Why Do We Need More Members?

Background
The question of “value vs. cost of membership” is often raised in volunteer societies. The EMC Society is no different. Following deliberations on membership development in an EMC Society Board of Directors meeting held a couple of years ago, indeed, the following question was raised:
“As we discussed in our BoD meeting it seems there would be a real incentive to develop new membership if we had a statement as to why we want new members.”
Until the day that question was raised, the question of membership development was doubtlessly considered one of the core objectives of our Society. Blatantly raised, however, this question could not be disregarded. Was it yet another case of “The King is Naked?”
I shall therefore state the question in simpler words, “do we really want new members?”
This question was addressed to the IEEE Membership Development Committee and led to a most interesting thread of discussions on line - the summary of which is presented in this article. I would like to acknowledge the following individuals who contributed to this discussion: Andrew Drozd and Kimball Williams (EMC Society), the late Robert Brooks (SSIT), Dr. Irving Engelson (EM Society, now Council), Alex Gelman and Doug Zuckerman (ComSoc), Barry Perlman (MTT Society) and the author of this article, Elya B. Joffe (EMC Society).
The article addresses the following questions:
• Why form a society (any society)?
• What characterizes a society?
• How can the objectives of a society materialize?
• Why does a society need members?
• How large should a society be, or is “the bigger the better”?
• Maintaining a membership basis


Why Form a Society (any Society)?
Societies (of any kind) are formed to address the needs of a group of individuals. Such societies may be business, political, religious, social or professional. Common to any type of society is the need of self-determination; such as, defining some unique feature they may hold as a group. Business societies are focused on the increase of profit, and therefore strive to attract customers and clients through which the enterprise may further develop and grow.
Political societies hold common political goals: diverse goals result therefore in different parties and faction. In religious societies as well as various fraternities, the bond between the members is formed through the observation of beliefs, values, rituals and traditions.
Membership in professional societies such as the IEEE EMC Society is no different: It identifies the group by some practices and rituals – less profound and also less permanent, but still it needs a quorum and participation of some sort to make it a unique organization that is different from all others.


What Characterizes a Society?
Following the above, a society of any kind is characterized as a group of individuals with a common set of needs who are willing to pursue their common interest. Those can be set in terms of mission, vision, and value statements with a strategy and operational plans to fulfill them.
The vision, defining an ideal, but realistic desired future condition of the society has to be developed, and clearly kept in mind, while the mission consists of a pragmatic approach of how to achieve that condition, based on a foundation of sound management practices, and the society’s value system. The values normally embody the concept of fairness, honesty, respect for all individuals and society members, ethical behavior and other specific values related to the organization.
Observe, for example, the vision and mission statements of the IEEE:
Vision: “Be essential to the global technical community and to technical professionals everywhere, and be universally recognized for the contributions of technology and of technical professionals in improving global conditions.”
Mission: “IEEE’s core purpose is to foster technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity.” In other words, the IEEE, like many other societies, proposes to serve humanity through its unique (technological) features.
Values of the IEEE are embodied in its code of ethics: “We, the members of the IEEE, in recognition of the importance of our technologies in affecting the quality of life throughout the world, and in accepting a personal obligation to our profession, its members and the communities we serve, do hereby commit ourselves to the highest ethical and professional conduct and agree…”
Through those statements, the IEEE has defined its goal and the roadmap for achieving them. All members of the IEEE are expected to share and contribute to the achievement of these goals.
The field of interest (FOI) of the EMC Society similarly defines its goals within the framework of the IEEE: “The IEEE Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC) Society’s field of interest is on engineering related to the electromagnetic environmental effects of systems to be compatible with themselves and their intended operating environment.” Through this FOI, the EMC Society has defined its practices and common basis for existence. Without it, there is no foundation for the very being of the society.
The vision and mission of the society, reflecting the reason for the creation or existence of a society in the first place, are accomplished through products or services provided to its intended constituency, meeting its common interests and needs. For a professional society such as the EMC Society, those would typically include publications, education seminars, workshops and conferences and other appropriate activities to meet member interests and needs. In fact, the health and viability of the society will ultimately depend upon how well the common needs of the members are fulfilled.
Members-at-large may, in return, praise the availability or delivery of their expected products or services, but… more often they will provide feedback in the form of complaints when things are not to their satisfaction.


