quotes of opinions on current events.
  • Hyperlinks to appropriate sites.
  • Goal = make website #1 selection from Google search.
  • Include chat rooms.

d) Society Structure: reviewing section structure for relevancy (no changes since establishment of society). For example, losing molecular biologists who don’t feel at home in present sections (all basic scientists are lumped together). Possibly need a section for them.

e) Affiliations with other societies: disaffiliated from some to save money. Now re-investigating re-affiliating but first needing to develop criteria for affiliation for the long-term. Ultimately, the society wants to be sought after for affiliation by societies.

f) Journal: presently a variety of journals published every other month. May want to change to only one journal and publish it every month. Currently have rapid review (electronic), which is going very well.

2) Competitors
Gourmet Style (specialized) vs. Buffet Style (multidisciplinary)societies

  • Science is being reduced into specialties, therefore specialists tend to want to remain together. Most molecular biologists going to specialized societies.
  • The society wants to be the “2nd choice” for these people. Considering creating new membership type for this group to entice them to join (associate member, with partial benefits, lower fee – but emphasize to them what they are not getting to have them want to become full members in the future).

3) Causes of Change
Technology: speed of communication of information very important now. Need to investigate style of communication and improve skill in this.
Emphasis needs to be on use of the Internet (see #1c).

4) Other Similar Societies
Strong societies

a) Ecological Society of America

  • large membership
  • moves quickly when changes are needed

b) American Phytopathological Society

  • uses new models for its business
  • have 4,500-5,000 members
  • has 60 staff and their own building
  • Executive Director is shared by 4-5 other organizations, therefore has a customer base that goes beyond own membership
  • Published a Compendium of Plant Diseases that has been widely purchased by non-members because they have been successful at marketing themselves.

c) Overall key – ability to explore new models (e.g., have consider merging with a sister society from another country).

5) Strategic Moves
Need to take cues from other societies:
Examples: APS charges 1 membership for 4 people from developing countries; gives students a discounted membership if sign up for 2 years at one time.

6) Attractiveness

a) Not attractive right now. They know the problems but don’t have “a grip” on them yet. Problems = budget crunches; times changing too fast to keep pace (e.g., types of members changing; different membership structure needed).

b) An impediment to change can be the Constitution and Bylaws of a society (although the interviewee admits he can be a stickler for rules yet he sees how they can be too constraining). The society is finding their rules are too rigid and not allowing enough flexibility. Need to be able to more rapidly change the rules (or have more flexible rules) to more quickly meet the demands of the changing society.