Can APhA use Rational Choice Theory (RCT) to boost membership?

Rational Choice Theory explains actions by individuals and organizations based on a calculated pros/cons or costs/benefits approach to decision-making. Similar to economics, a strength with this method we can assign values to different options and predict which choice a person may make based on the highest perceived value.   However, a key factor in that sentence is perception. The weakness can be seen quickly in social sciences and in the policy process as we attempt to assign a value to situations assuming how others will internally perceive somethithinkingng. For example, not all pharmacists feel the same “sense of duty” to volunteer time or pay membership dues to a professional organization. Using the Rational Choice approach, one might predict if the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) lowered membership dues by 50% then we would observe a significant increase in pharmacists’ membership. Since not all pharmacists value membership to APhA equally, this example may result in a much lower membership increase.

So the real question for membership organizations, such as APhA, is how do you increase the value pharmacists internally perceive they gain when becoming a member?  I’ve never met two pharmacists with exactly the same value system (or two people for that matter).  Some pharmacists value advocacy.  They love to support causes that lead to legislative or regulatory change.  For these people, APhA could site the numerous examples of legislative advances spearheaded by the organization.  Some pharmacists value networking.  For these people, the Annual Meeting and Exposition hosted by APhA every spring is a great example of networking opportunities thanks to the organization.  Some pharmacists value education.  For this group, APhA provides tons of CE opportunities, founded the Board of Pharmacy Specialties, and is home to several educational publications (JAPhA, Pharmacy Today, DrugInfoLine).

Each year, members of APhA receive a “membership renewal” notification reminding members to pay dues for the next year.  For many pharmacists, this decision is simple: check “yes” and get out a credit card.  I would hypothesize that many members stop and think before they renew.  Using the Rational Choice framework to examine how these members process the information before making the “renew or throw in the trash” decision could help APhA predict membership patterns.  Identifying what cues or other information increase membership renewal could improve marketing effectiveness.  For example, if a pharmacist reads a positive article about “provider status” legislation right before receiving that membership renewal notification, would the pharmacist be more or less likely to renew?  If the pharmacist reads a negative article about lousy reimbursement from third-party payers, would that have a negative impact on that likelihood to renew?

While there are many policy theories and frameworks, Rational Choice Theory provides many interesting questions for membership organizations (especially since many non-profit membership organizations are struggling to gain or maintain members).


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Joey Mattingly, PharmD, MBA is an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy located in Baltimore, Maryland. Joey has managed retail and long-term care pharmacy operations in Kentucky, Illinois and Indiana. Leading Over The Counter is a blog of Joey's views and opinions on the topics of pharmacy leadership and management and do not represent the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Joey can be followed on Twitter @joeymattingly.

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