What does a successful association look like?

The Associations Matter: 2013 State of the Sector Study was conducted to provide information for Professional Associations that had previously not existed. With an extremely high participation rate the inaugural study confidently provides benchmark information for Australasian Professional Associations.

Undeniably, the results of the study paint a meaningful picture of the overall state of the sector, but within these results some associations are doing a much better job of meeting their members’ needs, whilst others fall well below the average results for member satisfaction and engagement. 

In this blog post we take an in-depth look at the top performing associations to determine the common elements and attributes that may contribute to their successful performance.

How do we define success?

Whilst each association will no doubt have its own goals and KPIs, measures of member engagement and satisfaction provide important feedback to determine the ‘health’ of the association:  if we take membership fees and conference participation as the ‘skeleton’ of an association; how members feel about their association and their level of satisfaction indicates the ‘heart rate’! 

Whilst some members may maintain membership out of necessity or a sense of obligation, it is those that feel valued and respected that are most likely to renew their membership and recommend the association to others.  

Members of the high performing associations, with overall engagement and Net Promoter Scores greater than the benchmark sector score, most strongly agreed that:

  • they are proud to be a member of their association;  and
  • their association is respected in the industry.

Concepts like pride and respect no doubt means different things to different people and associations will need to explore what matters most to their individual members if they wish to improve their performance scores. 

The characteristics of high performing associations

To further understand whether there were common elements amongst the top 5 performing association’s, we also took a closer look at their results and found that member comments fell into 5 interesting categories:

  • Professionalism - members repeatedly commented on the timely response to queries and the quality of advice from their associations.  Many associations offer support services (e.g.  Information and help lines) and satisfied members feel their association is ‘there for them’ with meaningful advice when needed, to help with running their business, legal matters and in periods of uncertainty.
  • Understanding their needs – The most satisfied members felt that their associations had a firm understanding of the issues facing their profession and that their association worked hard to provide relevant information and support them throughout their careers.  Successful associations are flexible and responsible and live to serve its members.
  • Affordable and meaningful professional development -  Satisfied members’ feel encouraged to maintain their professional development at a reasonable price, commenting that association fees were offset by discounts offered to them. Successful associations are at the forefront of industry developments and offer quality training courses by suitably experienced practitioners that are relevant and well presented.
  • Access to community – whether it be access to ‘qualified’ association employees, individual members or businesses in the same field, members rated highly their associations’ efforts to bring passionate and likeminded people together.  Members commented that social occasions, but more often forums and noticeboards moderated by their association, facilitated the exchange of information between members relevant to their own situation. 
  • A sense of belonging – It is probably not a coincidence that most of the top performing associations have a more defined membership base, for example specialists within a particular field, State based associations rather than National or even people that are united by the geographically remote nature of their work.  These members believe their association supports and unites them and are happy to champion and recommend their association in turn.

It is possible the above attributes are more easily obtained by associations with a more specific membership - the more narrow the area of expertise or geographical area the more likely the association has the ability to understand and respond to their members’ requirements - but this does not mean that associations with a broader membership base cannot utilise these underlying principles. 

All associations need to understand who their members are.  By researching members’ attitudes and what they value, associations can look to segment their membership base and offer support and services that address specific member profiles and address their needs in a targeted and meaningful way.

Rebecca Sullivan

Survey Matters, 37 Byron St, Elwood, VIC, 3184, Australia