A multi-case study of membership trends and leadership responses: 1980–2004
Professional educational associations affect the health and continued growth of the profession. The perception that memberships had fluctuated in the last twenty-four years led to the exploration of actual membership trends and leadership's responses.
This qualitative study explored three national educational associations and the Nebraska Council of School Administrators state umbrella association. Each association served school administrators. Nine national-level interviews and a six-member Nebraska Council of School Administrators focus group provided data. Transcribed and coded interview transcripts revealed ten themes: The Association, Governance, Member Attributes, Member Benefits, Marketing, Recruitment and Retention, Dues and Revenue, Communication and Technology, School Issues, and State Affiliates.
Findings revealed that national events and crises, demographics changes, and legislation affected membership. Membership evidenced an increased diversity in age, gender, and a wider cultural diversity. Associations' leadership clarified the association's role within the profession, determined the association's niche, continually monitored membership trends and members' needs, and narrowed their focus to fulfill the identified role. Governance procedural changes provided members involvement opportunities. Continual marketing research identified needs. Multiple membership levels included varied benefits and services delivered in modes that accommodated member preferences. As benefit mixes changed with demand, associations balanced benefits with their cost. Valued benefits included liability insurance and legal aid, advocacy, publications and resources. Publications' delivery modes included paper copy and electronic formats. Associations used technology for communication and information delivery. Personal contact, mentoring, and networking socialized and engaged members. Engaged members were likely to continue active memberships. When valuable benefits accompanied dues hikes, memberships did not drop, but at times, increased. Associations' collaboration with university preparation programs creates an awareness of the association's value to the professional. State associations mirrored and complemented the national associations.
Professional associations not only provided leadership for their professional groups but professional standards and quality control roles that served society as well. Professional standards guided the next generation's professional preparation of new professionals entering the field and updated the veteran professional's knowledge base.