Does Association Size Matter?

Lori Halley 19 March 2014 0 comments

In a recent Associations Now blog post, Katie Bascuas reported on a survey of nonprofits and associations that “found that an organization’s size affected not only its outlook but also the quality of its operational practices.”

The research  by Virtual Inc. found that, as Bascuas notes, “70 percent of mid-size associations (those with annual revenue between $500,000 and $3 million) and large associations (annual revenue of $3 million or more) reported now is a good time to be running a membership organization.” 

According to the report's Executive Summary, "larger associations are more bullish on the current climate for running a membership organization.” The research also revealed that “Association size, based on revenue, is the biggest predictor of solid operating practices, according to this study.”  

So does this prove that size really does matter?

I don’t think anyone involved in managing a membership organization would be surprised by the survey’s findings. After all we are conditioned to believe that bigger is always better, especially when it comes to budgets.

But we’ve also looked at how size impacts a membership organization.  In fact,in our Small Membership Survey, that we started in 2012, we asked the question - Does size matter? We’ve also recently launched our 2nd annual survey of this kind to find out more about small membership organizations, including what makes them unique and what key challenges they face.

But when we refer to “small” organizations, our “portrait of  a small membership organization” (developed from our survey) includes both budget size (e.g., 61.5% of our survey participants’ annual budget was less than $50,000) as well as membership size (e.g., our survey participants had, on average, fewer than 500 members).

Does size impact your ability to meet your mission?

But we weren't sure if either membership size or budget size were a factor in a small organization's success. So one of the central questions behind our initial survey, was: “Does size matter? And can it impact the organization’s ability to meet its mission?” 

Through the responses to that question in our inaugural survey, we found:

  • More than 50% of the respondents reported that they were “doing okay at their current size, but growth would help.”

  • 27.8% told us they were not able to meet their mission at their current size.

Size, scale or value?

But we have to be careful we don't generalize about the importance of membership or budget size. We found in our research that the key priorities for most small membership organizations were "increasing membership" and "increasing member engagement." So clearly many organizations are focused on growing their membership numbers and engaging existing folks in more activities - some of which might be profit centers. But the third most important priority was “demonstrating member value”. So it seems to me that an association might well be serving up the highest member value to a very small group of members - and in this case, the measure of their success is not about their member size or budget.

In other words, I concur with Katie Bascuas who notes in the closing of her post, “let’s understand that size is not the measure of the organization; how well an organization serves its true mission is”.

Have you participated in our Small Membership Survey?

Our Small Membership Survey is closing at the end of March. If you are a small membership organization and you haven’t participated yet, please take our survey!

Here’s a link to the blog post outlining our survey: What’s Different About Small Membership Organizations?

UPDATE:  PLEASE NOTE OUR 2014 SMALL MEMBERSHIP SURVEY IS NOW CLOSED.

Survey participants can register to receive our final survey report.

In the meantime, if you'd like to check out highlights from last year's survey, you can find an overview and infographics in our Membership Knowledge Hub - here

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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Wednesday, 19 March 2014 at 8:30 AM

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