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Membership Associations


Ask and it Shall Be Given: Member Association Surveys


Lawrence P. Howorth, for Hostedware Corporation

Member associations, while extremely diverse in the make-up of their memberships, share one common goal: attracting new members and retaining present members. Associations truly serving members constantly strive for awareness of the concerns and issues faced by membership, as well as ways for strengthening values of members and guiding members' development. But, how does an association promote membership if management lacks understanding about what the members want?

Believe it or not, the answer is simple: ask! Find out what your members want by asking them to evaluate the association's current products and services and the manner in which associations provide these products and services. Survey your membership (and potential new members) regarding their opinions and attitudes. Discover ways for retaining members, and perhaps capturing those looking at the competition, by understanding the members' needs and wants. In addition, gain critical information for directing and preparing your association for the future.

A written report of the results with easy to read graphs and charts, summaries and conclusions provides a good basis for association strategic planning sessions. Use the results for comparison of your association with other like associations for revelation of potential areas for improvement. A frank and honest evaluation of survey results helps association management steer a sharper, straighter course towards growth and a happy membership. Data gleaned from surveys guide planning for new services and improving existing services while responding to members' requests.

Some associations incorrectly assume that because the association discussed goals, needs and wants and declared a mission on inception, the task is completed. True, if your mission statement makes a general statement about fostering relationships under a common denominator, the association's mission probably still holds true. However, remember that over time, just like the rest of society, members' lives, concerns and important issues change.

Surveying your membership garners all the information you need for successfully reviving or managing a growing membership program. More importantly, surveys improve member satisfaction and member profitability. Members become empowered when association management listens and takes direction based on members' desires. Digging through member responses offers deep introspection of the very foundation of association services. This critical step in association management should never be overlooked.

Common data obtained from surveys includes:

• Demographics;
• Critical changes in members' lives;
• Members interests;
• Additional services desired;
• Publications regularly read (insight for marketing to potential new members); and
• Reasons for maintaining membership.

Best of all, capture this information in a vital database for quick, efficient retrieval the next time the association needs someone in the marketing field, someone with legal connections or someone who might manage a small construction project for the association. Use your memberships' talents and interests for starting new services, kicking off new programs and finding the best person for a task. Compare responses in one survey to members' responses two years later. Is the association growing in the same direction as its members?

Survey lapsed members for information on why the member missed renewing and how the association might encourage the member back into the fold. Associations expend far more resources obtaining a new member than necessary for retaining a member. Therefore, member retention plays a vital role in association finances.

Hopefully we've convinced you of the intrinsic value of member surveys. Now we are ready to discuss the details and tools for effective surveys. A poorly designed survey produces confusing, conflicting data and does not produce tools for management.

Tips for Surveying Members

  • Survey members about association services, programs and members' wants and needs approximately every two years. Surveys done too frequently on the same topic annoy participants and do not provide sufficient time for members to evaluate changes.
  • Identify the association's needs and expectations before composing the survey. Put considerable thought into survey questions so trivia doesn't seep in.
  • If surveying only a portion of the membership population, ensure the group is randomly selected.
  • Use trained, unbiased people for conducting surveys. Research conducted by untrained or biased staff results in useless information. Questions should be composed in a neutral environment, with no preconceived "right" or "wrong" answer.
  • All research data comes with a price. Weigh the cost against the benefits of obtaining more members using more services or increasing the association's value in members' eyes.
  • Ask few (if any) open-ended questions requiring members to write out answers. Evaluating answers to open-ended questions requires time and may obscure objective data. Also avoid starting off a survey with personal questions.
  • Don't send surveys in newsletters or statements; it de-emphasizes the survey's importance.
  • Don't ask survey questions about issues the association cannot or will not change. Expressing a wish for change without change leads to apathy.
  • Use a web-based survey in order to not only gather data, but also to save it in useable format for further manipulation. A survey available on the association web site ensures availability at the member's convenience. It is less expensive than mailing individual surveys, more timely both in being available to members and also in receiving input. Yet, survey forms can still be printed and made available to members without a computer.
  • Use a well-formed database to capture data. This allows for saving data in a reliable, re-useable and searchable format. Once again, collecting data on-line saves the association the cost of inputting data from surveys because the participants input the data as they respond.
  • Ensure your survey data is protected with the appropriate security; prevent access by inappropriate sources.
  • Whenever possible, send a link to your web based survey to your members via email. Most email programs allow for clickable links, ensuring your member gets right to the survey in an easy manner. With that said, resist the temptation to over-survey or over communicate with your members to the point they ignore your emails.

The Internet: the Perfect Medium for Surveying Members
The internet breaks down geographic barriers, presenting a new and dynamic vehicle in communication and business transactions for individuals, business, associations, and others. The fastest growing medium of this century presents associations a way of surveying members and receiving responses almost instantaneously.

The internet provides the perfect medium through which associations can drive their membership, create non-dues revenues, communicate and connect the internal workings of the association with their constituents.

Response Rates
Typical response rates run 1 percent to 2 percent for mailed surveys, 10 percent to 15 percent for phone surveys. For online surveys typical response rate is 20 percent. Online response rate grows as high as 30 percent to 35 percent where respondent names are drawn from weighted panels.

A Packaged Solution
Hosted Survey, an online software application developed by Hostedware Corporation of Irvine, California, ( is an all in one, packaged solution that provides all the tools needed for an effective, secure survey. Hosted Survey helps your association define questions, answers, diagrams, instructions, and the "look and feel" of your survey using an interactive, online data entry system. You simply login to a secure account, complete the design and setup of the survey by adding optional logos, images, colors, backgrounds, and custom navigation buttons and text, through a simple, point-and-click user interface. Easily import your raw survey data to Excel, Access, XML, SPSS, Crystal Reports and other statistical reporting programs for your own analysis; or use an experienced analyst staff member from Hostedware® who specializes in providing comprehensive and professional survey data analysis reports and presentations. Hostedware even offers to develop a statistical reporting package and presentation material that is just right for your association's survey.

Membership organizations must listen to their members for viability in this age of increasing demands on people's time. Internet surveys provide a vehicle for fast, efficient and cost effective feedback from members. A database further extends the value of an online survey by gathering survey responses in an organized fashion, retaining data for later use and manipulation and can be searched to extract relevant pieces of information.

Lawrence P. Howorth, Advisory Board Member for Hostedware Corporation.


Hostedware Corporation is a pioneer in providing online software solutions for research, education and performance improvement. Hosted Survey and Hosted Test are used by human resources professionals, market researchers, education and training organizations and membership associations worldwide.



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