Friday, July 11, 2014

Strictly SCA... Part I - Membership Numbers

This post is outside the realm of German Renaissance Research, therefore, if you are only reading these posts for German research, you may safely ignore the following.  This is strictly a mental outpouring over a discussion held recently in my own home group.

Recently there has been some discussion over recruitment and retention, at least locally, meaning in our Kingdom and Shire.  What appears to be coming down the wire is that we're losing members left and right and that we're not gaining members to replace them.  This may be an over-simplification on my part and I could very well have misunderstood some of what was said.  In any case, while these dire warnings motivated me to consider other avenues of recruitment and retention, they may not have done the same for other members in our group.  In fact, these comments may have come across as somewhat bleak and disheartening to newer members.  Since I am in the habit of questioning just about everything, which I will freely admit can be both a good and bad habit, I realized a few days after the meeting that perhaps I needed to do some research into these dire predictions concerning the SCA's future.

Data used in this post is from the SCA Corporate Treasurer's page, which lists membership numbers from 1992 through August 2013.  The following is a list of overall average membership numbers by year:

1992 - 21,129        2003 - 27,863
1993 - 22,366        2004 - 31,770
1994 - 25,413        2005 - 32,329
1995 - 25,017        2006 - 32,742
1996 - 24,239        2007 - 32,668
1997 - 23,789        2008 - 31,992
1998 - 23,832        2009 - 31,344
1999 - 23,802        2010 - 31,288
2000 - 24,400        2011 - 30,272
2001 - 24,988        2012 - 28,950
2002 - 25,066        2013 - 29,684

If you compare 1992 to 2013, the SCA has grown by over 8,500 memberships [21129 vs. 29684] in a 21 year period.  This appears to be an overall growth, not a decline, but this can be seen as too simple of a comparison.

The highest membership numbers are from 2006 at 32,742 (with 2007 not far behind it at 32,668), which would put our greatest overall growth at 11,613.  After 2007, the numbers consistently decline overall by nearly 4000 members until 2013 when they show a modest incline of just over 700 members.  While this consistent decline can be seen as a problem, I don't believe it actually is.  It seems to be forgotten that the World economy took a hit in 2008 and, while we would like instantaneous recovery, realistically it takes time for individual monetary trust to rebuild.

Other interesting data to note about the numbers provided is that between 2006 and 2012 [specific numbers are not available for 2013], International membership [IM] went down 154 members from 1287 to 1133.[*]  While this appears to be a modest number, IM was not at its peak in 2006, but in 2001 at 1,718.  Using that number, IM has gone down 585 members in 11 years or by roughly a third.  Taking the other membership types into consideration from 2006-2012, Sustaining memberships [SM] dropped from 16305 to 13460 or by 2,865, Associate memberships [AM] increased from 2527 to 3354 or by 827 and Family memberships [FM] dropped from 12623 to 11003 or by 1,620.

There are plenty of reasons why these number look the way they do, but most of the reasons are speculation at best.  For instance, a good number of the SMs were likely transferred to AMs to save on costs.  Other memberships were likely dropped due to a lack of perceived benefit for a member's membership money, especially when they had more important real life costs with which to deal.  While another avenue of speculation would say that the SCA is not as family friendly as it could be, therefore families find other entertainment for their children and, thus, themselves.  There is also the good ole standby of, the SCA is simply too expensive for the groups of people it used to attract, such as college students and there are other cheaper hobbies people can enjoy.

Let's take my personal situation to bear on this one.  During the early economic issue years, we were unable to maintain memberships, but since we stopped going to most events during that time due to various costs, it wasn't really an issue.  Also, our Kingdom is not "Pay to Play," so it was irrelevant.  Currently, while both my husband and I are members, we split our membership between Sustaining and Family to cover my overall family group.  Neither my husband nor I are currently officers.  We do not go to as many events as we would prefer.  In fact, we go to so few events that the benefit of having a membership to defray non-member surcharge [NMS] costs doesn't even apply.  We have memberships to 'have memberships,' plain and simple.  My family could be an exception to the rule for all I know, but those are our circumstances.

In any case, using the numbers provided, while the SCA numbers do not look the best, they are definitely better in the long run than how it is being represented as a whole, nor do I feel that the numbers are as dire as they are being represented.  This is not an indication that I believe nothing should be done.  Retention and recruitment are a constant need in any membership-driven organization, but doom and gloom is not a proper motivator.

[*] There is one difficulty I have with the data concerning IMs.  The 2013 data (up through August) shows membership numbers broken down by Kingdom, whereas the other years do not.  The average numbers for Lochac and Drachewald for 2013 show 1804 memberships between them (1436 for Lochac and 368 for Drachenwald).  Either there was a significant increase in membership in 2013, or obviously I am not privy to how the Corporate Office came up with the numbers they are using for IMs in every other year.  Perhaps the family side of IMs are not split from the overall FM numbers.

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