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The Death of Associations -- Declining STC Statistics Prompt Innovation, Realigning of Value

by Tom Johnson on May 24, 2007 •
categories: technical-writing

STC brokenThe most pressing idea I took away from STC Leadership day is that associations are on a downward spiral and must innovate in new ways to provide value members want. From 2000 to 2007, membership in the Society for Technical Communication (STC) dropped from 20,000 to 14,000 members. This is not unique to the STC, but is a trend for all associations that don't offer an industry standard certification as their main value. Average retention of new members is around 75%.

Susan Burton encouraged chapter leaders to do what's right for their chapters. We shouldn't worry about trying to meet requirements of community achievement awards if those requirements don't meet the needs or serve the interests of our members.

Participation Statistics: 10%

Tonight I called the First Coast chapter to finalize a matter, and I learned their chapter pretty much disintegrated. The former president told me they just couldn't get participation. Only three people were doing anything; the rest weren't coming to the meetings. Of the 150 members in our Suncoast chapter, average meeting attendance is around 20. For the Atlanta chapter in Georgia, which has 400+ members, average meeting attendance is about 45.

A Survey on STC Value

I recently polled our chapter members to ask what they perceived to be the greatest value/benefit of the STC. They said the main value is in jobs, magazines/journals, professional development, and networking. Click the graphic below to view the survey results.

Greatest Benefits STC

Gathering Physically vs. Virtually

We have to focus on what member's find valuable about an organization. I wish I had more insight here. I know we have to do what's right today, regardless of what worked in the past. It is less and less convenient to gather physically; on the other hand, members aren't gathering virtually with any more enthusiasm. Look at how they ranked podcasts: near last. Other options, like the tech pubs competition, didn't even make the survey results. And my chat session had four attendees.

Too Work-Related?

Maybe the STC is too work-related. This is something Scott and Aaron from DMN Communications mentioned to me in Vancouver. Technical writing is a job that most people do only for pay. After work, they want to relax, enjoy life, escape the drudgery of click-this, select-that, and so on. Technical communication is not a passion; it's a paycheck. Hence the nonattendance and lack of participation in after-hours STC functions.

Do you have any tips for me? How can we put the life back into the STC? In our chapter? Is it a hopeless cause?

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About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer / API doc specialist based in the Seattle area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out simplifying complexity and API documentation for some deep dives into these topics. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates. You can also learn more about me or contact me.