Do you know about their goals, motivations? What about their career-development aspirations and special interests?
There’s a lot of information you can learn from combing through your member data, social media engagement, event participation metrics or even brainstorming sessions and quarterly reports. But the most effective way to get the information you need is to go directly to the source through a member needs assessment.
When you understand what’s top of mind with your members, you’re able to identify gaps, areas of success, and room for improvement. And that leads to a better member experience, retention and acquisition.
In this blog post, we’ll cover 4 tips for your member needs assessment, so you can get the information you need to improve your association’s member experience.
1. Determine your goals and conduct initial research.
It’s tempting to dive right into drafting your member needs assessment. Your mind is probably already buzzing with the questions you want to ask members. But it’s worth it to take a beat and think strategically about your goals.
What do you need to learn about your membership base? Maybe you want to conduct an overarching membership needs assessment that covers every little detail of your program. Or maybe you want to tailor your survey to get feedback on specific events or programs.
Figuring out the purpose of your assessment upfront gives a focus for your assessment questions. It also helps determine how you’ll describe your survey when you send it out to members. For instance, if you’re conducting a comprehensive survey that covers multiple membership aspects, you might send a message to members saying “We’ve created this comprehensive survey to assess whether our organization is exceeding your expectations as a member and what we can do to improve your experience.”
As you start your preliminary research, review your membership database. Double the Donation’s membership engagement guide explains the type of information you can review in your database, including members’ interests, preferences, past involvement, and giving habits. This is also a great time to take stock of which events and marketing strategies are already working for your organization, and where there might be room for improvement.
Finally, ask your frontline staff members about topics they’ve noticed come up among members during membership meetings, emails, or other communications.
All this information can serve as a great starting point for determining the purpose of your assessment.
2. Ask the right questions.
After reviewing your data and setting goals, it’s time to come up with questions to ask in your member needs assessment.
A member needs assessment is meant to be an infrequent survey sent only once or twice a year. This means it’ll be more substantial than a typical pre- or post-event survey. Even so, your members won’t complete the assessment if there are too many questions or it takes too long to fill out. Choose your questions carefully to ensure you get the information you need without overwhelming members.
Here are a few tips to help you pick the right questions:
Cover the major topic areas
There are several broad issue areas you’re likely interested in asking about with your member needs assessment. However, dealing with many broad topics can feel overwhelming. You can focus your questions by categorizing them by topic. This ensures that you don’t have any gaps in areas you’d like to cover.
Asking questions about each of these topic areas will give you a complete overview of each aspect of your organization. Be sure to ask only around three to four questions per topic area to keep the survey concise.
MemberClicks breaks down member needs assessments questions into several categories, including:
- Occupational: This includes questions about members’ employment status and job information. Asking employment-related questions can reveal if you’re offering the right job-related benefits to members, such as a job board or mentoring program.
- Benefit offerings: Many members join associations for the membership benefits they offer, whether it’s access to new job opportunities, networking, or learning experiences. Ask members about what benefits they use the most and what they would like to see added to your offerings.
- Educational offerings: Another popular motivation for association membership are opportunities to get industry certifications. Use your needs assessment to determine if your organization is fulfilling members’ desires for continuing education and training.
- Communication preferences: Not all members prefer communicating with you in the same way. Ask members about their preferred communication platforms and frequency.
- Satisfaction: A member needs assessment offers an effective way to ask members the simple question, “What do you enjoy most about being a member?”. By leaving room for an open-ended response, you can get insight into how members feel about your organization overall.
- Advocacy: If advocacy efforts like lobbying are central to your organization, ask members how they feel about it. This can help you figure out which issues are most important to members and what they think will be most impactful for the industry.
These categories should cover most of your organization’s activities and programs, but be sure to also include questions that are specific to your unique operations.
Ask any additional questions that are specific to your organization
You may also want to include questions about specific activities or benefits that your organization offers. You want to ensure your questions reflect what makes your organization unique.
You might ask questions about your events, meeting times, or your remote engagement opportunities. For example, if you’re an education association, you might ask specific questions about whether your last workshop offered enough practical classroom tips or hands-on teaching practice. Or, if you’re a performing arts association, you may inquire about if your virtual members-only meetings are helpful for advancing members’ acting or singing careers.
Your member needs assessment can be a good way to check in with members to see how they’re engaging with your unique offerings and where there’s room for improvement. Then, you’ll know what programs and activities you can maintain and what you should adjust going forward.
Don’t waste your time asking questions you already know the answers to
You don’t have to ask anything that’s already answered by the data stored in your membership CRM. This might include questions about your members’ length of involvement or the additional certifications they’ve achieved with the help of your organization.
By keeping your survey as concise as possible, you show respect for members’ time and avoid having duplicate data.
3. Get a representative sample.
Gaining valuable feedback isn’t just about asking the right questions—it’s also about connecting with the right people. You could receive skewed results if you only send the survey to certain populations within your membership base, like only longtime members or young members.
Send your survey to different segments of your membership population, including those with different:
- Age groups: Your younger members may have a different view of your association and its offerings than your older members. Each group may be interested in different benefits or engagement opportunities, and you can use your needs assessment to evaluate how well you’re connecting with each group.
- Professions: Your association may welcome members from multiple professions. For instance, if you’re a journalism association, you may have news reporters, photographers, videographers, and editors among your ranks. Ensure your survey gets sent to members from each of your job types to assess how each segment feels about your organization.
- Membership histories: Your longtime members will likely have different opinions about your organization than those who’ve joined recently (for example, in the past six months). Make sure to get insight from both: long-term members can speak to value over time, while new members will give you a snapshot of what it’s like to join right now.
- Levels of involvement: Some members may attend the occasional workshop or meeting, while others may serve on your board or other top leadership roles. You’ll gain a wider range of perspectives when you share your survey with your more engaged members as well as your more casual ones.
When you’ve put together the questions for your member needs assessment, share it via email and social media with different segments of your organization. You can also offer incentives to encourage people to fill out the survey. For example, members could enter to win a prize for filling out the assessment!
4. Follow up to keep members in the loop.
After your members take the time out of their days to complete your member needs assessment, don’t leave them hanging. Keep them up to date on how your association plans to turn their feedback into action by sending a thank you email that summarizes the results of your survey.
Keep members in the loop by:
- Thanking members for participating. You’ll want to make sure there’s an automated thank you message once members complete the survey, but it’s also a good idea to send a longer, more in-depth appreciation email that not only thanks members for participating, but also shares the results of the survey. This helps members feel seen and acknowledged for their contributions.
- Sharing any significant trends. Did your members want more networking opportunities? Did they overwhelmingly disapprove of your approach to remote meetings? Highlight the major trends that arose in your survey responses to give context to the improvements you’ll make.
- Describing how you’ll incorporate members’ feedback moving forward. How will you respond to and incorporate members’ comments and suggestions? Perhaps you’ll take this opportunity to update your tech strategy to better engage members remotely, or offer more hybrid event experiences.
Responding to and incorporating member feedback is an effective way to boost your membership renewal strategy and encourage more members to stay involved in your organization over the long term. By laying out a clear plan for adjusting your offerings and providing frequent updates until the changes are fully implemented, you’ll be able to improve your association on a regular basis that makes your members feel engaged and happy.
Your member needs assessment plays a valuable role in helping you check in with your members and ensure you’re meeting their needs.
With these strategies, you’ll create a member needs assessment that gets the information you need from your members, so you can make a plan that puts their needs and priorities first.