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New membership criteria: Simplifying the application process

By Matt Miller
The current OWAA application process is less difficult than filling out tax forms, but it’s still unpleasant and time consuming. Unlike taxes, membership to OWAA is not required by law. As such, many potential members may look at our application and decide (incorrectly) that they don’t qualify, or that it is not worth the time.
To attract new members, we need membership criteria that are easy to understand and easy to fill out. An OWAA board committee came up with a new set of criteria to achieve this. I hope that you support this initiative and vote “yes” on the ballot. You can review the new membership criteria here.
Having professional standards are important. However, by simplifying the standards, we are not lessening the professional reputation of the organization. This is easily illustrated by reviewing the standards of other professional writing and communications organizations.
The National Association of Science Writers requires five stories (in any medium) over a five-year period. Has this made NASW membership less professional? Currently, this growing organization includes some of the most well-known and bestselling non-fiction writers.
One can qualify as a member of the Mystery Writers of America by earning $200 a year from mystery stories. This organization includes writers who have sold millions of books. Their Edgar Award launches careers of promising young novelists.
Almost all writing and communications organizations have simple application procedures and simple qualifications. The fact is, professionals want to be a part of a large, thriving organization, with the potential to learn and share from a diversity of fellow communicators. Accomplishing this clearly does not require difficult paperwork.
Currently, OWAA has a variety of categories for membership, each with an arbitrary standard. A quick look reveals inconsistencies. For communicators who work in a variety of media—as many of us do—mixing and matching categories is confusing at best. A book author who makes millions in income could be turned down because she doesn’t produce a book a year. And it’s hard to imagine anyone who qualified as a lecturer, with the requirement of 36 paid speaking engagements a year.
The new criteria are much easier to understand. You can quickly read them and figure out if you qualify for membership.
The criteria also reflect our changing field, allowing membership for productive “citizen journalists” even if they don’t receive payment. The standards are high to only allow those who frequently write about the outdoors for an audience.
If you have any doubts, we’d love to hear them. First, though, go read through the current membership categories and criteria. Try to imagine seeing them as a new member unfamiliar with the organization. Is this the first impression we want? Do we really want to make it this difficult?
Please feel free to email me or other board members your thoughts and questions about this proposed change. We’d love to hear from you. We also hope you will vote “yes” for these proposed changes on your upcoming ballot. ◊
Matt Miller is senior science writer for The Nature Conservancy. He writes features and blogs about the Conservancy’s research and conservation science work around the globe. Miller has worked for 11 years as communications director for the Conservancy’s Idaho program. Contact him at m_miller[at]tnc.org.

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