Today, I received a mass mailing from INFORMS. It says that I will be entered into a lottery if I bring in a new member. In general, I support aligning objectives with proper incentives. But my primary reaction is that the reward seems a bit cheesy to me. It sounds a little too much like a gimmick that I expect of my lawn service, but not my primary professional society.
But the e-mail also got me thinking. What is the “value proposition” of INFORMS, and what people would sufficiently benefit from joining? To determine the answer, I use a classic approach. I try to imagine what it would be like to be a professional who has some interest in O.R. but is not a member of INFORMS. (I didn’t say it was a very good approach, but it’s a whole lot easier than collecting data.)
So, I looked at the INFORMS member_benefits_guide. It’s 24 pages long, which is pretty long as far as I am concerned; but it does have lots of interesting pictures to make it an easier read. As I (imagining myself to be a non-member) read it, I am far too skeptical to find the benefits compelling enough to make me want to join. The guide talks about discounts on publications and reduced rates for meetings, but this would only be of interest if I clearly wanted the journals or if I knew I wanted to attend meetings. I already network a lot, know how to get information off the web, and have enough opportunities for providing service. And I am skeptical if INFORMS is the best way of getting insurance or other financial benefits. Moreover, the guide looks like lots of other slick guides I’ve seen trying to sell me something.
As you will note, my imaginary self is a very tough-sell. So, is there anything that might get me to join? It turns out that it’s easier to convince me to go to a professional meeting than it is to pay the $144 membership. There are three reasons in this imaginary scenario. First, I suspect that learning more O.R. can help me in my job, and I’ll be able to check this out at the conference. Second, a colleague of mine asked me to give a talk at the conference, and I had trouble saying no. Third, my business offered to pay for it, and so it will be free for me.
I now imagine that I decided to attend an INFORMS conference and that my business is paying for it. Now I’m quite willing to join INFORMS for a small incremental fee, say $19. Even if I am totally skeptical about membership, I have trouble resisting that type of bargain.
My thought experiment is over, and here are recommendations. A good way to get a new member is to have a current member invite him or her to an INFORMS Conference, assuming that the person’s business may pay for the expense. Second, charge non-members exactly $125 more per conference as members pay. Third, offer non-members membership for $19 provided that they paid the full amount to attend a national meeting. For student or retirees who attendee, the cost for non-members should be $25 higher, leaving a cost of $11 for becoming a member.
INFORMS should find out who is attending an INFORMS conference for the first time, and do their absolute best to ensure that the experience is a positive one.
I (that is, the imaginary version of me who just joined INFORMS) will quit in one year unless I feel that there is a lot of added benefit for staying. After all, next year will cost me $144 rather than $19. So, INFORMS will need to give me a lot of benefit (and attention) over the next year.
INFORMS should consider giving interesting on-line offerings that are restricted to members only. I suggest putting on line for members only the following: tutorials, videos of plenary talks, and videos of Edelman Prize talks. Some interesting and popular samples of all of these can be offered freely to non-members.
If INFORMS wants to reward those who recruit members, they should have at least one option that is a charitable one. Here is one possibility. Money would be given to educational institutions who want institutional subscriptions to Pubs-on-line, but who cannot afford the price. Institutions seeking help can list themselves on the INFORMS website.