On The Inside

On The Inside

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

ARRL Membership

So, I'm not an ARRL basher, per se, I do often feel that they put their weight behind silly ideas. But that's not why I'm posting this. There's often criticism from supporters that 160k is just a small fraction of the U.S. amateurs and that this somehow implies that more should join. I don't necessarily agree. In 1919 they needed X dollars to accomplish their goals, and achieved success. Today they need Y dollars to accomplish very different goals and I would argue that if more hams felt that those goals were necessary for amateur radio, and, that they believed that the ARRL could succeed in those goals, that more would join. 

In other words, their membership today is something of a mixed model that, on the one hand, reflects the confidence that amateurs have in their ability to accomplish goals of interest to American amateur radio operators, and on the other hand, reflects the value that the ARRL provides to the members as a club.

So, assuming that every member views his membership as entirely the former and would gladly give up all subscriptions and free repeater guides to support the ARRL, in round numbers, that's about a 25% confidence rating. That is, about 25% of hams support the ARRL. I'm quite sure, however, that this is an upper bound because many of us are members either primarily, or only, for the membership benefits. 

I'm certainly in the latter category. I re-joined this past year because I was getting back into building and wanted access to their online QST library. I paid for three years in advance so that I could also update my aging 2005 handbook at significant discount and, consequently, reduce the cost of my subscription. Now, I pay for QEX because I think that it's a decent tech journal. I don't care one bit about today's QST and would gladly give it up printed copies of it if the ARRL provided additional value elsewhere.  Will I renew my subscription two years from now? Probably not. I am still annoyed by the separation of QST and QEX. I think that the ARRL could retain some members by recognizing that it is their library that has value to those members. Put QEX online, give members a choice of QST paper edition, or QST+QEX digital edition. I would gladly give up all paper from the ARRL to just be able to access ALL OF their library and I would probably do it indefinitely. It doesn't make economic sense for me to renew. My interest in building will have given way to other hobbies, but, every renewal year reduces the value of perks I received to rejoin. To maximize my gain, it will be better for me to not be a member for about 5 or 6 years and then, again, become a member for three years in return for a new updated handbook. 

Ok, but my membership isn't really the point, other than to say that, many hams think as I do, that ARRL membership is mostly about the tangible benefits. That said, when I don't renew, someone else will, but, unless there is some crisis, like WW1, or the ARRL demonstrates a remarkable ability to provide benefits that the 75% of amateurs that aren't members see as valuable, this attrition will continue, and their membership will not change dramatically. Moreover, it doesn't matter, because the ARRL will continue their mission to support amateur radio on the budget afforded them by their level of membership. 

In short, 160k members is plenty to get the job done that they are doing. If they expect a significantly greater number, then they must either demonstrate significant competence in handling amateur radio issues that matter to many additional hams. I'm not saying that they aren't competent, I'm saying that such issues aren't significant in the modern era of international treaty. However, many hams feel that the ARRL doesn't listen before it leaps, so they could go a long way to demonstrating this competence by much more frequent polling of the membership. Alternatively, they must provide better value in terms of club benefits. Honestly, I think that the latter approach is MUCH MUCH easier than the former.