Key Survey Findings: Perceived Benefit & Willingness to Uptake Membership in a Professional Association for Emergency Managers

By Moira Hennebury

The biggest challenge in growing membership is articulating the value proposition. Cognizant that students and recent graduates represent the largest growing prospective member base of any professional association, I sought to understand the perceived benefit, expectations, willingness, and ability of this population group to uptake membership in an association for emergency management professionals. 

It must be stated that while I am a member of several professional associations, I do not serve on any board or committee. I decided to undertake this small project because I believe today’s students and recent graduates have the tools, courage, and motivation to effect great change. Young professionals offer a rich and diverse knowledge base, flexibility, and a commitment to innovation. This cannot be overstated. Our generation will have a powerful and transformative impact on the trajectory of emergency management.  

To gather the perspectives of students and recent graduates, I conducted a short online survey from January 25 to 30, 2019. Participation in the survey was voluntary and allowed respondents to maintain their anonymity. The survey was intended for current undergraduate, graduate, doctoral, and professional certificate students and recent graduates of an emergency management or a related program in Ontario. The survey had an organic reach of 54 responses in five days. The level of positive engagement demonstrates that students and recent graduates can identify and articulate a clear set of expectations as prospective members.

Curiously, relatively few respondents currently hold membership in either of the two most prominent associations for emergency management professionals. Of the 54 total respondents, only 35% (19) were members of the Ontario Association of Emergency Managers (OAEM). Of the respondents who are not presently members, nearly half had once held membership with the association. This statistic underscores the challenge of member retention. 

Membership in the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM-Canada) was similarly low for the population surveyed. Of the 54 respondents, only 26% (14) were current members of the IAEM. 15% of non-members once held membership.

I was curious to understand why membership was remarkably low despite the fact that both associations offer free or reduced member rates for students. There is a longstanding perception that cost is the primary factor in a student or recent graduate’s decision to uptake membership in a professional association. This perception was challenged by the survey results. In fact, the results show a myriad of factors relating to both ability and willingness to uptake membership. The most frequently cited reasons for not choosing to uptake membership in either association are summarized in the table below.

It is interesting to note that a difference in the perceived value of membership between OAEM and IAEM-Canada was not distinguishable. For both OAEM and IAEM-Canada members, the average overall perceived value of membership was rated 3 out of 5. 

Despite low membership uptake and average levels of perceived value, opportunities for improved engagement exist for both associations. For instance, 5.7% of OAEM non-members indicated that they intend on becoming a member in 2019, while 34.3% more are undecided. The outlook was similarly positive for the IAEM-Canada. 7.5% of non-members indicated that they intend on becoming a member in 2019 and 47.5% are undecided. 

It is my hope that the survey results enclosed will serve as a call to action. 

Students and recent graduates are drawn to professional development activities that allow them to expand their competencies and skill set. Moreover, they are interested in opportunities that will allow them to guide and shape the future of emergency management. The most important benefits of membership in a professional association are ranked below. This survey section was mandatory for all 54 respondents. Respondents were asked to rank each benefit from 1 to 5, with 1 representing “not important” and 5 representing “very important”. The percentage assigned to each benefit category indicates the total percentage of respondents who indicated the benefit was either “important” or “very important” to them.

  1. Continuing education (e.g. multi-day courses) 87.0%
  2. Professional development events (e.g. workshops and webinars) 83.3%
  3. Formal networking events (e.g. roundtables on emerging issues) 81.5%
  4. Access to a job board 77.8%
  5. Access to conferences 70.4%
  6. Access to exclusive “member’s only” content or resources 61.1%
  7. The ability to join committees or special interest workgroups 55.6%
  8. Access to a mentorship program 53.7%
  9. Access to discounted products and services 51.2%
  10. Access to informal networking events (e.g. dinners, galas) 48.1%
  11. Opportunities to receive feedback on your resume 40.1%

It is my hope that this undertaking allowed participants to think deeply about their role and commitment to both personal and professional growth as emergency managers. I am encouraged by the conversation this survey has evoked and I look forward to how this discussion can be operationalized to both increase member engagement and deliver a better end product to current and prospective members. 

Thank you to all who participated.

Author Notes:

This survey allowed respondents to maintain their anonymity. A benefit of this method is that it encourages respondents to provide truthful responses. Several disadvantages of this approach exist, including potential for unconscientious responses, the potential for respondents to exercise a hidden agenda, and inability to verify respondents as appropriate candidates for the survey. This document contains a summary of survey responses. Please contact moira.hennebury@gmail.com if you wish to receive a copy of the full raw data including long answers.

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