President’s Podium: Reflecting member interests and values

During my months as President of The Wildlife Society, there have been occasions where I and TWS staff have had communication from individuals who expressed intent to terminate their membership in the Society. This isn’t unusual for any membership organization due to the diversity of experiences, knowledge, values and beliefs of individuals in any large group. These situations ranged from disagreements with a specific action or policy stance to fundamental disagreement with some foundational aspect of our organization. Fortunately, these are rare events, but they are meaningful in what they indicate about how individuals perceive their membership. These instances also may reveal how well the Society communicates the full spectrum of what we represent to science, education, professionalism and conservation.

With one exception, the situations have involved a member who has decided that they disagree with some aspect of TWS and they rather abruptly announce that they wish to terminate their membership.  While they may have studied some background on their own, there has been little or no attempt to contact TWS to get deeper information about the element(s) of our organization with which they disagree. Consequently, it’s unclear if these actions are taken with the level of understanding of our organization that is necessary for a judicious decision.

The Wildlife Society is a complex organization in its mission, its programs, its positions, its organizational structure, its staffing, its strategic purposes, and its communication lines to members. Much time has been invested in developing the Bylaws under which we operate, the strategic plan that guides our operations, the formal positions and technical documents that advise our policy stances, the publications that communicate our interests, and the budgeting and investment to support our work. These elements are an interwoven fabric that members should be aware of as they judge their affinities, activities, and values within the Society. This is doubly important given the extensive focus that has developed in recent years to provide greater, more valued member services and to enhance the value proposition to all members.

I encourage all members to be comfortable in periodically assessing their views of The Wildlife Society as a service and support function for their professional and personal lives. If any of you feel a vocational, avocational, or emotional disconnect seems to have arisen with the Society, please take time to communicate with TWS staff, with your Section Representative, or with TWS Officers to ensure that you have a full understanding of how TWS relates to your interests or concerns (contact info available on TWS website). Only with that level of understanding of our operation can you make a wise judgment about how you relate to TWS.

Equally important is that your expression of questions or concerns allows TWS leadership to assess and re-examine activities that we have developed. TWS seeks feedback proactively from all members through various mechanisms to advise Council and staff on member values—direct communication with us is an important facet as well. TWS Council meets formally twice yearly and routinely between meetings via electronic communication. We stand ready to consider issues that may warrant adjustments following reasoned evaluation. Individual voices are valued within the overall communications that help us to “steer the ship” for the members.

Membership in TWS has grown over the past year by more than 500 members, a strong indicator that overall member satisfaction is very high. We are thriving but understand the importance of open communication to improve understanding. Thus, I have not aired this topic over concerns that there is dissatisfaction with the Society. Rather, I think it is healthy to candidly address the importance of members being comfortable to voice their concerns and encourage thoughtful evaluation of what TWS membership provides overall.

So, if you or any of your colleagues find disagreement with something that you feel TWS is engaged with or is communicating, please be willing to voice your views rather than simply walking away. You should contact leadership and/or staff so we can ensure that you are armed with the fullest set of information and understanding possible. The Wildlife Society will be better for that studied consideration and we can be more responsive to member values. Thanks for helping to maintain the strength of our organization.