RADIANCE BLOG

Category: Membership organizations

Membership Association Recap

Over the past three months we’ve been focusing on our blog writing on membership associations.

Here is a recap of our recent posts:

Corona Insights has long worked with membership associations from research to consulting and we hope these insights prove useful to your organization.

To stay on top of our recent blog posts, be sure to sign up for our quarterly newsletter, The Corona Observer.

And stay tuned for a new topic in the second quarter!


The Importance and Scale of Membership Associations

We’ve talked a lot this quarter about membership associations and how leaders of such organizations can better understand members’ needs.  To close out our discussion on this topic, we wanted to take a step back and look at just why membership associations matter in the first place.

The Importance

Membership associations come in all shapes and sizes, but the defining characteristic is simply uniting a group of people facing similar issues in a way that allows them to collaborate and focus their efforts to move the needle in their respective industries or areas of interest.  Our work at Corona has ranged from projects with small groups of individuals having a niche job role who simply need to find other people to bounce ideas off of, to large international associations of academic researchers who use their association to better coordinate their efforts around researching a key health issue.

No matter the size, the members of these organizations simply wouldn’t be as effective at meeting their personal or professional goals if their association did not exist.  Their associations allow them to network and meet others in their profession, learn about key topics that will influence their lives, and jointly focus on topics that are important to them.  Without associations, none of this would be possible, and our world would suffer from less productivity due to decreased coordination.

The Scale

At Corona, we have the enviable position of being able to get to know dozens of organizations intimately every year, and perhaps nothing has been more surprising than learning about the number of membership associations that exist.  According to the American Society of Association Executives, there are more than 1.9 million U.S.-based associations and, collectively, they generated $142 billion in revenues in 2013.

Corona recently worked with the Colorado Society of Association Executives and determined that the association’s members collectively had nearly a quarter billion in annual expenditures, making them a major player in the Colorado economy (and that doesn’t even include all of the associations in the state).

The Point

It’s easy to take for granted the role that membership associations play in keeping our world moving forward.  Without associations, many industries would be like a ship without a rudder, drifting in a dozen different directions without a cohesive sense of purpose.  So if you’re a leader of a membership association, thank you for the impact that you make not only on your members, but on the entire industry you serve.  We hope that this series has given you some things to think about and tools to use to better serve your members in the future.  If you’re a member of an association, don’t take your association for granted.  If there are areas you think can be improved, be sure to pitch in and help out for the greater good.  And if we, at Corona, can ever be of assistance to make sure that your organization has a solid strategy and foundation of information on which to help move your organization forward, we’d love to help support the very important work that associations provide.


Assessing Your Organization’s Competition

Just like businesses, many associations compete in a marketplace of demand and supply.  There is a demand for benefits and services from current and potential members. Often, there is a supply of benefits and services from more than one provider (i.e., more than one association).  In some industries, we have seen more than six different professional associations competing in the same marketplace.  This could be a sign of a saturated market.

In a saturated market, its important to understand how your association stacks up to your competition.  This knowledge will help you identify your association’s strengths and weaknesses relative to other associations, and it can help you identify your sweet-spot services and your target market.

One way to assess your competition is to ask people in your market what association they think is best at providing a variety of services and benefits. For example, you could ask a question such as:

For each service/benefit below, mark the association that is best at providing it.

Don’t forget to give people a chance to say they “don’t know” or that they are “unsure.”

When this type of survey question is paired with a question about the importance of each benefit, the results can help you hone in on what important benefits your association provides better or worse than your competition.  A benefit that is deemed important by many people in your market, but that no association is clearly known for being best at providing, suggests an opportunity for your association to fill an unmet or under-met demand.


Considerations for researching your members

Corona takes many items into consideration when designing a research plan for our clients. In short, market research includes asking the right people, the right questions, in the right manner, and then conducting the right analyses. Here are a few of the considerations when conducting research with your membership.

