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At the beginning of each year, there’s a central question that every association member asks themselves when deciding whether to renew their membership: did my membership produce value?

As any association executive will tell you, the future of an organization rests on the answer to this question being in the affirmative. If an association doesn’t produce real value for members, then they’ll either leave for competing organizations or use free online tools for the networking and educational services they would otherwise get from an association.

So how can an association tell if it’s producing enough value and also identify areas where it could produce more of it? One of the most effective and scalable methods for collecting both qualitative and quantitative feedback is through member surveys. Distributed by email and relatively easy to implement, a survey provides a simple way for you to gauge a member’s satisfaction with a service or provide suggestions for a new one.

“A survey is helpful for organizations because it helps them identify the exact pain points for their members,” said Joel Hinton, the mid-atlantic partner account manager for ClickDimensions, a company that produces survey software that integrates with Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

Hinton has worked directly with hundreds of CRM customers to implement user surveys, and so we asked him to share best practices for how associations can leverage user surveys to improve their member offerings. Here are his top three recommendations:

Start with a clear goal

When a member agrees to fill out a survey, you only have a few minutes of their time, so you need to make the most of it. Establish a clear goal for what you want to accomplish with the survey and make sure every question speaks to that goal. “If you don’t know exactly who you’re actually going after and what kind of feedback you’re trying to get, it’s not really going to get you anywhere,” said Hinton. “So the first tip is to clearly define what your survey is trying to measure and who it’s trying to measure it from.”

Surveys don’t need to be reactive

Many organizations and companies send out a survey immediately after a member uses a service in an attempt to gauge their satisfaction with that service. But Hinton argues that associations should begin sending surveys to members much earlier. This includes sending a survey immediately after they become a member. “You should use surveys to solicit onboarding feedback and get a clear idea of what your members actually want to receive from the association — whether they want to receive email and newsletter communication and if they want updates about particular services.”

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How the new member answers a survey question can automatically trigger certain actions. For instance, if they express interest in a particular topic it could then register them to an email newsletter about that topic. Or if they rate the onboarding process poorly, it could generate an automatic email to the association’s support staff so they know to personally follow up with the member.

Timing matters

It’s not easy to get a member to take the time out of their busy schedule to fill out a survey, and the timing for when you send it to them can have a drastic effect on whether or not they complete it. For instance, many associations will often send out feedback surveys in the days following a conference. “But what we’ve seen is that the response rate is higher if you send it out during the actual conference or seven to 10 days after.” This is because people are often exhausted and traveling in the wake of a conference, and by the time they’re primed to answer email the survey link has gotten buried.

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Associations have never faced more competition for the demographics they’re trying to reach. In order to continue attracting new generations of member recruits, they have to be increasingly sensitive to what potential members want and are willing to pay for. With the stakes higher than ever, leveraging online survey tools to collect feedback has become an essential strategy that every association, no matter how large or small, should take advantage of.

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