How Can the Objectives of a Society Materialize?
To successfully meet its objectives, a viable society must have sufficient funds in order to sustain the quality and quantity of organizational programs and governance and to cover the cost of the products and services it supplies to its membership. Funding for the operations of the society can be generated in several manners, including income from the sale of publications and income generated by conferences and symposia, funds from grants, donations, bequests, and collection of dues from the membership of the society.
To ensure its growth and preclude stagnation, it will also require some reserves to cover unexpected expenses and for the development and delivery of new products and services for its members.
It is particularly important to keep in mind that not-for-profit organizations must also be not-for-loss! However, a not-for-profit society has some fuzzy upper limits of reserves it should accumulate. Excessive reserves are an indication that the society is either charging too much for its products and services, or is not reinvesting enough for the benefit of its members, or both.
But, beyond the availability of financial resources, another crucial factor should be included in the equation – the availability of qualified and committed volunteers. Governance of the society, as well as the development of the products and services provided by the society is normally addressed by volunteers coming forward from the society membership. Voluntarism should therefore be cultivated and encouraged and appropriately recognized.


Why Does a Society Need Members?
So, this brings us to the main question: “Why does a society need members?” To answer this question, we must begin with yet another fundamental question “Why have an EMC Society?” After all, in theory we could provide all services without membership, for instance holding our conferences, producing our products and publications, and function in our committees.
All of the above may be correct, but, if we don’t need members for the publications, for conferences and for committee work, perhaps we don’t need an EMC Society after all? Maybe all that is necessary is an IEEE Coordinating Committee (CC) for EMC activities?
What is a professional society without members? The answer to this question obviously lies in the notion that services alone are not the key issue! Services currently provided by the EMC Society can be (and in certain cases are) offered by any (even “for profit”) organization, therefore, the EMC Society, as a professional society should have some added value of its own merit. That added value lies in our membership. Membership of our Society is not a mere “mass of recipients of our services.”
Our immediate Past President, Andy Drozd, often quoted Confucius’s allegory, equating a society to a tree. We have deep roots – our Founders, we, Society Leaders, may be the trunk, but… without branches and the leaves, our members at large and the chlorophyll (life blood) the tree dries up and dies in time. The members are the force that helps to expand and strengthen the root system. The students and journeymen are the buds and seeds that spread out our presence throughout the forest.
A society must similarly be “perfect and regular”. In the A:.F:.A:.M:., to use another example, a lodge cannot act (is not regular) if it does not consist of the Master, the two Wardens (those are the officers) and another four members, which are not officers! Any society can exist only if it has a “pyramid” of officers, but cannot sustain without a base of the pyramid - the “customers” or membership - whom the officers are to serve. With no one to serve, the pyramid collapses. It needs a broad base.
The goals and endeavors of our Society and the need for members go hand in hand. The EMC Society’s ambition is to be considered a global society for EMC professionals (re the field of interest). But, to be considered influential in our discipline and profession, we have to have a critical mass of professionals in the Society. Indeed, the EMC Society is so far the most prominent content supplier in our field and would like to remain so. In fact, even with the IEL diminishing the Society’s role in direct content distribution, our role in content generation remains highly critical. In order to prevent stagnation, a continuous influx of ideas must be maintained in the most innovative field of endeavor in the history of the human race – electrical engineering! Where will these flows of ideas come from if not from our members? Furthermore, a diversity of membership is a necessity for evolution. Only through questioning of previous concepts and perceptions can new ones evolve. Hence, not only do we need a flow of members, we need a continuous flow of different individuals.
But even with the continued flow of content (even today, many of the authors in our Conferences and Transactions are non-members) we still need a sufficiently large pool of volunteers; it is the volunteers who organize our published content.
So, can’t we have volunteers without them being members? We might, but members are dependable; commitment is the key issue! In order to accomplish these technical tasks and activities we need a critical mass of committed individuals. It would be only reasonable to assume that members are more committed than non-members, or “guests.” You do not know for sure for how much time you have non-members on board, but you are certain to have more of the members remaining than the non-members while members expect to get a return for their membership. Funny enough, they see a return to their volunteering. They have a share in the success and directly benefit from it! Subsequently, members share pride in their society. The members are the society.
Being a member of an IEEE Society is no different from being a member of a club or fraternity: A society strives to provide a sense of community and “belonging” to an organization with others who share the same interests usually helps enhance that sense. Therefore, the more the members have at stake, the more they will continue to remain members and the more they will contribute to the well being of the society.


