Your association’s member benefits package works hard. It helps recruit new members and retain existing members. Its components help define your value proposition and demonstrate the relationship between the organization and its members. In many ways, the benefits package is the first look new members have at how your association helps professionals and companies in your industry succeed.
Knowing how important benefits are, association execs spend a great deal of time crafting the package they offer members, and it is time well spent. It’s also wise to visit your benefits package annually to evaluate the ongoing effectiveness of the package.
We’d like to offer several suggestions for evaluating your benefits package to make sure it’s performing at peak levels. But first, let’s talk about advocacy.
Is Advocacy a Member Benefit?
The association community has been discussing advocacy for years – is it a member benefit or not? Certainly, it is a key focus of many associations, and it benefits the entire industry, but do members derive benefits from advocacy efforts that non-members don’t?
All professionals in the industry benefit from the association’s advocacy efforts whether they are members or not, and advocacy is a key function in many associations. We’re not suggesting that advocacy programs should change. Other elements of your benefits package are more directly connected to your members’ decisions to join the association or renew their memberships.
Rather than marketing your advocacy efforts as a member benefit, position it as an industry requirement that demonstrates the association’s commitment. Of course, the more members you have, the greater your impact can be, and by working together as an association, you can generally achieve more than individual members can on their own.
Here's what we recommend when you evaluate your benefits package:
Step #1 – Make a List
Most membership team members can recite their list of member benefits on demand. They do it every time they take a call or answer an email from a prospective member. Take that knowledge and make a laundry list of all the benefits you offer. You can consolidate items later, if it makes reporting easier. Your list may look something like this:
- Discounted Continuing Education
- Discounted Event Registration
- Career Center
- Leadership Opportunities
- Access to Small Groups
- Journal Subscriptions
- Online Communities & Discussions
- Membership Directory
Step #2 – Decide How to Evaluate Each Benefit
Once you have a list of benefits, find the best ways to quantify their popularity. We suggest that you consider three measurements for each benefit and compare them over time:
- Usage – How many members have used this benefit in the past year? How does usage compare to previous years?
- Revenue – What would this benefit cost a non-member? Many associations use this measurement to demonstrate membership value.
- Ratings – Set up your own Yelp-type reviews to provide evaluations and comments.
When you start to evaluate benefits, we like to start at a macro level with recruitment and retention rates – are your membership numbers and revenue increasing, staying the same, or decreasing? This is your first look at how well your membership benefits meet member needs.
After you gather recruitment and retention data, you can dig into the popularity of the individual benefits you offer. Some items, like discounted event registration, are easy to count. Members either register or they don’t. Benefits like networking, however, may take some thought.
For example, you could count the number of times a member attends a networking event, but that data won’t necessarily tell you how members felt about the networking events they attended. You might need to follow up with qualitative data like interviews, focus groups, or simple conversations. More on that in a minute.
Some member benefits, like journals or directories, are distributed to everyone, which can make it harder to determine how often they’re used. Fortunately, now that most journals and directories are delivered online, it’s possible to track how often a member uses that benefit.
Step #3 – Evaluate Your Benefits & Take Action
If you’ve gathered the data about your benefits, it should become clear which ones are used the most. With that information, you can rank your benefits. This allows you the option of sundowning less popular benefits and updating benefits to keep them current.
We know that the popularity of benefits is not always straightforward. Membership surveys often include a question about which benefits are the most relevant to the respondent, but the responses don’t always indicate what you think they do. Respondents are sometimes biased by the order of the items they can select. Whatever is first on the list stands a good chance of being the most popular item.
Follow best practices whenever you can when you’re constructing and deploying your surveys. With care, you can keep unintended survey errors to a minimum.
Think about following up your survey with interviews or focus groups. Conversations can help you uncover preferences, and random comments can be highly instructive.
After the Evaluation
The key to making sure your benefits package is the best it can be is repetition. Evaluate your offerings at least every year and make the reporting automatic. Check your findings against previous years and with your members. You don’t want to sundown a benefit that your members love or retain one that doesn’t make a difference in recruiting and retaining members.
If your benefits package doesn’t contain elements that attract new members, start the process to develop new benefits.
Emma is the Marketing Manager at Rhythm. When she's not thinking about all things content-related, you can find her traveling or shooting 35 mm film.