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Members Won't Tell You, But Your Data Will

I work at an association and understand the value they offer. So when I get into a hobby I look for associations that may be helpful. My current obsession is family history research so I joined a local family history society. I’m in my 30s and work full-time during the day. That means exactly this: I’m not their typical member.

I work at an association and understand the value they offer. So when I get into a hobby I look for associations that may be helpful. My current obsession is family history research so I joined a local family history society. I’m in my 30s and work full-time during the day. That means exactly this: I’m not their typical member.

Meetings are usually on Tuesday mornings at a senior center. That doesn’t work for me. Ads like the ones above, from their national publication, don’t work either.

It’s true that most people don’t get into family history when they’re younger, so there aren’t many other people my age (Gen Y) that join these societies. So I certainly don’t expect this group to change how they do everything just to accommodate me. However, I’ve heard the society leadership discuss how to get younger members more involved, yet they continue to do what they’ve always done, and talk to members as they always have, and then wonder why they can’t engage these younger members.

Sound familiar?

DON’T BE THAT ASSOCIATION

My point is that associations aren’t using data to make changes in the way they operate. Too often, associations talk to or plan events around one type of member, sometimes at the expense of other members. And again, these “others” are exactly the new people they want to reach.

But most associations don’t think they can afford to focus on these newer members for fear they’ll do so at the expense of core members. So where does that leave us? Usually reverting to mass marketing practices that talk to all members, telling them everything that’s going on, in the hopes that individuals will pick out what’s relevant to them.

As a member of this family history group, I could diligently read all their emails, attend all their meetings and get involved. I could make my opinions known and tell them what events I’d like to attend, what topics I’d like to learn about, or how I’d like to hear from them. But do I? Nope. I’m not really that engaged, and they don’t try to engage me, so I’m not motivated to make my voice heard.

So, if you can’t tell all your members everything all the time, but your members won’t tell you what they really want, what are you supposed to do?

Ask your data. You have tons of information just waiting to be analyzed – member demographics, education and event attendance histories, website and email click rates, and survey results, just to name a few.

YOU ALREADY HAVE A THE DATA

Find all the data sources you have and then do something with them. Download a data set and just start sorting. Who’s attending your events? Who isn’t? What classes are always full and which ones do you tend to cancel? What topics are people reading in your e-newsletter, or searching for on your website? Do members tend to be from a particular area or a particular company? Just start looking.

Your membership database should have the capability to house this information, but if not, make fast friends with Microsoft Excel or a similar spreadsheet program. Start collecting and organizing data in a format that will be easy to manipulate. Next begins your love affair with pivot tables to slice and dice the data. (See: What’s a pivot table and how do you use it?)

DEVELOP MORE QUESTIONS

As you’re collecting and sorting this data, you may find that you have questions you want answered, but don’t yet have the information to do so. This isn’t a roadblock. It’s a great opportunity to engage members through surveys, conversations and research. Understanding what data you have and what data you need is a valuable assessment in itself. Just make sure you get it eventually.

BUILD CATEGORIES

You’ll begin to identify interesting trends that you can use to make decisions in the short-term. But the long-term goal is to build categories based on member interests that you can then assign to members for use in target marketing and strategic planning.

These categories should have descriptive names – education junkies, government affairs fanatics, social butterflies, tech nerds, etc. Think about the groups you can best serve, the groups you want to serve, the members that gravitate towards one type of program or another, and then create categories that are relevant to each.

Once you have the categories set, start applying these labels to your members in your database, knowing that some members may fall in to more than one. Being able to identify members by categories (not just by age or years of experience) will allow you to plan programs and craft messaging targeted to these groups. It also gives you a defined list of members to talk to, helping to reduce the amount of “stuff” you send out. Your members will begin to see that when you do talk to them, it’s about topics and events they actually care about, reinforcing their membership’s value and relevance.

The move towards target marketing, based on your membership data, and away from mass marketing doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s worth the effort. The practice of telling all your members, all your news, all the time turns people off. When they’re turned off, they stop listening. When they stop listening, they stop belonging. When they stop belonging, well, you know where that leads. Let’s keep our members by talking to the right groups, about the right news, at the right times.

Take the first step towards your future.

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