You’ve invested plenty into your benchmarking. It’s only natural that you want to see a return, some kind of indication that it was time and money well spent, but how do you measure success in benchmarking? How do you determine if you’ve achieved a reasonable return on your investment and more importantly, how do you ensure your success in the first place?
The Membership Dilemma
When it comes to metrics, membership growth is one of the most common measures of success used by association executives. A growing membership must mean you’re delivering value, right? And should a shrinking membership set off alarm bells? Not necessarily. The workforce as a whole is slowly shrinking1 with Baby Boomers entering retirement and the smaller, Gen-X generation taking their place. The fact is, there are simply FEWER people to recruit as members overall. This shift in the working population means that growing your membership is probably not the right measure of success.
So what’s an association executive to do? Now is the time to shift your focus to measuring engagement and work toward creating a stronger community.2 Even if their numbers aren’t increasing, active members tend to spend more dollars on programs and events,3 plus engaged members are more likely to volunteer and act as champions who promote the association.4&5
Your benchmarking initiatives can help with your membership strategy by offering ways to engage members, promote conversations and provide industry insight that is not available from other sources.
Engagement Drives Satisfaction (and Retention)
While retention may be the biggest indicator of fiscal health, engagement is where associations measure member satisfaction and is one of the key drivers of membership numbers as well. An active member is a happy member, and happy and engaged members are most likely to renew their memberships. So how does one use benchmarking to drive engagement?
As a first step, make sure you understand, from the moment you undertake any benchmarking effort, what’s of value to your members. Call upon known subject matter experts in your industry and/or respected, active association members to help drive the direction of your study. Remember, if your study isn’t focused on metrics of vital interest to your members, no slick platform or high-priced incentive is going to increase your participation or their engagement. If you start with the perspective of viewing your benchmarking initiatives as an integral part of your engagement strategy, you’re more likely to realize real value and ROI from your efforts.
Actively engage members by asking them to volunteer on a benchmarking task force, participate in data reviews, share expertise on industry key performance indicators and lead roundtable discussions. In addition to these direct engagement opportunities, your educational and programming staff can mine the data to develop blog posts, articles and research papers. As the voice of your industry, sharing trends, emerging ideas and state of the industry facts using the collected data demonstrates the importance of the data to your members and your industry. You can deliver customizable reports, informative articles and blogs both as general content and member-only content. Using the data for round table discussions, educational programs and sessions at annual meetings and conventions can drive attendance at these and similar events. This contributes to non-dues revenue from your smaller pool of members and continues to position your association as the industry expert so when the larger, Millennial workforce is more entrenched in the professional workforce and ready for recruitment, you’ll be at the forefront.
DRIVE MEMBER ENGAGEMENT BY:
- Ensuring benchmarking efforts are focused on the metrics your members value
- Getting directional input from subject matter expets or respected and active members to ensure your benchmarking studies are on target for your industry's latest interests and technologies
- Using and mining collected data to develop educational offerings, social and web content, articles and research papers
The Bottom Line
When it comes to benchmarking success, the bottom line for most association executives is - does it help with renewals and member engagement? The simple answer is, in almost all cases: it SHOULD, but for a successful study, you need to first understand what your members value and focus your study on delivering that information. A well-constructed study not only drives member participation in the study, but the resulting business intelligence derived from it should contribute to many, many other aspects of your member engagement strategy, from educational programming to events, to your content marketing. Using that intelligence to deliver quality engagement opportunities will improve perceived value, increase involvement within your member community, and ultimately secure the future success of your organization.
1 Labor force projections to 2022: the labor force participation rate continues to fall, US Department of Labor Monthly Labor Review, December 2013.
2 Focus on Members Who Love You the Most, Associations Now, June 29, 2016.
3 Customer Loyalty Statistics: 2016 Edition, Access Development, August 18, 2016.
4 To Increase Member Retention, Rate and Score Engagement, Associations Now, April 19, 2017.
5 Questioning the Folk Theories of Association Membership, Associations Now, October 26, 2016.