The ARS Membership Survey
Hank Schannen, Princeton, N. J.
In January, the members of the American Rhododendron Society were requested to complete and return a self-administered questionnaire which was enclosed with the Quarterly Bulletin. Of the 3403 questionnaires sent out, 851 usable forms were returned, a return of 25 per cent, which is about average for a questionnaire of this length and complexity.
The Survey covered five major informational areas:
Overall attitudes toward the ARS - both the National and local chapters.
Attitudes toward a number of specific ARS issues.
Membership interests and activities.
Attitudes toward and readership of the Quarterly Bulletin.
Two general types of questions were included in the study:
One being quantitative measurements of membership attitudes consisting of "closed end" questions that have pre-listed response categories;
The second type being a qualitative measurement consisting of "free response", uncategorized, written-in answers in which members frequently expressed themselves at great length.
Reported here are only the "closed end" questions. In effect this article will serve as the ARS "report card" - communicating the quantitative results of the study, but drawing few conclusions. A later article will analyze the "free response" questions with emphasis on the qualitative side of the study.
Perhaps a few words are in order about surveys in general and this one in particular:
1. Regardless of the answer categories (or scales) used in evaluating responses, the most predicative and meaningful answer categories tend to be those which group at the extreme ends of the scale either the positive or the negative end. For example, in this study, the "Excellent" ratings (or "Poor" ratings), the "Agree Strongly" (or "Disagree Strongly") categories are those which are most sensitive in producing attitudinal differences between the total membership and its component groupings. Consequently, many of our analyses are made in reference to differences in the scale-end points.
2. A number of ARS membership sub-groups were broken out and analyzed (although not necessarily reported) in relation to the total ARS respondents. The subgroups included:
Regional groups (South, West Coast, Eastern, Northeast and Midwest)
Length of membership
Ever held ARS office or committee membership
Frequency of attending meetings
Home gardener/not a home gardener
Hybridizer/not a hybridizer
Attitude toward ARS - national and local
Attitudes toward the Bulletin
Readership of the Bulletin.
Overall Attitudes Toward The ARS ARS members were asked what their overall rating would be of how the ARS is performing its functions, both on a national and local level: Rate the ARS National ARS Local Chapters Although the National ARS was rated "Excellent" or
"Very Good" by a greater number of the members
than were the local chapters, it should be pointed out
that a number of respondents were not chapter members,
or had never attended a chapter meeting. This led to;
their inability to evaluate the local ARS chapters and is
evidenced by the larger "No answer" category for
local ARS chapters.
Excellent 26% 26% Very Good 42% 33% Good 22% 18% Fair 3% 7% Poor 1% 3% No Answer 6% 13%
The "Excellent" ratings for the ARS varied by region of the country: Region Overall ratings of
National ARS Local ARS Total 26% 26%
The South, Northeast and Midwest gave the National ARS the highest proportion of "Excellent" ratings, while at the same time tending to give local chapters lower ratings. The West Coast gave the National ARS the lowest regional rating, while providing the local chapters with distinctly higher ratings.
