Why Member Numbers Are a Bad Metric

Our mission statement states that we change lives by empowering the Hispanic community.  It does not say “SHPE changes member’s lives”, nor does it say “SHPE provides awareness, access, support and development to members”.  Why is that?  Aren’t we a member based organization?  Why is our mission statement about the community at large?

Member NumbersIf you think about it, SHPE does not exist to grow members.  SHPE exists to achieve a vision that would make our current mission statement irrelevant.  We exist because there is an inequality in the world that we believe we can change.  We do what we do to make a meaningful impact on our society and to change the lives of individuals within our community so that they may reach higher aspirations.  Does the number of members we have tell you how well we are doing at impacting our community?  The answer is NO.

As I’m writing this blog post, we have 9520 total members.  This is a very close to the same number of total members we’ve had for the last 4 years.  In fact, prior to FY09 (the year of the Pheonix Conference), we had grown at a fairly steady but low rate.  In FY09, we crossed over 10,000 members for the first time in the history of our organization.  We took this as a sign of great success, but what does it really mean?  To me, it meant we were doing a lot better with marketing and selling our conference to potential members (i know because that was my conference in FY09).  But selling our conference is only one small aspect of the social impact we know is necessary throughout the STEM pipeline.

Today we are struggling with all the pain of instability and unclear roles and responsibilities that prevents us from being effective in executing our mission.  This lack of clarity exists because we have been fighting to transition to a staff run organization while keeping one foot in the door of the old volunteer run organization of yesterday.  If this was 2004, I would agree with the idea that membership growth is the way for us to succeed our goals.  Because in 2004 we relied on volunteers to do everything even direct and guide the staff.  We are a much different organization that is more reliant (although not enough) on a capable staff executing to a strategy our board of directors lays out.  If we had 30,000 members tomorrow, but still suffered from today’s instability, would we be having more social impact?  Would we be closer to achieving our vision?  Again, the answer is NO.

Organizations do what they measure.  We must find a way to measure the more meaningful metrics all along the leaky STEM pipeline and then align our strategies to improving them.  We must measure High School completion rates of Jr. SHPE Chapter members and prove they are better than the 51% average of Latino students across the country.  We must measure STEM degree completion rates among SHPE members and prove that our programs result in a greater than 54% completion rate.  We must measure our professional representation in decision making areas of our companies and then find a way to improve them.

We must focus on social impact not membership numbers to truly make the change we know we must make.  If we do this….. and if we prove how much better we are at changing the equation, sponsors will line up to help us execute, their employees will join so that they too can climb the ladder and their children will join to access the high quality programs that we offer and the hope that they too can beat the system.  And membership will grow but only as an outcome of our commitment to delivering our mission.

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