Looking Back to Move Forward With Member Data

The Entomological Society of America’s new membership study looks at member data to shed light on current challenges like young member retention. At the same time, ESA is asking its members to help make sense of membership trends.

Good leaders know that you often have to look back in order to move forward—an approach that’s been called “going forward in reverse.” The Entomological Society of America recently undertook this kind of exercise to reconfigure its engagement and retention strategy for young members.

On Saturday, ESA published a study analyzing historical membership data from the last decade. The report, Analyzing ESA’s Membership Using Life Tables and Modeling, focuses on several membership trends, including a key finding that indicates high drop rates for student and young professional members.

“Through this research paper, we were able to identify that we really need to focus on younger members,” says Debi Sutton, ESA’s director of membership and marketing. “Those members come in and go to our meeting, present research, and for whatever reason, maybe they don’t stay in the science or don’t get adequate funding, so they may or may not come back next year.”

To move its engagement and retention strategy forward, ESA created a “lifecycle” membership model. It’s essentially a career-stage model but with a focus on early-career professionals, using categories that are relatable in the field. The stage labels reflect insect development:

Sutton says this model encourages entomologists to grow as committed members. It also ensures that ESA stays focused on the member segments that prove the most challenging—student members, who have a 35 percent drop rate per year, and early professionals, who have a 25 percent drop rate.

Knowing that cost can be an obstacle to young professionals, ESA also developed a dues strategy that increases the price of membership over time. Student members save 75 percent on dues, then they enter a two-year transitional phase, where dues are 50 percent off. After that, they enter a young professional category, where dues are discounted by 25 percent.

“The student and young professional members appreciate this, because every little bit of money helps them stay,” Sutton says. “And if we can help them move along in the lifecycle, then we’re much more likely to get members and maintain them for many years to come.”

Member Inputs

The report offers a summary view of ESA’s membership, but Sutton says the work is not complete. She expects her members to dissect the data further.

Next, ESA will provide supplemental data, including charts and graphs, that members can review. The hope is that they’ll dig into trends described in the report and ask questions that could lead to new insights.

“Quite honestly, our entomologists—our members—love data, so the more [data] you throw at them, the more questions they’ll ask,” Sutton says. “We’ve put this report out there, and now we expect our members to come back to us and say, ‘Well, what about this or that?’”

While many associations tend to hold their membership data close to the vest, sharing it primarily among leadership and staff, ESA has opted for full transparency, giving its members an opportunity to engage.

“Our goal with this report was to give as much detail as possible so that our members can understand where we are coming from and where we are going,” Sutton says. “I think giving them this data will help them to better understand the membership.”

Do you release any of your member data to members? How has member data helped you to rethink a recruitment, retention, or engagement strategy? Post your comments below.

(HAKINMHAN/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Tim Ebner

By Tim Ebner

Tim Ebner is a senior editor for Associations Now. He covers membership, leadership, and governance issues. Email him with story ideas or news tips. MORE

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