Research mode

  • What type of contact information do you have for members? And how are they used to interacting with you? For many, this will be email, but it may also include phone, mail, or even in-person research at conferences. The goal is to select the mode(s) that will reach all, or at least the greatest number of members possible.
  • Quant vs. qual? Are you trying to measure opinions (quant) or do exploratory research or dig deeper into an issue (qual)?
  • Do you need multiple touch points? Announcements, invites, and reminders? Online with telephone or mail reminders?

Goals

  • What are your goals and expected outcomes? It’s often easy to jump into start writing survey questions or qualitative prompts. It’s often harder to think of bigger picture goals and how you will use the information you gain. Start with your goals to ensure the research will turn out successful.

Sampling

  • Sample all or some? For large organizations, you may not need to survey every member to have valid, representative results. You may want to give everyone an opportunity to respond or you may decide to only survey a random selection to minimize the number of members contacted.
  • Can you append data for actual behavior? While you can always ask about their membership behavior (e.g., length of membership, conferences attended, etc.), if you have that information already, you can just append it to their results. This will yield more accurate results and require fewer questions asked to respondents.

Frequency

  • How often should you conduct member research? Annual research makes the most sense for some organizations, while others may go years between efforts. There is no right answer, but in general, regular intervals make the most sense, and you will want to take into consideration the rate of change within the organization. If membership turns over regularly, or you’re in a fast-paced industry, more frequent research may be needed to keep the pulse of members.

Incentives

  • Do we offer an incentive? Generally speaking, an incentive will increase response rate. Furthermore, through our own testing, Corona has seen that the make-up of respondents includes a broader mix of people when an incentive is offered. Incentives serve to both encourage response and recognize their time and effort in completing the survey.
  • What type of incentive? While there are many options, the incentive should have broad appeal as to not skew the results by being over appealing to one segment and not at all appealing to another. Prize drawings, small token gift cards, and/or additional member benefits are all common options.

What other questions or concerns have you had about conducting research with your members?


Preferred membership benefits and how they can change over time

So far in this series on membership organizations, we’ve discussed communications, segmenting, and the importance of personal benefits. Here we combine the latter two and look at how perceptions of benefits change over time. The reasons someone may join fresh out of college or at the start of a new career is different than someone who continues to be a member as they near retirement.

This, in fact, is another benefit of segmenting your membership, both in practice and in evaluating results from any membership research. By looking at how results vary by age, time in the industry or their career, and/or time as a member, you can tailor services and messaging to each group.

For example, we’ve seen such differences as:

  • Resource access
  • Skill development
  • Career development
  • Broader industry efforts

Even if your organization is more homogeneous, such as a young professionals group, understanding where they are at will help you ensure the organization remains relevant to them.

What other factors have you seen vary by member tenure?


What type of benefits do members care about most?

Membership organizations exist to serve their members. So it’s no surprise that Corona is often tasked with uncovering what benefits members find most valuable and what new benefits members are seeking. Similarly, we often conduct research with non-members to measure their awareness of the organization’s benefits and whether they are a “fit” for them.

The benefits Corona has examined has run the spectrum, from career services to professional development to lobbying and more. While benefits are unique to an organization, we have observed some broad trends, such as:

Benefits that focus on the individual consistently rate higher than benefits that focus on the profession or industry.

This can vary by segment and organization, but in short, a benefit that focuses on personal gain (e.g., networking, career, skills, etc.) will rate higher than those that focus on the profession or industry more broadly (e.g., funding research, representing their interest with legislatures, etc.). This isn’t to say the other things aren’t important, but that they have relatively less appeal than personal benefits.

This makes intuitive sense in many ways. While people will support the broader industry benefits, they first want their own needs met. People ask what’s in it for them and the clearest answers are those benefits that they can see a direct advantage from. While people can often see the benefits of supporting their broader industry, it is not as direct or an immediate of a line from organizational offering to personal benefit.

Have you seen this with your own organization? What benefits have you found to be especially valuable among members?

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As a side note, when Corona researches benefits we don’t only research the value of the benefit, but also often how the organization is performing in providing that benefit and whether the organization is seen as the entity to provide it. Weighing all of these factors together helps our clients make a more informed decision to what benefits to offer.

This is the third post in a series of posts about membership organizations. Corona has worked extensively with membership organizations and is sharing some of its lessons learned over the years here. Follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter to get all updates, and sign-up for our quarterly newsletter here.