South 38% 19% West Coast 22% 29% East 27% 29% Northeast 37% 26% Midwest 35% 24%
Those who have held office either in the national or in local chapters; or who have served on several committees, tend to rate the National ARS lower: Rate National ARS Excellent Held national/local office or served on committees 22% Never held any office or served on committees 29%
Members were further asked to evaluate the ARS in terms of its current performance compared to the past:
The ARS is... Total As in the overall ratings, the South, Northeast and Midwest tend to give the ARS its highest marks on "doing the best possible job", while the West Coast tends to give it the lowest. Doing the best possible job 45% Is much improved - but below expectations 21% About the same as it always 21% Has gone slightly downhill 3% Has declined markedly --
Attitudes Toward Specific ARS Issues ARS members were asked to indicate how strongly they agreed or disagreed with eleven statements that deal with selected local and national ARS issues. Positive Statements Agree
National ARS should publish more books/pamphlets on rhododendrons 44% 3% Local chapter meetings are lively and interesting 34% 3% Major reason I belong to the ARS is to receive the Quarterly Bulletin 31% 7% Special efforts are made to make new ARS members feel at home 28% 6% Should be more emphasis on Study Groups in local chapters 19% 5% Negative Statements Functions and duties of the National ARS are not important to me 4% 40% Local chapter meetings are mainly social get-togethers 4% 35% Local chapters tend to be run as cliques 6% 24% I don't understand much about the functions of the National ARS 11% 14 I don't understand much about the ARS Plant Awards program 13% 13% There is not enough communication between Eastern and Western ARS members 15% 2%
There is strong support for more publishing efforts on the part of the ARS, for the National ARS itself, for the local chapter meetings and for the Quarterly Bulletin. On the negative side, there is a significant number of members who feel there is not enough East/West communication, nor is there sufficient understanding of the Plant Awards program and the functions of the National ARS.
Membership Interests and Activities
Members were asked to rate 20 subjects and activities as to their level of interest on a five-point scale ranging from "Extremely interested" to "Not at all interested"
Subject or Activity Those who say
Growing hints 54% Propagating procedures 52% Growing hybrids 40% Reference books on species 39% Reference book on hybrids 38% Soils & Nutrients 36% Growing Species 35% Special forms of species 35% Plant explorations 23% Rhododendron flower shows 18%
Subject or Activity Those who say
Experiences of hybridizers 30% Scientific experiments dealing
30% Growing your own seed 30% Genetics as applied to rhodo-
27% Growing seed from the ARS
26% Hybridizing 26% Evergreen azaleas 24% Weed control 17% ARS seed exchange 32% Deciduous azaleas 32%
In addition to their interests members were asked which specific activities they have engaged in within the past two years: Have you Percent saying yes A significant number of those who collected plants and seed in the wild were accounted for by ARS members in the South. Propagated cuttings 79% Grown plants from seed 69% Made hybridizations 35% Collected plants in the wild 30% Collected seed in the wild 22%
In addition, members were asked to classify themselves according to which description they felt best fit them: The description that best fits is...
Mainly a home gardener 71% A collector of hybrids 39% A collector of species 36% A propagator 30% Primarily a hybridizer 15% Primarily a nurseryman 14% An educator 6% A scientist 6% A botanist 3%
Over half of those responding say they attend three-fourths or more of their local chapter meetings, but nearly a third say they have hardly ever or never attended a local chapter meeting: Attendance at local chapter meetings... Total respondents Attend every one 33% *53% Attend three-fourths 20% Attend about half 6% Attend about one-quarter 8% Hardly ever attend 13% **29% Have never attended 16% *Attend all or 3/4, **Attend none or almost none.
Attitudes Toward and Readership Of the Quarterly Bulletin The ARS Bulletin is... Total respondents Excellent 48% Very good 40% Good 10% Fair 2% Poor 0% The Bulletin is rated highly by the ARS membership with close to half saying the Bulletin is "Excellent" Readership of the Bulletin Total respondents Read cover to cover 58% Read about three-fourths 29% Read about half 9% Read about one quarter 2% Don't read at all 1% Correlated with their high overall opinion of the Bulletin is the membership's high readership of the Bulletin:
Selected Membership Characteristics ARS members were asked to provide certain other information about their activities. The following are gleaned from those questions: 4% of all respondents have held a national office in the ARS 29% have held office in a local ARS chapter 32% have been a member of a local or national ARS committee 17% are members of a "study group" 31% have attended one or more annual meetings
In summary, the membership survey has been a successful undertaking. The results, reported here are only a preliminary "report card" for the ARS provided by its membership. However, this is only a first step; a deeper analysis of the study will be made over the coming months to aid the ARS in determining which directions the membership wants the Society to take in the future.