Membership Surveys: Answers to Five Popular Questions

1. Why are surveys valuable for my association?

A survey is data collection, and in today’s business climate, data is essential to better understanding your audience and what they value so that you can speak to them more effectively. Surveys also give members an opportunity to use their voice. This data should be actionable, meaning the results can provide an association with concrete information to support future initiatives or alter current ones.

2. Who should I survey?

Each group of members will offer different insight, so it’s in your association’s best interest to survey both current members and expired members. Current members can provide valuable information that is, in effect, the pulse of an association. Their responses offer insight about the state of their business or profession or area of interest, and opinions about current events and how your association can make a stronger impact.

Expired members, on the other hand, are often more critical of an association, but that criticism can be useful for making changes, especially if many have the same concerns.

3. Should I send a print or a digital survey?

Survey execution strategy depends on several factors, which should all be considered before members are contacted. It’s not a one size fits all. Here are the primary areas to consider, as well as data on how past association surveys have performed, both print and digital.

Use data to support your decision on how to ask members to take a survey. Data points include:

  • Your membership demographic: For conducting a survey, you should know how your members prefer to be reached. Younger members tend to trend towards taking a survey digitally, while older members tend to prefer hard copy. Of course, the opposite can also be true for individuals within those groups.By reaching your members the way they want to be reached, you increase your likelihood for a high response. In relation to this, try to send the survey at an optimal time and not in the general member’s “season.” This is especially true for enthusiast organizations. For example, you’ll probably get a better response if you send the survey to a group of winemakers when they aren’t out harvesting their grapes.
  • Your budget: Digital surveys are often preferred because they are lower cost and the response is immediate. This can be a very effective method for some associations. Hard copy surveys cost more to produce because of materials, printing, and postage; however, they tend to elicit a higher response.Sending past or current members a printed survey to their home address also relays to them that they are worth the time and money it takes to acquire their opinion.
    • How was the response to past surveys?
    • When was the last survey conducted?
    • Do you have most or all street addresses for current members? Expired members?
    • How many e-mail addresses do you have?
    • What percentage is that of the current membership, of the expired membership?
    • How do different types of e-mails tend to perform?

4. What kind of response do I need?

The number of responses needed in order to feel certain about particular responses to a survey depend upon how confident you want to be, what “confidence interval” you want to use, and how big of a population you begin with. For example, if you begin with 1,500 surveys sent out, you will need “X” number of surveys back in order to feel 95% certain, (+/- 5%) that you have an accurate representation of the association as a whole.

5. How often should I survey?

This is an important question. Surveying should be done with the respondent in mind. A respondent can get tired of answering surveys quickly, so it’s important to space out surveys to avoid fatigue or resentment. An alternative is to survey membership segments, so that the same individuals aren’t being contacted every time.