Does Your Association Understand What Your Members Value?


Does your association understand what your members value?

In a previous blog post, we talked about how associations might attract and retain hard-to-engage millennial members. Those strategies rely on creating experiences that increase the perceived value of membership. But how do you quantify whether those strategies, once implemented, successfully increase membership value? After working with a number of associations, we’ve found many direct and indirect methods that can offer you a measure of insight and understanding. Let’s take a look.


The Direct Approach (asking):

Taking the pulse of members is nothing new for most associations, and most readers probably know these time-honored techniques. But when do you use which tool? Here’s a rundown along with some of the pros and cons of the basic methods:

Individual interviews: More qualitative than quantitative, individual interviews can offer insights into the general attitudes and values of the group, inform (or validate) member segmentation, and provide directional input for structuring a more precise follow-up quantitative analysis. Areas of inquiry should include why members chose the association initially, what they value now, what they feel is missing, what they would change about their membership involvement and benefits, and what could increase their perceived value of membership. The caveat to individual interviews is that there needs to be an intrinsic, minimum level of trust between members and the association.

Member Satisfaction Survey: Mainly suitable for larger quantitative inquiries, this method allows for large numbers of members to have input and feel they have a voice. Surveys can be extremely useful for establishing not only what members value but how they prioritize or rank various aspects of membership. Surveys can also ensure a greater level of anonymity and are valuable when members feel less comfortable expressing their honest views publicly.

Open Forums: Whether in person or through online tools, a forum goes beyond the assessment of ideas. Through interaction, a forum fosters the evolution of those ideas and may even germinate new ones. Online forums can easily be segmented into subcategories—financials, events, education, resource allocation, networking, and so forth—and moderated to ensure individual discussions remain focused and that ideas remain easy to collect. In-person forums work best when there is an unbiased third-party facilitator. Online forums can become unruly because people often communicate more harshly online than they do in person.

The Indirect Approach (watching):

A survey can only reveal what your members are willing to say or what they are explicitly conscious of, but actions speak much more loudly as to what they value. That’s where data analysis can offer insight on overall member engagement as well as a way to understand the perceived value of specific moments of engagement.

Web analytics: Web analytics can be a treasure trove of information about your members. Unique IP address statistics can tell you what percentage of your membership actively engages with your website. User flow analysis can provide insights into where your members want to go and the pathways to get them there. Web analytics can help you determine if members place greater value on networking events or educational opportunities. If you have social sharing capabilities built into your site, you can measure how members share content discoveries with fellow members and their greater social circle (or identify if they aren’t). Website analysis is another critical source that can help you identify what percentage of members take advantage of any tools you offer, and trends over time help indicate potential changes in what your members value.

User experience testing: A more qualitative extension of web analytics measurement, user experience (UX) testing, can uncover what users value (and what they don’t) about their online interactions with your member website and/or portal. With the right kind of probing you can also gain insight into what issues drive members’ needs for interaction, what they believe your organization is solving with the experience, and what aspects, features, or benefits members value.

Network analysis: If your association maintains a LinkedIn page—or better yet, a discussion group—you can already assess what percentage of your members are connected directly to your account. But by using network analysis tools like Socialab, you can assess how interconnected (to other members/followers) those connections are. You want the analysis to show that members connected to you have multiple connections to others in the group. Furthermore, you’d like to see that index strengthen over time. If that connection count/index is low or declining, it’s an indication that members’ connections to the organization may be more inactive or superficial.

Social listening: For years, consumer brands have used social listening as a method to gauge consumer attitudes and to actively derail potential PR disasters. But a full-time social listening program will likely require resources that only the largest associations may have on hand. But spending the time and effort to actively monitor social channels around major association events (e.g., annual meetings, networking events, educational opportunities, and webinars) can offer invaluable insight into the emotional state of member engagement.


Understanding your real value for members is invaluable.

Magnani has worked with many national associations on a variety of member-engagement projects with one common factor across them all: understanding the true perceived member value of the association and its online experience. Whether you want to improve recruiting, retention, engagement, or satisfaction or gain an understanding of how, why—or even where—your members value their association, these experiences can unlock new opportunities to improve engagement.

To learn more, contact Alayna Van Hall at

– Justin Daab, President



Magnani is an experience design and strategy firm that crafts transformational digital experiences to delight users and deliver sustainable competitive market advantages for our clients.


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