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How do you make 40,000 physicists happy?

By Mary Pat Paris, APS Membership Manager

Although I'd love to offer a snappy comeback, the truth of the matter is, I can't. The reality of it hit home recently as I reviewed the results of the most recent APS membership survey. I should clarify that I tried to find one particular service or benefit that drives physicists to retain APS membership. What I discovered is that "it" just doesn't exist.

Does this mean that I must give up my goal of 100 percent member satisfaction? Again, my answer is no.

The staff and officers of APS regularly receive calls, letters and e-mail messages from members who ask questions, or offer comments and suggestions on how we are doing. While this gives us some feel for how our efforts are received by the members, it does not necessarily reflect the pulse of the membership as a whole. There are many more members who do not take the time to let us know how we rate in their eyes. In October, 1996 APS solicited a sample of members to complete a grueling 80-page survey (actually eight pages; it just seemed like 80) in which we asked for the answer to "How are we doing?"

Preliminary results of the survey are in and APS Committees are busy debating what the numbers mean. Some results are open to interpretation, others obviously clear. Demographics top the list of survey results and not surprisingly, report the very diverse nature of APS members. The common bond is physics but the similarities seem to end there. Age, gender, level of education, employment status, and subfield of physics, make a "typical" APS member hard to define. We know that strength is in diversity, however each of these groups has expectations of the role its professional association should fill, and rarely agree on exactly how this should be accomplished. I am referring to specific tangible and intangible benefits offered to members in exchange for their dues.

The survey shows that large groups of members look to APS for its journals. Others value the benefit of presenting papers at APS meetings. Students look to us for career guidance, while some see our insurance programs as critical to maintaining membership. The survey also indicated that some members only belong because of Physics Today. Online journal access services are important to some, but not others. Education and outreach rated high on some members' lists while increased resources for public affairs topped others.

I was personally surprised to see how many members rated the paper Membership Directory higher than the online Membership Directory. I expected that since the online directory reflects "up-to-the-minute" changes, members would prefer that to a paper version that is technically out of date when it is printed. I was wrong, and the survey results showed me how important it is to ask you on a regular basis what is important.

The APS Committee on Membership regularly reviews current and proposed benefits of membership. Last year, the Committee approved, and we offered, the opportunity for APS members to subscribe to Internet access through EarthLinkT. Some members loved it, others called and wrote about what a waste of resources they thought it was. I have received praise (and just as many complaints) from members about the decision to stop mailing BAPS in advance of meetings, and the increased use of electronic communication with members. Similarly, I have a file of letters from members who wrote in support of a statement APS made several years ago. I also have a file of members who terminated their membership as a result of the same statement.

My goal as Membership Manager is 100 percent member satisfaction. I always knew this was a tough goal to strive for, however the survey has convinced me that while it is tough, it is possible as long as I change my definition of satisfaction.

100% member satisfaction does not mean that all members will be happy with every benefit or service offered. By putting together a "cafeteria plan" of benefits from which to choose, and by participating in a wide range of education, outreach, international, and public affairs, each member should come away 100 percent satisfied with their decision to maintain membership in APS.

I invite you to consider your level of satisfaction with APS as a whole. How does your membership benefit you, and how can we make your membership more worthwhile? Call, write, e-mail, and respond to surveys. We need to hear from you!

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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin