If you work at an association and your role involves increasing membership, then chances are you’ve heard the near constant drumbeat in recent years that you should be collecting more data about your membership. A report from ASI last year found that 21 percent of associations didn’t know their member retention rate and 25 percent didn’t know their membership market share. Responding to the report, Associations Now’s Joe Rominiecki argued that “without membership metrics, you’re working blindfolded.”


But while many associations have certainly heard the call that they should collect data, I’ve noticed their approach to collecting and analyzing this data has been uneven. There’s a tendency for associations and other organizations to focus on what I’d consider “vanity” metrics, and by that I mean the association is highlighting numbers that tell a compelling story without giving any meaningful insights into why members might be joining or leaving. For instance, a membership director might brag that their association’s membership has grown by 20 percent, which sounds impressive, but it might be hiding a member retention issue. You could have had a huge spike in new members, but still be losing a significant number of members and still show a 20% net gain. Given that new members are expensive to obtain, an association that’s failing to retain members could be in deep trouble even if it’s still technically “growing.”

As CRM software and marketing tech allows associations to collect ever increasing amounts of data, it’s important then for membership staff to establish meaningful metrics that not only identify the organization’s strengths, but also its weaknesses. To do this effectively, you should start by asking these three questions.

Which metrics actually produce meaningful insights?

An association has three main goals as it pertains to membership: attract new members, retain those members, and convince existing members to evangelize the benefits of the association to other potential members. So any metric you begin measuring should provide insight as to whether you’re meeting these three goals.

Based on these goals, most associations focus on three metrics – member retention, member engagement and market share. These metrics are definitely important to track, but I would argue that there’s one key indicator that trumps them all – the Net Promoter Score.

To figure out your Net Promoter Score, you simply ask your members, “How likely is it that you would recommend our company/product/service to a friend or colleague?” and provide them with a scale between zero and 10.

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Members with a score of 9 or 10 are your promoters and those with 0 to 6 are detractors. Subtracting the percentage of detractors from the percentage of promoters gives you your Net Promoter Score. This can range from -100 (all detractors) to 100 (all promoters). A score north of 60 is pretty solid, but organizations like USAA (always at 80 or above) and Apple (hovers between 70 and 75) are examples of companies whose customers really seem to love them.

While your natural inclination might be to focus on the detractors, organizations often find the cost of raising their Net Promoter Score any higher isn’t worth the investment. Instead, you should work to move the 7s and 8s up to promoter status and leverage those 9s and 10s to evangelize on behalf of your association.

Once you have this information, you can overlay it on top of the other three metrics to see how it lines up. Are your promoters always the most engaged members or is there a mix? Are your detractors also the same members that aren’t renewing? Asking these questions and digging deeper give you insight that the basic metrics can’t provide.

Can you go a layer deeper?

Speaking of going deeper, many of the above metrics will give you insight into the “what,” but not into the “why.” For instance, by introducing engagement metrics you can get an accurate depiction of your engaged vs unengaged members, but why is one member engaged while the other isn’t? To determine this, you must go one layer deeper and begin sorting for common attributes among your members. For instance, you might find that female members who have an average five years of industry experience are among your most engaged demographics. This could signal to you that you should place more marketing resources toward reaching this kind of prospective member. Or perhaps you discover that once members reach the director level or above in their careers they stop renewing their memberships — an indication that you’re not offering enough value to more senior level people.

What actions will you take?

As you can see from the examples above, analyzing the data is not enough. I believe that you should always be collecting, analyzing, and acting on your data. You’d be surprised by how often associations will produce regular reports to pass around to senior leadership at their annual meetings without actually acting on any of the data contained within those reports. With all the measurement tools at their disposal, associations should be constantly making and testing hypotheses as to what will drive deeper, more meaningful membership engagement, improve retention, increase market share, and/or give your Net Promoter Score a bump. You should also be using data to determine which programs should receive funding. Doing so is difficult because it means constantly challenging the status quo within the organization, but if we want to claim we’re facing a “data revolution” then we need to be willing to take real action based on the data we’re collecting. A million graphs and charts won’t save us, it’s what we do with those charts that actually matters.