We are currently working with one association to answer the above two-part question. To address the first part, changing environment, we have designed a three-pronged approach for looking at the industry from multiple angles to define just how much the environment has evolved over the past 5-10 years, and how it will continue to change:
- In-depth qualitative interviews with industry consultants who work with dozens of members and their businesses to develop an aggregate perspective of the change;
- In-depth qualitative interviews with industry suppliers, vendors, and manufacturers to get a peripheral look at the change;
- Quantitative interviews (census or random-sampling approach) with the association’s membership to test hypotheses from the first two phases and get the detailed insight required to make actionable, strategic decisions.
Over the past few years we have noticed a higher percentage of members who are allowing their membership to lapse. They may no longer see the value in the quality of products and services received for the dollars spent in dues and fees. The desire to join an association “to support the profession” is waning; education and industry information is now widely accessible and available online for free; advocacy efforts are now being paid for by a few, and “free-loaded” by the majority. It seems the only way to ensure a member’s continuous renewal is through proprietary information or technology, something that can only be accessed while as a member. However, at the end of the day, is the ideal/“profitable” member one who feels he or she is required to be a member, or one who chooses to be a member?
Too many times the solution to adding value to a membership is by adding “stuff.” Unless your association can define the tangible value that the new “stuff” brings to a member (how does it help them to succeed in their business?), the association may only be adding expenses to the budget, not developing a future source of return on investment. Instead, research can help you to identify the critical needs that members have today and what they will need from the association in both the short-term and the long-term. A member-needs assessment is one of the Loyalty Research Center’s main offerings for driving strategic goal-setting and action-planning and will help you address the second part of the question posed at the beginning of this paper.
To remain relevant, associations must recognize that their members’ professional environments are the not the same as they were even 5-10 years ago, let alone 20-30 years ago. The products and services that were valued then may not be as valued now. Certain members who were “profitable” then may be your “cash cows” now. Member research can be a cost-effective way of having statistically-valid data to establish and reinforce what members are looking for from their association.
For more information on conducting member studies for your association, please contact Matt Braun, Association Practice Leader at the Loyalty Research Center, at firstname.lastname@example.org.