Delivering membership value is the keystone of membership growth. If an organization has little or no actual or perceived value, why should anyone join? So it’s critically important that association leaders not only have a value statement that sets their organization apart from others, but that they know precisely what their members truly value most from their association.
Taken to the next level, the value membership organizations have is amplified if the value statement attains a degree of indispensability—that is the service, product, or mission that no other organization has and that sets an organization apart from all competitors.
I am sometimes surprised that the value association leaders believe is most important to members is not so important from the members’ perspective, and that creates a dangerous disconnect.
That’s why MGI fields research studies on behalf of our association clients that are designed to pinpoint an organization’s perceived value among members and within the professional community it serves to discover whether they agree. If they do not, research can offer recommendations to fix it.
The research process begins by seeking answers to the following questions:
- Why members join the association and why they leave – What are the reasons for joining one organization as opposed to others across the spectrum of membership groups? It may be to benefit from superior continuing education and training, or career advancement, or simply prestige. But if members are leaving, particularly in large numbers and particularly in the first year, they are clearly disappointed in some aspect of the value they expected to receive. MGI research seeks out the problems and suggests solutions.
- Membership’s intrinsic importance – Research ferrets out where and how members find what is useful in organization membership. The reasons can be many: education, information, socialization, and recognition for example. Market studies can help organizations understand the degree of importance of membership offerings as perceived by members as well as non-members in the broader professional community.
- An indispensable benefit – What does the association offer that cannot be obtained from any other organization? Not every organization has an indispensible benefit but those that do have a distinct competitive advantage over those that do not. Research can uncover wants and needs of members and would-be members and perhaps identify an indispensable benefit the organization can offer that it had not considered.
- Expectations – What do members think they should receive in exchange for their member dues? Research seeks to shed light on the perceptions members have as they move into membership, experience it, and then choose whether to continue it. Again, misunderstanding about whether expectations are being met can lead to a membership downturn that is best arrested quickly and with certainty.
- Primary needs – Is there an array of solutions the association can provide? A simple concept but sometimes one that is difficult to thoroughly extract. These needs, of course, are closely tied to the notions of organizational value and member indispensability. However, primary needs are different because they are ancillary offerings but are important and should be properly addressed.
- Competitors – Who are they and what are they doing that impacts other associations? This aspect of membership organizational research puts membership value into perspective within the profession that the association serves. Finding the value propositions of other associations helps answer questions of indispensability and the strategies and tactics that will lead toward a healthy and growing membership.
Value proposition research is often conducted in conjunction with research on needs assessment and indispensability. All are designed to help organizations narrow their focus, focus on what is important, and be certain that there is alignment with the profession and the professionals they serve.
Research into the value organizations offer and the value that prospective members seek is fundamental.