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
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:
Critical changes in members' lives;
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
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
- 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
- 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
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, (www.hostedware.com)
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
Lawrence P. Howorth, Advisory Board Member for
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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