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2014 Small Membership Survey Highlights

Lori Halley 10 July 2014 2 comments

Our second annual Small Membership Survey Report will be released this week. Here are a few highlights from our 2014 research findings.

We launched the Small Membership Survey just over two years ago to provide insight into the world of the small association, club and non-profit, and to answer some fundamental questions such as: does size matter? and can small membership organizations be successful even at their small size?

Small membership organizations - smaller, newer versions of larger counterparts?

What we found through the response to our survey is that small membership organizations are not just smaller, newer versions of larger more established associations, non-profits or clubs. While they may share similar goals and priorities, small membership organizations are unique in many ways. For example:

  • A typical “small membership organization” has fewer than 500 members and operates with a budget of under $500,000.
  • They aren't necessarily "small" because they are just starting out.  In fact, close to 80% of our survey respondents noted that their organization had been established for more than 8 years.
  • These groups are often led solely by volunteers or with a small staff of one or two employees. In fact, more than 50% of our survey participants reported that volunteers are responsible for the day-to-day management of their organization.

  • While 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.

  • Small budget size does limit the resources available to small associations, clubs and non-profits, often meaning that they are managed by a group of dedicated volunteers or a skeleton staff. However, they appear to be meeting their missions, since our data suggests that they are thriving and even growing.

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 as many of the larger, more established associations do. 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.

Key insight into small membership organizations in 2014

Based on the insight provided by the 487 survey participants this year, here are highlights of some of the key findings from our 2014 Small Membership Survey:

  • The top three priorities for small membership organizations remained the same for 2014 as those identified in our 2013 report:
    1. Increasing membership
    2. Increasing member engagement
    3. Demonstrating member value
  • Despite being “resource-challenged” and mainly volunteer-led, 52.75% of small membership organizations indicate that they are “doing okay” in terms of meeting their mission at their current size.
  • Close to 60% of our respondents noted that their organizations had experienced membership growth and in addition, reported 80-90% renewal rates.

  • In tackling their number one priority - increasing membership - survey respondents noted the following as the most effective methods for member recruitment:

    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
  • Many small organizations have found inventive sources of non-dues revenue to offset their traditional membership fees or dues, including: hosting more events and developing new educational opportunities, finding sponsors, providing research, selling their membership directory, and even renting out their office space.

  • Although many organizations are struggling to entice younger members (AKA Millennials) to join or get involved, others are looking for inventive ways to help their boards and membership to embrace digital technologies.

Final survey report - now available

These are only a few highlights offering a sneak peek at the survey report. This week, we will be emailing the final report to our survey participants and those who have pre-registered.  If you want to read the full 2014 Small Membership Survey Report - you can sign-up here.

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

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

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Thursday, 10 July 2014 at 9:11 AM


  • Bobbe Wunderlich said:

    Friday, 11 July 2014 at 11:31 AM
    What great information to share with our small (120 members) local non-profit organization! Echoes a lot of the points in our long range plan regarding the top three priorities and also the most effective methods of member recruitment. Nice to know we are on the right track.
    Thanks for being so engaged with your customers that you would help us by sharing this information!
  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Friday, 11 July 2014 at 11:51 AM
    Bobbe: Thanks - glad you found the survey highlights post helpful. If you haven't signed up yet - you can register to receive the full survey report here: https://www.wildapricot.com/membership-insight-survey
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