This is part of a series of posts on member satisfaction with professional associations. These are written in partnership with FineHaus, with whom we have launched the beaton + FineHaus Member Satisfaction Benchmarking research.
By definition, membership associations exist to serve their members – so ensuring your members are satisfied and engaged is a key strategic priority for every association.
It seems obvious that, in order to deliver on this strategic priority, you need to know how just how satisfied your members are with what you are doing. As the saying goes, if it’s not measured, it’s not truly managed.
Even more importantly, you need to understand what makes your members happy. Understanding the relationship between your members’ satisfaction with what you are doing and what your members value most is critical if you want to develop a strategy to improve member satisfaction and engagement.
If you can’t answer these questions definitively, you are not certainly alone!
So what can you do to find this out?
Member satisfaction indicators
There are a number of indicators that can be used to infer member satisfaction and engagement. These include:
Membership renewal rates
If your membership renewal rates are declining, this is a good indicator that something is going wrong with your association. Conversely, if they are increasing, this indicates you are doing something right. However, the big question that tracking renewal rates doesn’t answer is ‘what’ – what are you doing that is right or wrong – and what do you need to do to improve your renewal rates?
New member growth
Likewise, if your new member numbers are growing, this tells you that you are doing something right and are offering something that members’ value. Again, the unanswered question is – what?
Participation rates for your individual events and other programs show whether members are engaging with your offerings. If you also survey member satisfaction with each offering, this data can provide valuable insight into member engagement. The missing piece from this data is understanding the relative value of your key programs to members – and how this impacts overall member satisfaction and engagement.
Open rates and other marketing data
Marketing data, like open rates for your emails, website visitation and engagement with social media channels, can provide useful indicators for how engaged your members are with your communications. What it doesn’t tell you is which communication touch points they value most.
The other thing to remember is that these are all lag indicators of satisfaction – they only happen after something has happened (for example, after your unhappy members fails to renew) – which is often too late to do much about it.
Ask your members!
Perhaps not surprisingly, the best way to determine member satisfaction and to understand what is important to them is to actually ask your members!
The key areas to cover in your member satisfaction research include:
How satisfied are member with your services, communications and governance?
What are the key drivers for member engagement?
What do members value and how do they perceive membership value for money
What are member’s renewal intentions?
Why do new members join your association?
How likely are they to recommend your association to other members?
How to research member satisfaction
Qualitative vs Quantitative Research
You can survey member satisfaction via qualitative research (for example, by running focus groups with representatives from key member segments) or by conducting quantitative membership satisfaction surveys, where you survey all members and analyse the responses to provide insights.
Quantitative research has the advantage in terms of time and effort to conduct, reach to your whole membership, statistical reliability of results and the ability to compare results over time.
In-house vs external
A word of warning – think carefully if you are planning on saving money by whipping up your own research in-house and sending it out using a tool like SurveyMonkey – particularly if you do not have access to in-house research expertise.
Designing membership satisfaction surveys that provide sound data that you can rely on for decision-making takes expertise and experience. It can be hard to know what questions to ask and how to ask them to get the insights you need. You also risk perceptions of (or actual) bias in the survey design or results analysis.
A badly designed and conducted satisfaction survey can actually do more damage than conducting no research at all.
There are a number of respected companies that can conduct independent, authoritative membership satisfaction research for your association. And it doesn’t have to cost the earth. As an example, the cost to participate in the beaton + FineHaus Member Satisfaction Benchmarking research, to be conducted between October/November 2018, is just $1,500 (ex GST) for small associations.
Overcoming common excuses
Finally, don’t let these common excuses prevent you from understanding just how satisfied your members are and what makes them happy – and then developing data-driven strategies to improve your results each year:
Excuse #1 – "Member survey fatigue
Some associations argue that their members are over-surveyed and that they don’t want to burden members with yet another survey. If you think this is the case for your association, then it is time to step back and ask how these surveys support the achievement of your strategic priorities. If one of your strategic priorities is to have happy, engaged members, then you simply have to make room for this research in your member survey program.
And, by the way, research amongst association members that beaton has conducted over the years, shows the vast majority of members when asked whether they are surveyed too much, about the right amount or too little, answer the right amount or too little! No association should listen to a few squeaky wheels.
Excuse #2 – “We know how our members feel”
Sometimes boards and committee members take the view that a member satisfaction survey is unnecessary because their level of satisfaction or views on member satisfaction represent how members feel. This is patently untrue – your board and committee members are your most engaged members and potentially the most biased about their experience! They are not a representative sample of your membership.
Excuse #3 – "We can’t afford it/ We don’t know how to do it ourselves”
Access to independent, expert research doesn’t have to cost the earth (see beaton + FineHaus Member Satisfaction Benchmarking program as an example!).
Excuse #4 – “We surveyed members last year and don’t need to do it again”
Even if you are offering exactly the same programs, to exactly the same members, member satisfaction with and expectations of your association can (and do) vary year to year for a whole range of reasons – and you need to be on top of this. It is important to track satisfaction and engagement each year to measure your performance and so you can continuously tweak your strategies. No association is perfect – there will always be room to improve.
Excuse #5 – Fear of the results
Sometimes, association leaders are concerned that results of the member satisfaction research might be poor and reflect badly on them and their team. If you are afraid this might be the case for your association, then this is actually a very strong indicator that you need to bite the bullet and undertake independent member satisfaction research forthwith! Only when you definitively know what is going on, can you develop robust and reliable strategies to improve your association’s performance (and showcase your competence) moving forward.
Finally, member feedback to an association is like oxygen is to the body.
Without enough, performance is compromised. With a good supply of oxygen (member feedback), the body (your association) can be trained to function at the highest level.
Makes you think, doesn’t it!
If you want to improve member engagement at your association, then the sensible starting place is to gather reliable data to work from. And the best way to do this is to undertake some member research.
More than 50,000 members were invited to participate in the 2017 Member Satisfaction Benchmarking research.
This year, we have teamed up with FineHaus, association management specialists, with the goal of significantly expanding the reach of this insightful and affordable research. If you would like to learn more about the participating in the 2018 beaton + FineHaus Member Satisfaction Benchmarking research, then download the information kit and get in touch with Nicki Hauser.
This post was originally published in the April 2018 edition of the Australasian Society for Association Executives e-newsletter.
Nicki Hauser is passionate about helping membership associations grow. She leads strategic planning, marketing, membership growth and sponsorship projects for FineHaus. Renowned for her straight-talking, practical and results-oriented approach, Nicki is a respected adviser to boards and management teams.
Shanan Kan is beaton's Product Manager, overseeing the Member Satisfaction Benchmarking research. With a background in psychology, his passions include UX, gameful design and data communication. Connect with him on LinkedIn or reach out on Twitter @ShananKan