2014 Small Membership Survey – Executive Summary

Membership October 27, 2011

Tatiana Morand

By Tatiana Morand
 Here are excerpts from our 2014 Small Membership Survey’s Executive Summary.

We launched our inaugural Small Membership Survey in late 2012 to identify, verify and share some of the characteristics of small membership organizations. Since so much of the benchmarking research focuses on large associations and non-profits, we wanted to pinpoint the qualities and experiences that set small membership organizations apart from their larger counterparts.

Small membership organizations are very different

Our research in both 2013 and 2014 indicates that while they may share similar priorities, small membership organizations are unique in many ways – they are not simply smaller, newer versions of larger more established associations, non-profits or clubs. More than 50% of these groups are led solely by volunteers, with the rest managing with a small staff of one or two employees. While they are often resource-challenged, and reliant on membership fees (representing over 90% of their revenue), the good news is that more than half of these organizations were able to grow their membership while retaining more than 80% of their existing members in 2014.

Volunteers and staff work in isolation

But what is truly different is that the volunteers and staff of these small organizations often work in isolation, without the ability to share information, best practices and challenges with their peers. This survey report offers an opportunity to benchmark against other similar organizations in terms of budgets, membership recruitment and retention strategies, effective outreach tools and more. It also offers a forum for small membership organizations to share common questions and concerns.

In fact, the feedback we received through these surveys about the desire to share information has led us to launch a separate initiative:  our Small Membership Advisory Community.

The current landscape for small membership organizations

So what is the state of small membership organizations? What are their top priorities, best practices and challenges in 2014? Is their size impacting their ability to meet their mission?

Top priorities

The top three priorities for small membership organizations remain the same for 2014 as were identified in our 2013 report:

  1. Increasing membership
  2. Increasing member engagement
  3. Demonstrating member value 

Does size matter in fulfilling their mission?

Two of the key questions we had in launching our inaugural survey were:

  • Does size matter?
  • Can small membership organizations be successful even at their small size?

The answers this year were almost exactly the same as in the 2013 report – with just over half of the respondents indicating that they are doing “okay” at their current size but hoping for growth. Just under a quarter of respondents are definitely hoping for growth, and another 20+ percent are achieving success at their current size.

What challenges are small membership organizations facing?

There were a number of recurring themes in terms of challenges and issues in the survey responses. Here are some of the key challenges that were identified:

  • Being “resource-challenged” - AKA doing a lot with a little
  • Board and volunteer recruitment, engagement and retention
  • Enticing the younger generation to join and become involved
  • Developing sources of non-dues revenue
  • Technology challenges – getting board and members to use new technology

Download the full survey report

This is an abbreviated version of the Executive Summary of our 2014 Small Membership Survey Report. The full report highlights the characteristics and current state of small membership organizations, including information on member growth and retention as well as leadership and membership models. It also offers a snapshot of their financial outlook – membership fees, critical sources of revenue, as well as non-dues revenue. Finally, it offers benchmarking and best practices insight that small membership organizations can review in order to see where their organization fits in the small membership world.

If you’d like to read the full survey report, you can download it here.

Image source:  Insight green road sign - courtesy of BigStockPhoto.com

The Membership Growth Report:

Benchmarks & Insights for Growing Revenue and Constituents

Get the report now!

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