Membership data is a valuable indicator of the health of an association. How many members do you have? How long do they stay members? Do you manage conferences and other events? How is attendance? Which events do well, and which tend to struggle? Associations know that good membership data is like a rich vein of oil: they know it’s there, they know it’s valuable…and they often have no idea how to get to it.
We’re here to give you some good news – if you have members, you have data! The question is how to harness that power. In this guide, we will explore how to use data to understand what is best for your association, and use it to increase your value.
When you’re collecting data, simpler is better. We invite you to consider Amazon: constantly seek feedback, but make feedback easy to provide. Surveys should be one click, a few words at most. But what if we don’t quite have the resources of a multinational major corporation? What are some ways we can gather membership data if we don’t have the resources to constantly survey our membership? There are lots of ways! And thankfully, they’re often built right into what you’re already doing.
Membership Data and Logistics
When your members register for an event, you have an opportunity to gather information from them. Let’s leverage the conference registration. Ask members which events they plan on attending. This will help you plan for logistics (room size, numbers for giveaways). Additionally, it will let you know what your membership is most interested in. How popular are your speaking topics? How can we use this for the future?
Even non-current data can be useful for events planning. Tracking the progress of events over the years helps you learn what to expect from your attendees and what they in turn expect from you. When you plan a new event outside of your organization’s comfort zone, this data and benchmarking can guide you into making the appropriate decisions. More importantly, it will help you budget based on a realistic scenario.
Membership Data, the Board and Strategy
Board members may have a hard time understanding the value of current and future programs. What some may see as a board member’s strength can also at times be a weakness. Board members are the most engaged individuals in your association. As a result, they often assume every member shares their opinions. That’s why arming your board with real data about what members do and engage with is important. This data can help bridge the gap between their point of view and the reality of your members’ needs.
Membership data gathered via focus groups can also help board members and executives. Focus groups allow you to amass membership data as part of strategic planning.
In one specific client example, we had an association that was not gaining enough new members to make up for departing membership. This organization used focus groups of younger members to learn how to better appeal to their demographic. Their existing data already showed how many “young” members were part of the current membership pool. After the focus groups, the association had a much better idea of what young members wanted from the organization. This helped the board and strategic partners develop a “plan of attack” for soliciting new members.
Membership Data and Financial Management
In an ideal world, an association should have one centralized “umbrella” for all data. The database would include not only a basic member profile information, but also organization activity, products purchased, even career history — for members and other customers who are not yet members. An overwhelming goal, to be sure! The good news is, even if your resources are limited, there are things you can do today to organize your data that will make it much more useful to you right away.
When we take on a new client, the very first thing we do is attempt to integrate the membership database with the association’s financial data. This is vital to being able to see real results from your data. It allows the systems to share information on a macro and micro level; additionally, it cleans up data entry processes all across the board. No one should ever have to enter the same information in two different systems. Useful, reliable information flow needs to be simple, and the fewer manual processes, the better.
Here’s quick anecdote on the value of clean data in developing strategy. Frontline had an association client who wanted to create an investment policy. To do this, they needed to better understand their actual cash flow.
Here is where the association ran into trouble. Due to lack of system integration, the organization had struggled to develop accurate, real-time financial reports. Having databases that weren’t “talking” to each other was getting in the way of useable results. Once Frontline cleaned up and integrated the data into a single system, financial reports became accurate, current and reliable.
We hope that this discussion has sparked a renewed interest the power of your data. There’s a world of value in the information you have! The next strategic meeting you have, ask yourself the important questions: are we capturing the right data? Is our data clean, or is it messy? If you aren’t harnessing the power of your data, you are running the risk of overlooking key factors when making important strategic decisions, mishandling financial information, and jeopardizing the future of your organization.
Frontline specializes in making your association’s data work for you. If you’re in a bind, let us clean up your digital space and create systems and processes that make sense for your needs. Data management is a sustained and important effort, and we’re glad to take it on with you. Contact us to learn more.