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The Long-lasting Benefits of Offering Students Free Membership

Paying it forward can lead to unprecedented growth and retention

“Oh my God, I love SIAM!” It’s not an unusual sentiment, but not one I expected to hear as the employee of a nonprofit at a local event in my community. The woman who said it had recognized my Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) T-shirt and fondly recalled being a member when she was an undergraduate math student several years ago. 

So how does an organization go about positioning itself so people come running up to its employees exclaiming they love its programs? For SIAM, an association primarily made up of applied mathematicians and computational scientists doing research in academia, government labs, and industry, the key has been how we decided to approach students more than two decades ago.

By the mid-1990s, after several decades of growth, SIAM’s membership had started to stagnate, then decline. One tactic to reverse the trend was to offer a discount to members early in their careers. While this helped the trend, it did not come close to reversing it. The problem was that the pipeline of several hundred student members was too narrow to generate much in the way of growth. In the early 2000s, a radical proposal was made: To the greatest extent possible, we would stop taking money from students and, instead, start spending it on them. 

Please select this link to read the complete article from ASAE's Center for Association Leadership.

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