I find little value in my PRSA membership at the national level these days. Locally the group remains important to me, but the society doesn’t allow chapter-only memberships. If I want the local benefit, I must support the national bureaucracy. My national dues are $225, my chapter dues $50.
So today I’m proposing that PRSA change its bylaws and allow chapter-only memberships. I’m not the first to raise this idea. It was part of a manifesto Jack O’Dwyer published last fall in his newsletter. (I can’t link to it, as you need a subscription, but you can see my comments about it here, in “Round 13.”)
Under my plan, chapter-only members could vote, serve on committees and hold local office. A chapter-only member would not be permitted to serve as a national delegate. Neither would chapter-only members enjoy subscriptions to PR Tactics and the Strategist, nor would they receive PRSA’s daily email alerts. Chapter members would be eligible to take the accreditation exam.
I’d opt for a chapter-only membership, and I suspect a lot of others would join me, since 95% of the benefit I receive from PRSA comes at the local level.
How can PRSA offer national services if not subsidized by the entire membership? Maybe it can’t. But maybe — just maybe — the chapter-only membership option would encourage our national leaders look more closely at the value they do offer and find a way to increase it.
Chapter-only membership would certainly be a boon to the local affiliates. Chapters would become more inclusive, as they could recruit from the 90% of PR pros who aren’t members now. More members would mean more income to chapters, and that would mean higher-quality programs.
Granted, a local member would miss out on the professional interest sections offered through PRSA along with national and district events. But those who need and want those benefits could simply maintain their national affiliation. No big deal.
I don’t expect PRSA to consider this proposal or even join in this conversation about it. But I hope you will. Maybe we can get a grassroots movement started.
There is an alternative
If you think my chapter-only membership impractical, here’s another approach. When I lived in Buffalo, back in the 80s, I belonged to a group called the Professional Communicators of Western New York. PCNY attracted PR pros who couldn’t afford memberships in PRSA or IABC, along with those who saw little benefit in a national affiliation.
Our PRSA chapter cooperated with PCNY and IABC on 3 joint programs each year. Our combined resources let us create professional development events comparable to those offered at national conferences. Everyone benefited.
So there is another way to create a “local” membership by simply forming parallel organizations that, in turn, form alliances with PRSA and IABC to do joint programming. It’s not as simple as my initial proposal, but it gets the job done.
I know this proposal sounds like mutiny coming from a member of PRSA’s College of Fellows. Mutiny may be too strong a word, but it’s time we consider a little “insubordination” just to see if Captain Queeg is listening to the crew.
Sorry if you aren’t a Bogart fan. That’s your loss.