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Snapshot of Small Membership Organizations in 2014

Lori Halley  02 July 2014  0 comments

We’re just completing our Small Membership Survey Report for 2014. This is the second time we’ve conducted this survey to identify, verify and share some of the characteristics that set small membership organizations apart from their larger counterparts.

In our inaugural survey last year, we developed a profile of a typical small membership organization, and this year’s findings have helped us develop an even clearer “portrait of a small membership organization”. Based on the information gathered through the 487 participants in our 2014 survey, a typical small membership organization…

  • has fewer than 500 members
  • is a stand-alone organization, with non-profit status
  • is managed by a combination of volunteers and staff (1-2 full or part-time staff)
  • has local or regional membership reach
  • operates with a budget of under $500,000

The State of Small Membership Organizations in 2014

While our final report will be available soon, we thought we’d take a look at the state of small membership organizations based on the response to a number of our survey questions. So here’s a snapshot of the small membership landscape in 2014.

Membership growth patterns

This year, close to 60% of our respondents reported that their organizations had experienced membership growth over the last year, although the majority only saw increases of less than 19%. In addition, just over 20% managed to maintain their membership at existing levels.

Retention rates

Our survey findings also suggest that membership was generally stable for most organizations during 2014, with 52% of respondents reporting that 80 to 90% of their members had renewed.

Member recruitment & engagement

We know from experience that small membership volunteers and staff want to know how their peers at other organizations are recruiting members. So this year, we asked respondents to indicate their most effective method of attracting new members.

Here are the top four recruitment methods that were identified:

  1. Outreach (both peer-to-peer and board outreach)
  2. Events (conferences, professional programs, webinars as well as social events)
  3. Website / Word-of-mouth
  4. Email

Once again this year, member engagement was identified as one of the top 3 priorities for small membership organizations. We asked our survey respondents about tactics they have found helpful in increasing member involvement and engagement and here are the top three they identified:

  1. Events 
  2. Personal contact (e.g., calls from board members)
  3. Email

Reasons members join

For organizations looking to improve member recruitment and engagement, it's important to have a solid understanding of why members join. For 2014, the top reasons members join were identified as:

  1. Networking
  2. Professional development
  3. Learning best practices
  4. Events
  5. Support the organization’s mission
  6. Information / news 

Programs & services offered

We wondered if the programs and services currently offered by small membership organizations aligned with the perceived “reasons members join”. Our survey findings would suggest they do – based on the top 5 programs and services identified:

  1. Member education / professional development: 63.8%
  2. Networking events: 62.3%
  3. Information / publications / books: 47.3%
  4. Online forum(s): 39.9%
  5. Conferences / tradeshows: 36.7%

Type of memberships offered

Since our survey data indicates that membership fees or dues represent over 90% of the revenue for most small membership organizations, we thought it would be interesting to see what types of membership categories these organizations are offering.  For 2014, individual memberships (90.5%) and company/organization memberships (41.0%) remained the most common. However, it was also interesting to note some of the other membership types or categories that were identified, such as: “student”, “free”, “retired/senior”, and “life or lifetime” memberships.

Communication Methods

Communicating with members – whether existing or prospective – is always critical for membership organizations of all sizes. It is also one of the topics for which survey respondents have requested benchmarking information. For 2014, the top 5 most effective methods of communicating with existing members were identified as:

  1. Email: 97.8%
  2. Online (e.g., website news, blog, forum, etc.): 76.2%
  3. Newsletter or magazine: 57.0%
  4. Facebook: 55.9%
  5. Networking meetings: 33.7%

These findings echo our 2013 report, with the top 5 categories remaining the same. However, while online/websites were once again identified as the second most popular channel, it saw a 13% increase over the last year. 

Does this snapshot look familiar?

This is just a snapshot of small membership organizations in 2014, based on some of our survey highlights. Does it ring true for your organization?

Stay tuned for more small membership insight from our survey. You can register here to receive the full survey report which will be available soon.

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

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Wednesday, 02 July 2014 at 10:17 AM
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