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How to Align Your Association with Member Needs

When your association aligns the needs of your members with your services, you provide value and maximize your mission and market potential. Here we present a data-driven approach to support the alignment of your association’s portfolio of offerings with your members’ needs. By developing measures of the needs that individuals look to your association to fulfill–across the spectrum of basic human needs–you can understand how you can align offerings, content, context, and experience delivery. The resulting analytical output is a map of how members (and non-members) perceive the association and the value that you can credibly offer.

Empirically, most organizations recognize that their offerings must cater to more than just affiliation needs. At the core, many associations emerged based on the need for belonging to a group that shares similar professions, occupations, interests, or beliefs. But there is so much more needed to explain the demand for services and concepts such as advocacy efforts, journals and publications, conferences, online communities, affinity programs, discount cards, and recognition awards programs.

The EurekaFacts Member Needs Assessment approach serves as a framework to systematically measure motivators or drivers (a.k.a. member needs) and effectively incorporate them into your association’s strategic plan. This serves as both a robust needs-profiling tool and a tool to measure the relevance of each need for the organization as a whole, as well as, to each segment of the membership. The tool also supports the strategic and tactical activity required to effectively execute member acquisition, service, and retention efforts.

Application of association alignment

There are great potential benefits of conducting a systematic and quantifiable analysis of members’ needs. Because such measurement is conducted at the needs level and not the product level, the resulting profile provides a rich context that is versatile enough to be applied at strategic and tactical levels.

Among the key applications are to:

  • Facilitate analysis of portfolio of offerings with member data.
  • Prioritize resources and benefit/product/service decisions by identifying new opportunities, pinpointing under-performing key service areas, and eliminating strategic distractions.
  • Inform strategic and tactical marketing and communications efforts with a knowledge base on member perceptions regarding core positioning, awareness, knowledge, and attitudes toward your association and offerings.

Many organizations focus on evaluating which features and benefits are sought by their membership. This only serves as a short-term measure to assess a specific product with its current strengths and weaknesses. Stepping back to assess the needs that individuals seek to fulfill throughout your association can provide important context to evaluate alignment with your members’ needs, performance, and mission contribution.

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Key dimensions of association alignment

The EurekaFacts Member Needs Assessment approach utilizes an inventory of needs that are grouped into several factors. Each factor clusters a number of the needs that an individual perceives that your association should fulfill. This approach will align your association with your members’ needs.

To get to these needs, we searched not at the service level but at the level of the basic human needs that every individual looks to fulfill. It is important to note that people look to organizations as instruments to meet different needs, so we developed a method to measure what individuals look to an association to provide and not simply measures their total aggregate needs.

The resulting approach was then applied to the development of a survey instrument that can be administered to a sample of your target population. The resulting data is then used to build a profile of what members and prospective members seek from your association.

When the analysis goes beyond overall perceptions and measures the set of member services and products, findings become even more insightful and applicable. The questionnaire design can examine a variety of services and benefits in relation to the needs that they intend to fulfill. These needs are then measured using the inventory of human needs. During the analysis of data, organization-specific factor analysis helps identify the natural grouping for your association.

The identified factors form a framework to measure needs in a professional association as they relate to an adaptation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs pyramid, and Henry Murray’s inventory of 27 psychogenic needs, integrated into a single structure. Depending on the particular focus and the target population, three to eight factors emerge. The most common factors to emerge from the data in professional associations are: altruistic (changing the environment–such as advocacy, public education, enhancing the image of the profession or represented population), esteem enhancing (accomplishment, recognition, exposition, understanding), growth and development (skills, abilities, marketability, net worth, cognition), belonging, basic resources (survival resources, professional tools), and safety/protection (collective agreement, licensing, insurance).

