August 2014

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August 2014

News From David Grindle, USITT Executive Director

Membership Matters

The topic of membership has been on my mind recently. USITT is defined as a membership organization with the first principle of our strategic plan: "Of the members, by the members, for the members." We are growing our programming, Conference attendance is up, and opportunities for learning are greater than ever before through USITT. All of this is what we hear both anecdotally and statistically from our members. That's great, and it is what we should be doing.

So why has membership remained static for so many years? We have slightly more than 2,900 individual members and over 600 organizational members for a total just over 3,500. That number has been constant since long before the current board or staff leadership has existed. What is the barrier to growth?

Part of it, I believe, comes in not knowing how to tell our story properly. One of the results of the voice of the member study (done in the winter and spring of this year) was to further segment our membership. Thirty-five hundred members can't all want or get the same thing from their membership. The results of that study are starting to make their way into our marketing, and, hopefully, it will help us address people more directly. It will also help us tell our story to people who have never heard of us. Our members have distinctive needs throughout their careers, and if we focus on showing how we are meeting those needs and address those audiences directly, we should see a return of lapsed members and interest from people who are new to us.

We are also fighting a changing society. If Conference attendance is up, why isn't membership? Some people tell us the only reason they join is to go to the Conference, but with increased attendance, we aren't seeing increased membership. When members lapse, they get contacted by USITT to encourage them to reinstate their membership. Some do. Others take the time to let us know why they aren't renewing. Some are leaving the business, some don't find value, and others tell us, "I use my employer's membership to get what I need."

We count each of our organizational members as one member, just as an individual. If we counted the employees of our corporate members, our numbers would swell by the thousands. But that's not really the case, so we don't. Instead we find ourselves serving more and more people through fewer and fewer memberships. And our mission is to serve.

Also, study after study in the association world shows that people under the age of 40 don't join organizations the same way previous generations do. The younger people want the services, but the membership doesn't matter. They will pay extra to participate in an event as a non-member because they don't see any immediate benefits to justify the cost of a membership. This isn't an indictment of a generation; it's a change just as the theatre industry has seen with subscription sales.

So, what do we, as an association, do to grow membership? The fall is a ripe time for that growth as people return to their jobs from summer. We can do new advertising, but the best advertising comes from our members sharing their personal benefits with friends. The cost of a USITT individual membership hasn't gone up since 2010. We are working to diversify our income streams so that numbers can remain consistent for a few more years. With increased programming and new things like online TD&T and the USITT 365 app, we are giving more benefits without raising costs. That's a great story to share, but it is best shared by the membership.

Working together, with advertising and members sharing their stories, we can help the Institute cultivate those who invest in personal memberships. The growth in our corporate members shows that the industry is taking notice of USITT. Help us as we enter the fall with a concerted effort to expand membership. Together we can share the great work the Institute is doing and help it grow to its full potential.