Prestige, Content Draw Researchers to Join Associations, Survey Says

A survey of nearly 14,000 academics examines some of the motivations behind researchers’ decision to join or not join scholarly groups. It also offers a glimpse at the reasons they stay and what keeps them engaged in those groups.

A newly published survey of roughly 14,000 researchers and research-based professionals is shedding some light on the appeal of scholarly societies.

According to “Membership Matters,” compiled and released by international publishing company John Wiley & Sons, Inc., academic professionals reported that the most appealing elements of society membership are access to peer-reviewed journals, continuing education and training opportunities, and publications on trends and techniques.

The least appealing offerings included peer mentoring programs, connecting with local members, and salary data, according to the survey, which aims to help scholarly societies better identify why members join and remain engaged, as well as why academics don’t join.

“We plan to use these findings to help all societies understand the role they play in helping researchers advance science, identify the unmet informational and educational needs of research professionals, and determine ways to increase their value and relevance to members,” the survey noted.

The most common reason academics joined scholarly societies was the quality of their research-based content, followed by the prestige of being a member, the survey found. Other common answers included required attendance at the annual conference, a need for certification, and networking opportunities.

Meanwhile, among those who had not joined a society, the most common reason was high membership cost (24 percent). General unawareness rounded out the other top reasons. Fifteen percent reported they’d never been invited to join, 12 percent did not know what was available in their field, and another 12 percent reported that it never occurred to them to join a society.

“This means that 39 percent of nonmembers are either waiting to be asked to join, or might be persuaded to join,” the survey noted. “A society that can identify these groups of nonmembers within their wider community, and who then markets effectively to them, is likely to grow its membership. With so many nonmembers who are just waiting to be asked, societies may find they are often pushing at an open door.”

Once a society has people in the door, members reported they are more likely to stay if they feel engaged with the community. The most common way members reported engaging is by reading a society’s publications, followed by participation at annual meetings and attendance at regional or sectional events, according to the survey.

Overall, 60 percent of society members reported they are satisfied with their membership experiences, and roughly the same percentage is satisfied with member resources.

According to the survey, this means too many members are unsatisfied, and societies should take note and work to increase member satisfaction. That could translate into more positive word-of-mouth marketing—a valuable recruitment method given the influence that prestige has on people’s decision to join.


Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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