But knowing what your membership is really thinking needs to be on that list too. And not just your largest, most established members. In fact, your newest or smallest group of members may be among your most vocal.
The best way to prime the feedback pump is by asking the right questions. Below, we’ll look at four key questions you should be asking of your membership.
A word before we begin, though:
A key concept in family counseling is to “choose discomfort over resentment.” You may find that asking some of these questions creates some amount of discomfort as shortcomings are revealed and missteps are rehashed. But proactively seeking out this feedback will almost definitely help you and your members avoid the resentment that often leads to dissatisfied members and decreasing membership.
1. “What’s our consensus?”
Your association brings together people with common - and fairly specific - interests. Which means your association may be viewed as having expertise in a certain area. When current events arise, the public (even outside your organization) may look to you for a reaction, or your input, on it. However, your job is to reflect the consensus opinion of your organization’s membership.
Before you respond, be sure there is an open forum for members to provide input on how to react in these situations. Whether in person, over the phone, or through email, ask your members for their opinions. They will feel empowered, because their voices are making an immediate impact on the words your association is putting out into the sphere of public opinion.
2. “What membership benefits are the most valuable for you?”
Too often, associations look to add value to their membership by introducing newer, flashier features, benefits, and offerings. Instead of adding a lot of new stuff to engage or re-engage your membership, ask your members what benefits they find the most valuable. Then compare those answers to actual utilization. It may very well be that what your members say is important is very different from what elements of their membership they actually use most. Following customer relationship management best practices, make sure you’re capturing this feedback as you get it.
This line of inquiry will also help you identify the benefits they’re not utilizing. You may be executing a phenomenal program whose attendance is low. Maybe you’ve got a communications problem and no one knew it was happening. Or maybe the program itself wasn’t the right fit for enough of the membership.
Keeping an open dialogue going about the value of your offerings is the key to avoiding expensive missteps and needless wheel spinning.
3. “What are your biggest challenges right now?”
Your association exists to meet the needs of your members. Whether your association aims to bring people together based on professional, emotional, or sociological similarities, it’s important for you to understand where the gaps are in their lives, either personal or professional. Knowing what your members are facing is key to identifying how - or if - your association should respond.
As these needs are articulated, it’s a great opportunity to get your leadership team together to consider implementing new programming. Or, if that isn’t in your capacity at the moment, talk one on one with your members to learn and understand those challenges more completely. “I know this is a big concern for you. Let’s talk about it…” is a great way to open the conversation and encourage transparency.
4. “What are the advantages and disadvantages of membership?”
Whether yours is the only game in town or you compete with another organization for members, you should always be mindful that you members always have a different option available. They could choice the “neither” option.
Understanding why your members think involvement is worthwhile will always be important. But knowing what (if any) disadvantages they think would exist by not affiliating with your organization is important too.
In cases where a competing organization exists, it’s likely that at least some of your members are familiar with what’s happening at the competing organization. What are they doing that makes their members happy? Maybe it’s time to borrow some of their ideas. Or, is there something you’re doing that your members love, and that the competition has no idea about? Don’t fail to (carefully) tout your strength as an advantage for your other members. Differences, especially those identified by your members, are either your star features or your fatal flaws. Treat them accordingly.
The obligatory annual membership survey is important. But it can’t be just about checking a box.
Engaging your membership frequently through questions and open dialogue fosters an environment of peers, and creates a community. Asking questions doesn’t just help you assess your own value. It also tells your membership you value them for more than the check they write every year.
No matter what the title reads on your business card, you’re in the business of member service. As such, you should always be looking for opportunities to connect with your members in meaningful ways. They’ll feel like their concerns are being heard (and rightly so). And you’ll be able to identify issues before they arise.