As president, I want to reaffirm IEEE as a member-based organization, built and led by volunteers. There are several topics I would like to address, including membership and transparency. Let me focus this column on the first. I will come back to transparency in a later column.
I have made it my priority to work with volunteers and staff from regions, societies, and councils to deliver value to our members and the professionals in our areas of interest. Last year I had the opportunity to meet members at several region and section meetings held throughout the world. Three main points were often the focus.
First, IEEE needs to deliver value to its members and focus on member development rather than membership development. Second, members joined IEEE because it is a professional organization, not a social-service organization. Third, IEEE should focus more on members and not on promoting its various products.
For example, IEEE should better communicate that the bulk of our activities is focused on our profession and on delivering value to our professionals rather than on humanitarian activities. We also need to redirect IEEE communications to address member needs more.
IEEE needs to understand what members value. Here lies our opportunity. IEEE is a 422,000-member professional organization, of which 50 percent are from Canada, Latin America, or the United States, while 18 percent are from Europe, the Middle East, or Africa, and 31 percent are from Asia or the Pacific region. Viewed in a different way, 71 percent of our members are higher-grade, and 29 percent are student members. Of our higher-grade members, 47 percent work in industry, 29 percent in educational institutions, and 9 percent in public and governmental organizations; 6 percent are retired; and 9 percent are undeclared [see chart].
To deliver value, IEEE needs to better understand the breadth and diversity of the many segments of our professional communities—academics, practicing engineers, different age groups and career stages, and gender, geographic, and industry segments. There is no single answer and no single value.
IEEE’s current suite of products and services reaches a community of professionals far larger than our dues-paying membership. For example, every year nearly 5 million distinct users access the IEEE Xplore Digital Library, a repository of more than 4 million technical papers and 1,300 active standards. How do we inspire the other 90 percent of IEEE Xplore users to be more engaged with the organization?
Nearly 500,000 professionals attend our 1,800 annual conferences. IEEE Future Directions’ technical communities engage more than 100,000 professionals, of which only half are IEEE dues-paying members.
Every year, between 15 and 20 percent of members do not rejoin, even with the tremendous yearly effort undertaken to keep membership at its current level.
THE 4 MILLION-MEMBER CHALLENGE
Does our association provide value for young professionals, industry practitioners, female engineers, or geographically diverse constituents? Is the value we provide the value that today’s varied audiences need and want?
The decision to join and renew membership, or being engaged with IEEE, is deeply linked to value. But addressing this challenge and constantly demonstrating our value proposition to our current and prospective dues-paying members is actually an opportunity to serve and engage the much broader community of well over 4 million professionals who currently touch IEEE products, services, or initiatives.
CHANGING NEEDSAND EXPECTATIONS
The essential model of membership is in flux. Shifting membership models mean that associations must do more than just deliver valuable information. IEEE Xplore, with its millions of articles, can significantly expand its functionality, with content curation and intelligent answers to technical and research queries. Beyond our successful “academic” conferences, we need new types of events that combine technical sessions with networking and fun opportunities, mentoring and career guidance, and exposure to new technologies and trends.
But all that is not enough. People are no longer willing to pay for the privilege of belonging. They need more tangible value. Facebook, for example, could be considered the world’s largest association, with its billion members. Its networking extends locally and internationally. Self-promotion is intrinsic. Anyone can start a group focused on their interests. And it’s free to join.
NEW MODELS OF ENGAGEMENT AND MEMBERSHIP
IEEE needs the infrastructure to keep ties with the 70,000 professionals who drop their membership every year. IEEE cannot ignore the many other millions of professionals it touches in various ways. My goal is to set up infrastructure that will keep those professionals engaged—in the meaningful ways that they themselves choose. This will lead to new forms of engagement, products and services, and possibly to new types and tiers of membership.
This is the discussion I am promoting. Because IEEE is a strong organization, we can dare to imagine the possibilities that we should consider pursuing.
Please join me as I refocus IEEE as a member- and volunteer-led organization and strive for an open institute. Share your thoughts with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.