How Large Should a Society Be, or is “The Bigger the Better?”
No organization can live without a “critical mass” of members. Granted that there is a true need in an EMC (membership) Society, we obviously require a critical mass (minimum number) of members. But maintaining a “critical mass” is not enough, since there is regularly a flow of members in and out, due to age, and job issues. With membership attrition in death and non-renewals, whatever critical mass we agree on, it will eventually go below that number. Thus, if we believe that we need an EMC Society and it needs a critical minimum membership, we NEED new members to keep it going at or above critical mass. Any organization that does not grow - will end up dying.
It was already agreed (I assume) that a society needs dedicated volunteers to govern and run the organization. But one should not expect more than 1%-5% (an assumption of 2% is probably a reasonable expectation) of involvement among its membership. Hence, the minimum number of members is produced, based on the number of “positions” to be filled (those go hand in hand with the number and breadth of service the society wishes to provide to its membership).
Reasonably small societies are “cozy”; networking is easy and the personal touch is there. But larger societies are highly regarded as authorities in their fields. In biology, a body cell cannot be too large. There is a ratio of volume to surface, that if exceeded, the cell cannot live because the surface area does not allow effective metabolism and the large volume dies. A certain size should therefore fit the discipline and its activities. Returning to professional societies: If there are too many members but too few activities the volumes cannot be maintained. Too many members will feel “ineffective” or “uninvolved” and will leave the society from disappointment. Either way, equilibrium is eventually reached. Now, the question is reduced to “what is that equilibrium, and how is it determined?”
If the society goal were to serve as many members of a community as possible, then so long as it is affordable, it would seem reasonable to aim for more members. However, a society cannot grow beyond its means (the surface) or it will not be able to support itself (the volume). If it reaches a point where it can no longer cost-effectively service its members, i.e., becomes overly challenged in its worthy community goal, then perhaps growth has reached a peak and its size should remain at a more stable and maintainable level. If it attempts to grow further, it will eventually go “bankrupt”! Thus, growth can be good, but will hit some limits at some point depending on a complex set of financial and strategic considerations.


Maintaining a Membership Basis
Members of a social organization join in order to share mutual interests and accomplish mutual goals. For maintaining a society, it was shown that a common base of interests and needs must exist. The old 80/20 rule could apply here. Ideally we should have a minimum 80% of the membership interested in a particular area.
There will always be some individuals whose opinions run counter to the main flow, or whose culture, manners or personal style rubs others the wrong way; however, it is the function of a society to be inclusive, not exclusive. Everyone should be welcome to share in the debate, and help shape the organization by their individual contributions. The more inclusive; i.e. the more members we have, the more diverse will be the “culture” of our society. Such a richness of culture makes all of the social interactions potentially more interesting, more exciting and more productive.
To that end, and to be able to share our interest with any and all that are traveling the same path, we should seek to extend our search for potential new members as widely as we are able.


What Should We Do?
One aspect of society membership that is often overlooked by those who are already deeply involved in a particular society’s workings is the fact that the only way to receive the full benefits of belonging to any social organization is to be a truly “active” member of that society. Many potential new members do not understand this fundamental fact of life. In fact, many members have commented that they have been members of this or that IEEE Society for years, before actually becoming involved in its workings, and they trace their “real” membership from that event!
The above suggests that, just as with golf, the “follow through” is as important as hitting the ball. If we gain a member, but then do nothing to engage his or her interest once we have his or her dues safely parked in our bank account, we have actually lost that person again, until something happens to bring him or her into the main stream of society activity. If our membership activity stops with gaining a member on paper, we have left the job only half done.
The quickest way to fully extend the hand of friendship, and welcome someone completely into the society is to help him or her find some way they can contribute to the society’s goals and objectives. In some organizations there is a “mentor” program in which one of the more “established” members helps the new recruit find a place in the operating structure. In others, there is a list of functions and duties, a multitude of ways to help out that new members are available to select from, along with detailed descriptions of the tasks, and contact names to give the new member a place to start and someone to consult with while they “learn the ropes.” This same approach can also be extended to members who “drop out” for one reason or another. EMC


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