Listening to Our Members: Part 1
For me, one of the best sessions at our annual meeting reported the results of our first membership survey. A stellar crew, including past presidents Julie Winkler and Mona Domosh, assembled to present a few of its key findings. Alas, it was not terrifically well-attended (Lunch time. San Francisco. Who doesn’t want to eat?) so I will follow up in this column and in next month’s with a few findings and an explanation about how Council is using these data to make our organization stronger.
The purpose of the survey, in the parlance of the consulting company we hired to conduct it, McKinley Advisors, was to, “… understand current member perceptions, to identify areas where AAG is successfully delivering value today, and to uncover opportunities to provide greater value and support to the members.” First, the good news: By and large, satisfaction, likelihood to recommend AAG membership, and perceived value of the organization are strong.
But then—McKinley used responses to sets of questions to develop what they term a Net Promoter Score (NPS), the percent of people who are promoters of AAG less the percent who are detractors. Our overall NPS is 20; 44 percent of respondents indicated they would recommend AAG membership to a geography friend or colleague while 24 percent would not. A worrying 32 percent, however, are considered passive. Indifference scares me. Even more concerning is the distribution of support across membership types: Students, both domestic and international, and retirees are net promoters (above the NPS of 20) while international and regular members are below 20. So called “regular” members score 18, international members 14. Even more worrisome is the score by membership tenure. Members for 20 years or more had a NPS of 45; members in all other categories fell below the average NPS. To know us is to love us? A second significant concern is that the NPS varies by academic focus. Self-identified human (NPS 25); coupled natural and human systems (NPS 31); and GIS, cartography, remote sensing (NPS 20) geographers exhibited higher scores than physical geographers (NPS 12).
The survey showed that satisfaction peaks for AAGers in years three to 10 of membership. Thus, we need to work to hold on to mid-career members. McKinley summarized this situation as, “Understanding the challenges, identifying solutions, and developing resources focused specifically on this key mid-career member segment is an important way to continue to ensure engagement and high-levels of satisfaction throughout the career lifecycle.” I have written before about mid-career faculty issues; we are compelled by this result to think about ways to build involvement and satisfaction in this key demographic in our organization.
In a related finding, networking and access to meetings are the primary drivers in the decision to join AAG. Sixty-four percent of respondents indicated participating in the annual meeting is the most significant factor in joining or renewing membership. We clearly need to be mindful of this as we move forward in selecting new meeting locations, venues, and accommodations to allow the largest number of geographers to participate. In a sobering finding, the survey revealed that only about a third of members felt that AAG valued their opinion. Council is taking this to heart. We have heard the complaints about travel costs and are exploring innovative ways to make the annual meeting more accessible and affordable.
The second most significant factor encouraging membership in AAG was networking with peers who have shared interests; 71 percent of you ranked specialty groups as an important benefit of membership. In addition, specialty groups were ranked highly in terms of member satisfaction, that is, most of you are pleased with the intellectual and professional benefits of being engaged in one or more specialty group(s). It is clear that specialty groups play a key role in our organization in building an essential sense of community. We have more than 60 groups focused on research such as Polar Geography, Remote Sensing, and Latin America as well as affinity groups such as the Stand-Alone Geographers and Graduate Students. While some members are concerned that the large number of specialty groups represents a lack of coherence in our discipline, others see this as an indication of our true interdisciplinarity, eclectic interests, and ability to play well with others.
And the number of specialty and affinity groups continue to climb (see instructions on how to start one). We have a group now taking the first steps to organize an affinity group for undergraduate geography majors as a way to develop a life-long sense of community for novices to our discipline. This is a way to take your student geography organizations one level forward. We hope to see a record number of undergraduate students joining AAG at the permanent rate of $39.00 a year and are planning a social event in Boston just for this group. My undergraduate students suggest a bouncy house and human-hamster-ball competitions as a draw.