The American Cheese Society (ACS) is headed toward its 35th anniversary in 2018, bolstered by a decade of impressive growth across the board; from membership numbers, conference attendees, competition entries, and more, ACS has expanded in almost every facet of the organization’s operation, all the while adding new products, services, education, and tools for its members.
Now, as ACS’s anniversary approaches, the company is proactively preparing for our industry's future by streamlining its membership dues and benefits structure. I recently had an opportunity to connect with Nora Weiser, Executive Director of ACS, to find out what prompted these changes and what is in store for society members next year and for the next 35.
Q: How did ACS approach updating its membership structure?
NW: This update was designed with our members in mind. We conducted member surveys, industry surveys, and held focus groups; as well as holding Board-level strategic planning sessions and an open Town Hall Meeting. We are excited about how these changes prepare ACS for the future, foster inclusivity, and will ultimately simplify members’ understanding and usage of their ACS membership. We want to give members the easiest possible access to the tools they need to succeed.
Q: What prompted a streamlining of membership dues and benefit structures?
The ACS of 2017 is different than ACS of 1983, when the organization was founded. As part of our Strategic Plan 2020, the Board of Directors set its sights on recommitting to the original vision and tenets of the organization while evolving the systems and structures to allow that vision to reflect where the industry is headed today.
This involved really looking at our members and their needs, and focusing on cheesemakers as our core—the central hub around which the rest of the industry revolves. Without cheesemakers, there is no cheese. And without cheese, there is no distributor, no retailer, no cheese educator, and no cheese consumer. We also looked at how members use their membership benefits, and which products and services are most valued by different types of members. This streamlined structure now better reflects who ACS members are and how they use their membership, and it lays the groundwork for a growing and engaged community. All of this was achieved within the existing bylaws and framework envisioned by ACS’s original founders—so it really respects the organization’s past while laying the groundwork for its future.
Q: Will preexisting members notice dramatic changes in their memberships? What kinds of changes will, for example, a member with an organizational membership who wants to retain that membership experience?
Our membership changes were designed for ease of function, not increase of revenue. So, the majority of members will not notice any significant difference in cost – and some members will actually see a cost savings in 2018. We have kept existing membership benefits in place, added new benefits, and created a stepped system of benefits where progressively higher levels have access to a progressively broader range of benefits.
One of the most notable changes for members is that those producers wishing to enter the ACS Judging & Competition, or to sample their products at our annual Meet the Cheesemaker event, will now need to join at the Organizational level rather than at the Individual level. In the past, there was no clear distinction between an “Individual” member and an organization with one “Individual” representative. Individuals, for example, could enter the ACS Judging & Competition or exhibit at Meet the Cheesemaker. The new structure recognizes that certain services are intended for Individuals, such as searching for job openings in our new Career Center, while other services reflect the needs of companies and businesses, for example posting open positions in the Career Center. This clearly differentiates between an Individual who joins ACS for professional development, education, access to resources, and networking, and an Organization that joins ACS for all of those things in addition to promoting and growing its business, sales, products, or services.
The update that we are perhaps most excited about for organizational members is one that will allow access to member benefits and educational resources to more industry professionals–helping to further our mission. Organizations may now choose to join at the Corporate “Sustaining” level, which is a new level that provides full membership benefits to all of their employees who wish to receive them. This gives organizations a way to extend professional education and development opportunities to an unlimited number of team members. Adding a Sustaining level addresses the needs of larger or growing companies that want to offer a benefit to all of their employees–who can now have direct access to all of ACS’s products, services, discounts, and important correspondence.
Q: Has the ACS experienced an upswing in non-professional memberships in recent years?
The center of the “ACS universe” has always been the cheesemaker, and it continues to be, with approximately 40 percent of ACS members producing cheese or cultured dairy products. While we have certainly seen an increase in Student and Enthusiast memberships in recent years, our membership community is still 95 percent Industry professionals—from producers to distributors to retailers to producers of cheese-friendly specialty foods. The ACS Board of Directors has actively focused on providing the best resources and services to industry professionals, recognizing that serving non-professionals and consumers must come only after our mission to serve the industry is well-met.
Q: When will these changes take effect, and when are membership renewals due?
ACS membership is structured on a calendar-year cycle, running from January through December of each year. Renewal notices will be sent to members starting next month (October). Members will receive several notices from us via email and mail, and will have until the end of the year to renew their membership for 2018. We will send members their renewal notices with the appropriate updated membership category for 2018 based on how they utilized their benefits this year. We hope this will be seamless and straightforward for members, but as with all changes, we know there will be some questions. We are ready to answer any questions and consult with members should they wish to consider a change in their membership level, or discuss some of our new membership options.
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