We Asked, You Answered: 2021 Membership Survey Results

Laura Laing

Ideally, ASJA surveys its members once a year—to check in on how we’re doing and to look for new ways to serve members. This spring’s survey was the first in three years, and we got a lot of important feedback that the board and committees are excited to put into action.

Before digging in, there are some caveats. First, it’s important to note that only 27% of our membership responded. This is a pretty typical number, but it doesn’t allow us to mathematically generalize the results. The higher the response rate, the more we can trust that the results reflect our membership accurately. In addition, because different people respond to the survey each time, we cannot accurately compare the results, year to year.

As a professional membership organization, we expect our members to have established careers as independent writers. So, it is no surprise that most respondents have been freelancing for more than 11 years. Likewise, about 50% of respondents have been members of ASJA for more than 11 years. Surprisingly, the largest percentage of respondents (30%) did not work as full-time freelancers last year, and the next largest percentage (20%) made less than $25,000 in 2020. Only about 20% of respondents made more than $75,000 last year from freelance income. This makes sense given the respondents: 14% were semi-retired, and 1% was retired. Nineteen percent earned income from a mix of journalism and content marketing, 17% from a mix of journalism, content marketing, and book writing, while 19% also taught, 17% worked as consultants, and 13% coached.

This year, we asked respondents about benefits not tied to specific ASJA programs, and respondents were asked to select their top three. The number one choice was “to be in community with other professional independent writers” (87%). This is heartening, since many of our programs—from conferences to webinars and masterminds to the Facebook member group—offer opportunities to get to know other members. In addition, respondents selected the following benefits outside of our programs: “To network with potential clients and publishers (66%), “to stay abreast of changes in the freelance writing industry” (47%), and “to grow my freelance business and/or move into a new area of expertise” (47%). With a new membership engagement committee, we hope to create even more opportunities for members to connect.

As for ASJA member-only benefits, the ASJA Magazine once again came out on top with 47% of respondents choosing it as a top benefit. Virtual Client Connections garnered 39% of respondents’ votes, while 27% of respondents listed Paycheck (our rates reporting program) and member discounts as top choices. The magazine, client connections programs, and conferences are resource intense, so it’s nice to know that members appreciate them. With our new website going live this year, we’re excited to make it easier for members to report rates via Paycheck.

At only two years old, our Facebook members page garnered appreciation from 25% of respondents, while our online forums received only 12% of the votes. Given the traffic to each, this is no surprise. While our forums are visited by only a handful of members each month, the Facebook group had 62 new posts and 459 responses and reactions from June 21 to July 21.  

More respondents (37%) regularly attend the annual conference in New York than don’t. Of those who don’t, cost (35%) and travel distance (28%) prevent them from coming. Fifty-two percent of respondents did not attend one of our virtual conferences in 2020 or 2021, while 27% registered (in full) for one of them. When asked if they’d rather attend a virtual conference than an in-person conference, 27% said yes, 35% said no, and 38% had no opinion. Seventy-one percent of respondents said that membership dues “were about right for the services offered.”

In terms of demographics, only 9% of respondents were younger than 40 years old, and the largest segment (30%) were between 61 and 70 years old. Eighty-two percent identified as female, 16% identified as male, and 2% preferred not to say. (No one chose “non-binary or non-conforming”). In terms of race, 95% identified as white, while two respondents were Black or African American, two were Asian or Island Pacific, and one was Native American or Alaskan Native. These numbers probably say more about those who responded to the survey than our membership as a whole, although the majorities do seem to reflect the membership.

The board and committee chairs have had a chance to review the survey results and consider the feedback. We will continue to build on the positive feedback and address concerns mentioned by respondents. It’s important to know that this survey is not the only means by which we assess our programs. Surveys are sent out to attendees after conferences, Client Connections events, webinars, and masterminds, so that we can identify successful and unsuccessful events. In addition, we track the open rates of electronic communications and traffic to the online forum and Facebook member page. While a program may get support in a survey, the signups or traffic for that program may not warrant continuing it. In addition, we have to consider the cost of our programs, and whether or not the return on investment is worth it.

For example, a subset of our members consistently report that they would like see the magazine discount program re-instated. The board voted to discontinue that program because it required a tremendous amount of time for staff to implement. In addition, research showed that magazine discounts were ubiquitous, and so we chose to link to those discounts on our web page without dedicating staff time to running our own magazine discount program. In short, members can get the same magazine discounts without a special ASJA program. For more information, visit https://asja.org/Benefits/Discounts-and-Services, and click on “Magazine Discounts.”

Likewise, some of our members are dedicated to ASJA’s Forum, an online discussion group hosted on our website. Unfortunately, we can no longer support the Forum once the new website is launched. After months of tracking traffic and number of posts to the Forum, and comparing the traffic to the Facebook member group, it’s clear that more of our members are having discussions on Facebook than on the Forum. The cost of the technology far outweighs its use.

On the other hand, the press card rarely ranks at the top of our surveys. However, for the members who need it, the press card is an essential benefit, and we’ve found a way to offer it cost-effectively.

This year, some respondents complained that we no longer have a membership directory. We actually do have an online directory, though admittedly it’s hard to find. The new website will feature a much more robust and prominently placed membership directory. Each member will be encouraged to keep their entry up-to-date and can use their profile as a portfolio of recent or important clips. We’re excited to be able to offer this benefit to members—as well as potential clients. Look for more information in the fall.

There were also some complaints about the design and production of the magazine this year. After the website is launched, the board will begin considering a long-term branding process that will also involve redesigning the magazine itself. Survey respondents reported that they didn’t like the glossy cover and the tremendous white space on the pages. We’ve heard these concerns before, and we’re eager to update the design. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to do the website work, while overhauling our entire brand—not to mention prohibitively expensive. We hope our magazine readers will hang in there with us a little longer, as we finish up the site and take a much-needed break to refuel for a re-branding initiative.

While respondents to the survey certainly expressed divergent opinions on so
me issues (like the Forum), responses were largely positive and consistent. It’s always lucky when a survey confirms plans already in place, and I’m glad we found ourselves in that position. That said, we’re taking all opinions very seriously—even if we cannot accommodate all needs. If you have questions about these survey results or any of the decisions mentioned here, please do not hesitate to email asjaoffice@asja.org. Thank you to everyone who responded to the survey. Look for next year’s survey in the spring!

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash