The Association’s Most Valuable Asset
This blog, written by MultiView’s Vice President of Partnerships, Chris Mazzon, originally appeared in Association TRENDS.
What’s the most valuable asset your association has? If you said members, you’re close. It’s actually their data.
What makes Amazon, Facebook and Google so valuable? It’s not that they sell a lot of things, connect a bunch of friends or get a lot of search traffic. They certainly do those things, but what makes them so valuable is the data they own.
You’ve probably heard someone say, “Data is the new oil.” There are, indeed, some useful parallels to the rise of oil and data as commodities, as explored in this 2017 article in The Economist that declared, “The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data.” This is great news for associations, which are (or at least should be) awash in data about their members. In fact, some organizations may know more about their members than the aforementioned tech giants that have become some of the most valuable entities on earth thanks to that kind of information.
Despite all the data associations have access to, there are still missed opportunities. Many of these stem from shortcomings in data gathering, while others result from gaps in data governance. Though your association’s data may not turn it into one of the biggest organizations in the world, there are plenty of reasons put data at the forefront of your strategic and operational thinking.
Useful analysis of data can help all the teams across your association – from membership to communications, from events to education – uncover insights that weren’t possible prior to the advent of digital recordkeeping. Logically, the more data you collect about members, the better your chances to provide them the membership experience they’re looking for when they send over that dues payment.
A robust database allows you to segment membership, which in turns opens the door to better and more precise targeting and personalized communications. As importantly as targeting members based on what they might want, you can avoid overcommunicating or annoying them by communications they won’t want.
Detailed data can also unveil trends within your organization. What events are influencing recruitment or retention? Which activities don’t justify their investment of resources? How much do certain members or vendors contribute to the overall big picture through sponsorships or donations?
It’s not that data hasn’t always been used by associations. But with today’s computational capabilities, it’s important that data be woven into the fabric of the organizational culture – and that the opportunity to gather data should be considered at almost any touchpoint with members.
The Importance of Governance
A lot of data is great, but remember, the more data you have, the more maintenance it will require. That means being diligent about keeping it clean. For an association just starting to tap the power of all its data, it’s imperative to assess what information you have before you can start dictating objectives for using it. In fact, understanding your ultimate objectives is prerequisite for any organization in order to determine what data you need from members.
It’s also vital that your departments don’t work in silos with their own datasets. This approach is the breeding ground for inaccurate, incomplete, conflicting and detrimental data. Having all your data in one place is ideal, but not always feasible. That’s where diligent governance must come in, to develop systems that connect and communicate. Effort upfront to ensure this will save migraines later.
When to Ask and What to Ask For
If your past efforts for gathering data begin and end at registration, with basic information such as name, address and company all you accrue, you’re leaving far too much value on the table. Having certain strategic objectives already laid out allows you to determine what information is necessary to meet those objectives, but an easy cliché to remember when it comes to gather data is that quality beats quantity.
Asking for too much data could backfire, causing frustrated members and leaving gaps where they failed to complete the process. Too little data, of course, fails to meet your objectives. Review your data entry forms to make sure you’re not requesting needless details.
Also consider which forms ask for what information. Renewal is a good example. Yes, you already gathered some basic information about the member when he/she joined. But as we know, jobs change, addresses change. Don’t assume the same data from registration is still relevant. Ask for updated data at regular intervals to maintain its accuracy.
You can also use other touchpoints to add and supplement member data. Event registrations are a perfect time to gather information you may not have received during onboarding or renewal. Find these opportunities throughout the membership journey to keep your data profiles robust and accurate.
While specific objectives may dictate more particular information, a basic set of details on each member represents a good place to start. You should always be able to answer a few basic questions about every member, such as: How long has he/she been a member? Has he/she ever served on the board? When did they last attend one of your meetings or events? Who is this person’s employer? Have they recruited other members to your organization?
There are plenty more relevant questions, as well, and thinking through them is a worthy exercise to help understand what information you’ll want to ask from members.
Easing Member Fears
There’s a simple truth about data, which is that the more people understand about how you’ll use it, the more willing they are to give it to you. That’s certainly the case with membership.
We understand the balance of making registration easy for members with the fear that a lengthy and cumbersome registration process could dissuade some members. But if members understand how providing this information will benefit them, be that through better, more personalized experiences or more meaningful content, they’ll be far more willing to accommodate. Inaccurate and incomplete data will ultimately jeopardize relationships with your members and cause them to lose confidence in the organization.
Privacy is also a major concern, which is why it’s also imperative that you instill trust in your members that their data is safe. Any time you request data, be sure to stress your dedication to cybersecurity.
Data and being data-driven isn’t necessarily a new concept for membership organizations. But just as Amazon and Facebook have made it the foundation of their platforms, associations need to do likewise. It’s no longer adequate to consider data only as a useful tool, but to champion data as the organization’s most valuable resource – because it is.