The most commonly emerging dimensions can be found in the member needs pyramid (above). While the image above presents the more widely known general structure of priorities, individuals will look to their association to fulfill different needs and the make-up of these sought-after needs may vary by segment in any given population. So the member needs profile for an organization may take various shapes according to the relative weight of the needs of their members in each category. This may make an advocacy or philanthropic group heavier in its altruistic dimensions, while a union may have stronger protection and altruistic measures accompanied by lower perceived needs in the belonging and development areas. However, each organization is likely to have a unique profile representing its position in the markets served.

Reality tells us that individuals look to their organizations to meet not one, but a wide array of services. Understanding the value assigned by individuals to each of these categories can help prioritize resources and develop services appropriate to the sought needs of the membership. This alignment between the association and members’ needs is key to retention of members.

Within an organization, it is common to find that although general patterns exist and define the nature of the niche filled by an organization, different segments of the population served have distinct needs they want to fulfill. These are often explained by the career stage, by generational cohort or life-stage, by specific regional differences, by occupation, or by a combination of several variables.

Measuring the various needs and grouping them into factors can help pinpoint those areas where there is high interest, as well as where there is a divergence in opinions. Once represented in their actual measures the profile of needs may look like this image (below). The image illustrates the profile of a hypothetical organization where the various needs are clustered into eight factors. The width of the inner area shows the potential for the segmentation of membership services. The dimensions with the highest score and widest dispersion are the best targets for possible segmentation. Those with highest scores and narrow variations are good targets for overall priorities and messaging.

Needs plus positioning

The resulting profile is a product of both the inherent needs of the target population and their perception of what the organization is intending to provide. This introduces an essential strategic element. The resulting profile yields a measurement of the needs that members have in common in relation to what they perceive the organization is intending to provide. In other words, the analysis uncovers the latent potential within the current market position of the organization. By in large, a member needs analysis in this context presents member needs within the perception of the membership (current, prospective, lapsed). So quick deployment advances can be easily pinpointed, and the strengths and weaknesses of the larger market position can be assessed.

 

Performance relevant to member needs

Aligning your association with your members’ needs can happen at the service or product level. Assessing service performance in light of the dimensions served offers valuable insight. In the same way that an overall organization can be evaluated relative to the set of needs, each key product/service can be evaluated. This image (below) illustrates an example of an analysis of several member services. Examining the entire portfolio of services in light of the rating of the predominant need versus member satisfaction with each service allows for strategic allocation of resources and priorities, decisions regarding the introduction of new services, and/or the elimination or restructuring of those that are either not aligned with member needs or not performing well.

Maximize value with a general needs profile plus needs-based segmentation

Furthermore, because increasingly fragmented markets have created opportunities for association niche players to carve away market from large associations, the assessment of needs to be fulfilled should not stay at a general level. In addition to developing the overall framework for affiliation and service offerings, a segmented approach is necessary so that each niche can be effectively covered. Looking at this image again, the areas that have high standard deviations offer the potential for exploring segmented offers such as membership categories, tiered membership structures, or other tactics to optimize value and revenue.

Extracting meaning beyond the typical needs assessment

The EurekaFacts Member Needs Assessment approach carries two important benefits. This approach offers your association data-driven insights to provide alignment with your members’ needs. Because the assessment of needs is conducted within a systematic approach, the outcome of the analysis presents clear direction and insight into the strategic market and offer planning. At the same time, because the measures provide information on categories of needs, the findings of this analysis provide contextual information that can be used to support decisions on new service offerings and offer guidance that goes beyond the immediate services measured by a traditional membership satisfaction survey.

 

The rewards for completing a thorough member needs assessment alignment are great. After using the EurekaFacts Member Needs Assessment approach, your association will be well equipped to manage your own growth. We invite you to explore the rest of our web site, including the Membership Matters tool, and reach out to explore what might be the best fit for you. Let’s get the conversation started.

 

Updated from Aligning an Association with Member Needs by Jorge Restrepo, CEO at EurkeFacts Smart Research Solutions, © 2007.

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