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Does Size Matter?

Click to enlargeThis month we’ve been analyzing the data from our Small Membership Insight Survey. Since our goal is to help small associations and non-profits build websites, connect with supporters, grow and manage their membership, we wanted to gain more insight into their world. For example, we wanted to know:  
  • what’s different about small membership organizations?
  • who leads these groups and what roles do volunteers play?
  • how are they funded?
  • what are their key challenges in building their membership?

And while we've only just begun to mine the survey data, we feel there is a wealth of benchmarking information to help small orgs see where they fit within their universe. We're also uncovering golden nuggets of insight and ideas that respondents offered up on alternate revenue streams, reasons members join and innovative programs and services. 

So far, we’ve shared a “Sneak Peek of Survey Results”, and offered a look at what the respondents told us they’d like to find out from their membership peers. In this post, we’re going to take a closer look at what “small” really means when it comes to a membership organization and does size really matter in meeting their goals?

What does a “small” membership organization look like?

Before we dig into the topic of this post - Does Size Matter - it might help to define what we mean when we say “small” in terms of a membership organization, since the definition can vary depending on the audience and context.

So we decided to create a portrait of a small membership organization based on our survey findings – looking at a number of data sets. You can click on the infographic (above) to see an illustrated version, but here is our overview of a typical “small membership organization” in reference to our survey respondents and the data they provided.

The average small membership organization that responded to our survey:

  • Has fewer than 500 members
  • Is volunteer-led
  • Is typically staffed by 1 full or part-time staffer, or in some cases, up to 5 staff members
  • Has non-profit status
  • Is a stand-alone organization
  • Has a local or regional membership reach
  • Has an annual budget of less than $50,000

Now, Does Size Matter - and if so, how does it impact the organization?

One of the central questions behind our survey was: Does size matter? And can it impact the organization’s ability to meet its mission?

When we asked our survey respondents that question, we found:
  • More than 50% of the respondents reported that they were “doing okay at their current size, but growth would help.”
  • Almost a third of respondents (27.8%) told us they were not able to meet their mission at their current size.
So when it comes to meeting their mission based on membership – size DID seem to matter!

Further analysis of our survey findings

We wanted to dig a little deeper to see what impact size has on a number of factors facing small membership organizations. So we analyzed our survey data to find out:

How does “small” impact budget?

Since we found that 90% of respondents’ organizations offer individual memberships and 63.5% of respondents reported that membership fees are a “critical source” of income – it follows that the number of members does impact their budget. However, the good news is that more than 75% of participants reported membership levels had stayed the same or increased 10-50% in the last year.

Is there a relationship between age and size?

We wondered if size was merely a factor of the age of the organization. In other words are they a “small” organization simply because they are just starting out? But the survey findings indicate that more than 50% of the respondents’ organizations have been established for more than 20 years – so they are not necessarily just getting started.

Is the staffing model a direct result of size?

We were curious to see how the size of the organization (# members) impacted staffing levels and if it was  key factor leading to the organization being led by volunteers. When we looked at the number of members in relation to the number of part- or full-time staff, the data confirmed that, in general, the more members they had, the more staff. But we did find one anomaly in that there were a few organizations that had very small member numbers, yet had many full-time staff.

We were also interested in seeing who managed what functions at these small membership organizations. For example, we found that more than 60% of the respondents confirmed that volunteers were managing the following functions:

  • Finances (64.6%)
  • Volunteer Management (65.6%)
  • External Communications (62.3%)
  • Events (64.6%)
  • Fundraising / Sponsorship (61.9%)
So what do you think – does size matter when it comes to a membership organization meeting its mission?  Let us know in the comments below.

We'll be offering more insight and  highlights from our Small Membership Insight Survey findings in future posts, so stay tuned to this blog.

If you’d like to receive a copy of our full Survey Report, you can register here: Small Membership Insight Report registration.

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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]
Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]
Published Thursday, 17 January 2013 at 9:50 AM

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