Take a look at the graphs above.
Now take a look at the graph to the right.
Sister societies are growing in membership -- especially international membership -- while AAPG membership numbers are flat and showing international membership declining some.
Meanwhile, a membership potential study by Christopher P.M. Heath, retired from Amoco and now living in Vancouver, Canada, shows the potential for growth is great, especially internationally, with 135 countries "that AAPG has not reached even though many may have geological surveys and geoscience departments employing geoscientists."
AAPG membership benefits abound, an all-member survey shows a high degree of satisfaction with the Association and its products, AAPG's publications and meetings are still the premier of the profession. But the numbers are stagnant.
What's the deal?
The answer to that question is elusive -- even for the sister societies that are seeing their numbers grow.
SEG has not quantified the reasons for its growth and there is no quantification why the international membership has increased to 58 percent of the membership over the past 13 years, according to Mary Fleming, executive director.
She noted that SEG initiated "global membership" in 2002, and the graduated dues scale was instituted last year. The big jump in international members came in 1997-98, when SEG numbers jumped 976, or 25 percent, and again in 2004-05, when non-North American membership grew 2,062, another 23 percent. Fleming noted there has been an increase from 6,500 members outside North America in 2002 to 11,100 members -- an increase from 47 percent to 58 percent of the total membership of SEG.
SPE Membership Manager Jane Boyce echoed Fleming's comments, but noted that SPE "World Bank" dues structure was applied in 2001, with its real growth spurt beginning in 2002.
Boyce said SPE opened an office in London about 10 years ago, a Kuala Lumpur office in 1998 and one in Dubai in 2003. SPE also has an office in Houston and has headquarters in Dallas.
SEG has headquarters in Tulsa and is considering opening non-U.S. regional offices.
Past President Dan Smith is chair of the AAPG Membership Coordination Committee and previously headed the Membership Enhancement and Development Committee. The Membership Committee has been studying the landscape closely over the past two years and has assigned six subcommittees focusing on various aspects of member development.
In addition to looking at AAPG strengths, weaknesses and demographics, Smith said that "we are studying what our sister societies have done that has been beneficial."
Smith said there are three areas drawing focus the committee feels are at the crux of the membership growth conversation:
AAPG has Active, Associate, Student and Emeritus classifications, each with a determined dues structure.
SEG has Active, Associate and Student and Emeritus classifications, with graduated dues based on World Bank classifications. "Global memberships," which carry lower dues, are subsidized by Apache Corp.
SPE dues are based on World Bank classifications, age and monthly salary, with dues ranging from $80 to $10 for all members.
Only AAPG requires a degree, and requires documentation. AAPG Active status requires three vouching Active members to complete forms; SEG Active does not require a degree but requires three references; SPE will allow persons with no degree but six years experience in the industry to join.
AAPG has set dues for its member classifications based on graduated dues structures. The sister societies don't.
The bottom line is: AAPG is more exclusive as who can be a member -- and thus more "difficult" to join. Also, other societies are significantly less expensive -- at least for some of their members.
Update on Progress
In addition to the AAPG Membership Committee activities, there are some specific actions that have been taken and proposals on the table to address the lack of growth. They include:
- A proposal is before the House of Delegates to add a new vice president position on the Executive Committee that would be designated as a Regions Vice President, ensuring non-U.S. representation on the Association's governing board.
AAPG President Peter R. Rose wrote to delegates that the proposal to be considered at the Houston meeting in April "will empower our international membership, who have hitherto been notably under-represented among AAPG's elected officers, even though they compose 30 percent of our membership."
- An ad hoc committee is studying a graduated dues structure with the aim of lowering dues for persons in countries whose incomes make joining prohibitive.
Past President Patrick J.F. Gratton noted that "while there are contributing factors, there is a primary correlation in changing the dues structures and membership growth."
- AAPG has opened an office in London at Imperial College (details to be announced in next months' EXPLORER) and other Region offices are under consideration.
- AAPG has streamlined its application process to make it faster and easier to join.
- Regions that have been asked to form a committee within each region assist in reviewing applications as well as providing sponsors. There also have been proposals that the application process and the qualifications for membership be revisited.
Heath said "of the 120 +/- nations we have listed on our membership list, 57 have fewer than three Active members. This means that it will be extremely difficult for any citizen in these, or any other of the 100 +/- countries that exist, to get enough supporters for any application they make to become an Active member. How do we hope to expand if there are so many nations where we have little or no representation unless we develop more practical rules for election?"
Heath, who has lived and worked in 13 countries in his career, first became involved in international membership in 1978 when he visited with an AAPG senior official and suggested that AAPG should seek more members from outside North America.
"He/she replied that he/she did not think there were any geologists outside America," Heath said. "Over the next six months, I sent 13,500 names and addresses. Sometime later, I can't remember when, perhaps in the early 1980s, I presented a map at a talk for AAPG H.Q. about the problems geoscientists in Africa have in paying our dues."
The country-by-country data Heath collected on member growth potential can be accessed on the AAPG Web site.