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Value in the New Year

Last Summer, Chicago Medical Society (CMS) leaders set a clear directive: this is not the year for membership studies or for pilot programs. It is the year to increase membership.

The current membership renewal season is off to a strong start. As of Dec. 3, 2013, at least 691 full dues-paying members had renewed for 2014, compared to 516 at this time last year, an increase of 33.9% in year-to-date renewals. In January, an additional 236 “continuous” regular members who pay monthly will be deemed renewed. This impressive start must be tempered with the realization that robust retention may not translate into membership gains without new member recruitment to balance the attrition.

In the past few years, recruitment has not been strong, with just 82 new dues-paying members in 2013. In 2014, we will bring to fruition the multi-year recruitment plan known as the Partnership for Membership Growth (PFMG). The PFMG program offered trial membership for 2011-2012, half-dues in 2013, with full-dues payment in 2014. The concept was that physicians who experience CMS/ISMS programs at no cost would be more likely to join as dues-paying members.

Of the 236 members paying half-dues in 2013, at least 31 have signed up for full dues in 2014. CMS continues to encourage PFMG participants to become full members.

The comprehensive 2014 recruitment plan has the following components:

Systematic Renewal Process. CMS is again in direct control of the renewal process for individual members, resulting in a much more systematic approach to membership renewal, with more dues statements and more paper statements.

Financial Incentives. For the first time in CMS history, we extended 5% dues discounts to much of the general membership—physicians who have been members for at least five years. CMS supports the continued use of incentives, including deeper, more broad-based dues discounts that are matched by ISMS.

Targeting of Specific Groups. Through efforts spearheaded by ISMS, the psychologist prescribing bills were defeated in the Illinois General Assembly. As such, the psychiatric community is considered fertile ground for membership recruitment because of its ongoing need for advocacy and representation.

Recruitment of Large Groups. The recent CMS/ISMS campaign to increase GME funding has been extremely well-received by the medical schools. Also, CMS/ISMS have been actively recruiting large groups by asking them to consider institutional sponsorship of individual memberships.

Public Health and Education. Our promotion of CPR training, Building a Healthier Chicago FIT City, stroke awareness, not to mention our service on the Cook County Board nominating committee, are prime recruitment tools. Chicago Medicine magazine has received wide acclaim and distribution.

Loss of membership is an existential threat to our organization. A medical society that does not represent sufficient numbers of physicians cannot advocate on their behalf.

The steady membership decline began in 1998 with the waiver of the membership requirement for ISMIE liability insurance. Since then, only two years—2007 and 2008—saw increases in dues-paying members. The long-term decline accelerated with the Great Recession, with losses averaging 11% for each of the last four years. CMS’ relinquishment of direct control of the billing process in 2011, and a dues increase from $330 to $395 in 2011, compounded the losses.

Demographic shifts and changing physician employment structure present new challenges. Employed physicians traditionally have had lower membership levels but employment is becoming the predominant practice structure for young physicians.

Demonstrating value is a clear prerequisite for membership growth. The New Year will see a continuation of efforts to provide that value.

Robert W. Panton, MD
President, Chicago Medical Society

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