Top 10 Topics For Small Membership Organizations

Membership June 09, 2014

Lori Halley

By Lori Halley

We’re in the midst of writing our annual Small Membership Survey Report. This is the second year we’ve conducted this survey to gain insight into the world of small associations, clubs and other membership organizations. We were pleased that we had 487 survey respondents. Thanks to everyone who participated.

The survey provides a wealth of benchmarking information about small membership organizations and offers an opportunity for the volunteers and staff to share with and ask questions of their peers. For example, one of the open-ended survey questions offers tremendous insight into the challenges and issues facing small membership organizations.

The question on our survey was:

What is the one thing we haven’t asked that you’d like to find out from your peers at other small membership organizations?

After reviewing all of the responses, we sorted these into general categories. Here are the top 10 topics (a sneak peek from a total of 170) and challenges for small membership organizations that generated the most questions or comments - as well as examples of some of their verbatim responses:

1. Boards:

  • What is the best way to recruit and retain effective Board members?
  • Are board term limits effective?
  • We all have jobs that pay the bills and volunteer our time to run the organization. All board members know this yet some do seemingly little. How do you get a board member to step it up so others do not have to always do heavy lifting?
  • How to best use the skills of the Board, and motivate them between monthly meetings?
  • How do you convince a board of directors that you need more staff when there is money to pay for that?

2. Member Retention:

  • What are the top most effective 3 - 5 membership recruitment and retention strategies for national professional associations?
  • Most effective retention strategies, how social media has helped or hurt their organization?
  • Does it take a full time member manager in order to ensure member retention?
  • How can I effectively use the member directory to fuel member retention?
  • Member retention - when to drop if haven't paid?
  • Biggest overall obstacle to retention of membership?

3. Social Media / Communications:

  • How do they manage social media? How can a small organization (made up primarily of volunteers) get started using social media. We are still using a listserv and wonder if we would be better served using Facebook or a blog. Our members mainly communicate with each other on the listserv.
  • How are they handling social media to boost member engagement?
  • How often they contact members via email, newsletters, social media?
  • How do you engage and encourage communication among members?
  • How to keep forum comments active and useful?

4. Member Value:

  • Adding value to member services and widening scope of activity?
  • How to demonstrate membership value?
  • How do you determine the ROI (what members pay versus the value they receive)?
  • How do you get good feedback from your members to make sure you continue to bring them value and stay relevant?
  • What third party programs do you find increase your efficiency and/or add value?

5. Member Engagement:

  • How are they handling social media to boost member engagement?
  • How to engage members who pay dues but never attend meetings and events?
  • How to keep volunteers engaged and enthusiastic? We have no trouble getting people to get involved, put participation wanes quickly.
  • Engagement and participation strategies specifically in a volunteer organisation, given everyone has an expectation since they have paid for membership?

6. Member Recruitment:

  • What is the best way to reach prospective younger members?
  • How to engage board to help recruit members?
  • Strategies for getting contact lists for non-members who might benefit from joining?
  • How to attract new members?
  • How do you gain new, younger members?
  • How to entice more of our peers to join?

7. Technology / Website:

  • How to get members to accept doing things with new technologies? It's a double whammy - people don't like to do things differently and they're afraid of technology.
  • How do you reach donors who are in the 50-60 year old range and are not tech savvy?
  • How they educate the over 50 population in using technology?
  • How to provide a better website experience for members e.g. member forums, blogs, Presentations, videos and Powerpoint presentations?
  • What and how are other organizations using technology in managing their association. All-in-one (like WildApricot) or several function-specific (unconnected) apps, or combination?
  • What feature(s) of your website draws the most interest from your members?

8. Financial / Sponsors:

  • How do I get supplemental income besides membership fees without offending the members?
  • Funding sources for meetings?
  • In a Community Association - how are potential revenue streams established (with value) for the members - from local retail and professional vendors?
  • How do they source and engage sponsors?
  • What can small nonprofits do to manage/minimize the extremely high cost of doing business?
  • A list of "best practices" for adding sponsors?
  • How do you get grants that actually allow for a payroll - as we are ALL volunteers at our organization

9. Volunteers:

  • Methods for maintaining consistency and continuity with boards and volunteers changing over to new people?
  • What are your succession strategies for key volunteers?
  • What are your "best practices" for adding volunteers?
  • How do you find new volunteers and retain them?

10. Leadership:

  • As the director, I am WAY under paid. I'd like to know if this is true for others.
  • When should we consider hiring an executive director?
  • Have you or are you planning to make a transition from fully volunteer to paid staff?
  • Succession strategies for key staff?
  • What organizational "best practices" are most important to your organization?

Stay tuned for more insight from our 2014 Small Membership Survey 

As mentioned, this is only a sneak peek at the insight we’ll be sharing from our Small Membership Survey stay tuned to this blog for future posts.

Our survey report will be available by early July and if you haven’t registered yet, you can still sign up to receive the final report - here.

What would you like to ask your small membership peer? Let us know in the comments below.

Image source:  Conference - courtesy of

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