7+7+7 | Using Survey Data Not Luck to Drive Strategic Planning for ’21.

After seven months of living with the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s a whole new world. Members, like all of us, are having a rough year. And so are associations.

Association strategy and planning should not be games of chance. They must be informed by solid, reliable data. 2020 has changed the conversation for associations. From management, governance and programs to services, new members and marketing/PR – all have had to radically adapt to new realities.

Months of this pandemic.

Reasons for Conducting Member Surveys Now.

Insights Gained from Member Surveys.

Those numbers got us thinking here at Agency McKenna.

We have just completed a series of Member Satisfaction Surveys for association clients around the country. Surveys for clients feeling uncertain about how to plan for 2021 and beyond. Surveys for clients searching for a way forward.

These are some of the urgent questions they came to us needing to address. And we used member survey data to help determine a plan of action.

7 questions answered by conducting member surveys:

1. How are our members doing, professionally speaking? What can we do to assist them?

2. How should we realign our association’s previous strategies and plans with the current realities of COVID-19?

3. How have members’ perspectives changed from surveys conducted one, two or three years ago?

4. Should we go forward with in-person events as soon as possible? Or would we be better off keeping with virtual events for the time being?

5. How do we compare to peer organizations across the U.S.?

6. What do our member renewal and retention forecasts look like for next year?

7. What mission-critical initiatives do we need to invest in right now to succeed in 2021? Which programs should we launch or grow, and which should we sunset?

If you look closely at these questions, all of them center on responding to members’ needs and maximizing member value. If you’re not meeting your members’ needs, then the chances that they’ll renew go down dramatically. And that can mean curtains for your association.

In these surveys, we specifically asked questions about the association’s response to member needs under the COVID-19 health crisis. We inquired about the value and use of associations’ programs and services. We posed questions about events, both in-person and virtual. And of course, we asked about the heartbeat of the association—its member-driven communications—and what new programs would be beneficial.

Here are 7 insights gained from member surveys:

1. Clearly identifying desired outcomes and strategies will be key to thriving in 2021. What worked in the past won’t necessarily be a good plan for the future.

2. Member needs and expectations are changing. Segmentation is the key to reaching members where they are and satisfying the reasons they became members in the first place.

3. If you’re looking for agile, measurable marketing and continuous improvement, go digital.

4. The best digital channels for member acquisition and engagement will differ from association to association. So don’t plan on using a cookie-cutter approach.

5. Understand the right mix of in-person, virtual and hybrid events. The appeal of in-person meetings will differ by geography and demographics, such as the age and perspectives of your member base.

6. Understanding the activities and services your members value is key. Dedicate resources to your best and emerging programs, and be willing to strategically cut those that don’t perform.

7. Invest in direct-to-consumer campaigns, media strategy and information resources to prime the market. But make sure to tailor your communications to the channels your members engage in.

The upshot here is that you can gain a ton of valuable insights with member surveys. But there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to crafting an association management strategy or annual plan. You’ll have to listen to the needs of your members to find the right path forward. And conducting member surveys are the way to do just that.

Think about 2021.

We’ll finish with this number. Our last survey netted nearly 40% of the entire membership. With hundreds and in some cases thousands of data points, we use insights to develop action plans – plans that Boards can embrace because they are data-driven. The results will speak volumes for delivering member engagement and value.

If you’re struggling with a plan, or need data to support your planning efforts, now is a great time to contact us to conduct a survey.


We all have next year. Here’s to looking ahead.



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Warren McKenna, MFA, CAE
Principal & CEO


Are you ready for a digital transformation?

From blind industry surveys to customer satisfaction surveys, we can develop turnkey surveys delivering qualitative and quantitative insights to increase program engagement and loyalty.

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