The importance of segmenting your membership

Members of associations may often be thought of as a cohesive group but, in fact, rarely are. While all members may be share some unifying characteristic – interest or involvement in an industry or topic – beyond that their needs and preferences can be quite diverse.

For instance, members’ needs may vary by:

  • Sector. Government, private, or nonprofit.
  • Industry. Academia vs. business or even specific fields of study or types of products or services.
  • Career stage. Students, young professionals, those mid-career, and those close to retirement.

So, how can you effectively segment your membership (or even prospective members and other non-members)? Here are two main methods you can use to get started.

  1. Segment membership based on what you know about them. This most likely means collecting information at time of sign-up or renewal, such as industry or career stage, and then placing them in the best segment(s) from there.
  2. Allow your members to opt-in to the segments you identified. This can work well if you think some members will have multiple interests or interests that may not be obvious. For example, someone who works in academia but has strong industry ties and may want content for both.

Research can inform either strategy. By asking members their wants and needs, you can decide the best segmentation strategy and then use one of the above methods to place people into the segment that will best meet their needs.

Once you know who is in which segment, you can tailor newsletters, website landing pages, and even membership appeals to each group.

One concern organizations can have with segmenting, and then communicating differently with each group, is how to stay true to who they are as an organization. This is a valid concern, but it is important to understand that segmenting your membership allows you to better communicate your message to each group. It does not mean changing who are for each group.

The following flowchart helps show how the different pieces are interrelated.

Here is the same graphic showing how this may look for an actual organization.

For instance, if we were segmenting on academia vs. industry:

Or, if we’re segmenting on student /new members with late career/existing members.

Stay true to who you are as an organization but tailor your appeals accordingly.

This is the second post in a series of posts about membership organizations. Corona has worked extensively with membership organizations and is sharing some of its lessons learned over the years here. Follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter to get all updates, and sign-up for our quarterly newsletter here.


How to communicate with members in your organization

One of the most common topics we cover when conducting member research is communication preferences. This makes perfect sense – your organization may be the best at what it does, but if you cannot reach members effectively then what’s the point?

So, what is the most preferred way members want to receive communications? Email. Almost without fail, email is members’ top preference. While this is true on the whole, we have seen growing interest in social media channels as well. Still, if you had only one mode of communication, email would be most preferred.

However, sending email alone isn’t the golden ticket to effective communication. Below we offer some other best practices we’ve learned from researching and working with membership organizations.

  • Have a process to not only gather contact information, but to update it over time. Contact information often becomes stale. Periodically ask people to update or confirm their information, perhaps at member renewal each year, and make it easy for people to update their information on their own. Ensure old addresses are removed. Make opting out easy, and if an email fails to deliver several times to an address, purge it from your system. Having clean lists keeps members happy and allows you to better measure email effectiveness.
  • Track email effectiveness. Not all emails are created equally. Track open rates and click rates to understand when it is best to send your emails and what content gets the most clicks. You can also send multiple versions of your email to different individuals on your list to test email strategies, such as different subject lines or calls to action.
  • Ask members what content they want and how frequently. Are they looking for organization news? Broader industry news? Event information? Weekly, monthly, quarterly? Tracking what they click and respond to will also help validate content preferences.
  • Develop a broad communication plan. This goes beyond email, and while email will often serve as the backbone of organization communications, having multiple modes and number of touchpoints can help maximize your reach too. To make your plan, consider each communication mode your organization currently uses or would consider using, and then map out what types of messages get pushed out through each and how often. For example, your plan might send member reminders and important organization updates through a monthly e-newsletter, renewals go out via email and mail, and less important news and information is shared on Facebook and Twitter.

In future blog post we’ll further discuss how to best reach your members with relevant content. Specifically, how to segment your membership by their needs.

This is the first post in a series of posts about membership organizations. Corona has worked extensively with membership organizations and is sharing some of its lessons learned over the years here. Follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter to get all updates, and sign-up for our quarterly newsletter here. Of course, you can unsubscribe at any time.