Tonnis van Dam

How Associations can Influence Participation of Members

Many associations wrongfully assume that member businesses are willing participants which aren’t always the case. We know from experience that some members just don’t want to take out the time to participate. It isn’t that they don’t see value in participating; it is just that they don’t see enough value for them compared to the time invested. Usually, in an industry, it is the topmost businesses who seem less willing to participate. They already see themselves as the proverbial top dogs, and so the assumption is that there is nothing more they can learn from benchmarking.

Associations require participation for benchmarking and most of all from the largest member businesses. The reason perhaps is the fact that the data from those businesses help to set a standard. For instance, if the topmost retail giant, is making a $100 million in sales each month, that is something that smaller or start-up businesses can see as the most they can make. It is a standard that many companies can aspire to. But the top companies don’t always want to share their figures. They may share approximates, or vague stats but that’s just about it. Thankfully associations can take steps to improve if not influence participation in benchmarks.

Don’t Make Sharing Data Time Consuming

Associations’ biggest mistake is sending businesses a long questionnaire. The longer you questionnaire, the longer it takes to answer, and the less motivated businesses are to answer it. Entering data costs time, also, if the questions require researching that’s more time consumed and less of an incentive to participate for businesses.

Sometimes businesses will end up sending the wrong data either consciously or by mistake. The wrong data even sent in by a few companies effect benchmarking results and makes them unusable for everyone. Not to mention the fact that it demotivates the majority of businesses who participated and hoped to gain something from it. The issue is amplified if the reference group is small, especially in niche markets.

The first thing associations will want to do is to align their benchmarks as much as they can to the definitions used by their members. Use definitions that everyone is comfortable with understanding. But even then, clarify what it means before moving forward. Make sure to ask fewer questions, but ones that help get the most useful information. Avoid questions that will take the business time to research and answer. For instance, a business may be able to quickly answer what their quarterly earnings were for this year, but not what they were for five years ago.

In some instances, you will want to add several data points. Having different data points will allow each member to enter data that’s relevant to their definition. When running benchmarks, it is possible to combine several of these data points into a single calculation or narrow them down to just one KPI. Though it will take a bit of work on part of the association.

Tip: A page on an association’s website which lists all the terms and their definitions will be very helpful. It will help those tasked with filling out information to look up terms they may not be entirely familiar with before answering those questions. By doing this, you are leaving no ambiguity.

Benchmarking Frequency Matters

How often do you want to run benchmarks? If you run some data points too often, it can cause members to fatigue because each time they need to provide information. So, the chances of them participating lower each time, or at least participation is hard to predict for the most part. That said some data points require that benchmarks be run each year, though less demanding ones can be run every quarter or even every month.

The critical thing to bear in mind when scheduling these benchmarks, i.e. annual, monthly or quarterly is what your members want? After all, it is them who has to provide all the relevant data for the benchmark. One way to find out is to use the benchmark survey to ask about what frequency they desire.

Generally speaking, you’ll want to run benchmarks that aren’t as demanding more frequently. But they also need to be meaningful, or members will not take an interest. Every benchmark you run and each time you publish those results they should have an impact on the industry and its members.

Does Charging for Benchmarks Lower Participation?

That isn’t always the case in our experience. Associations rightfully want to generate some form of revenue and benchmarking is a great way to offer value in exchange for money. If money isn’t charged for benchmarking, then the funds would have to be sourced from membership fees. That said in some industries putting a price tag on benchmarking can be complex. Not all members can pay and not all want to spend, that’s just the way it is in every industry.

Before you charge for benchmarking it is essential to determine the following:

  • How many members would be willing to pay? Get a percentage value. Ideally, it should be around 80% Though the more members you have participating, the better will be the benchmarking results.
  • What will happen to members who don’t pay for benchmarking? Will they be left out?
  • How will members pay for the benchmarking? Will it be upfront or for the results?
  • If you add levels then what will be the price for each level?
  • Also, if it is possible to get non-members to participate and what will it cost them? Will they be willing to pay slightly more than members?
  • Can you generate enough revenue to make benchmarking profitable? You’ll need to consider all the points above to conclude this point.

When getting money from participants, you have the choice of either offering paid participation or paid reporting. The latter option will get members to enter their data in return for an overview report, but they will have to pay upfront. They can get more reports by paying for each one they are interested in getting.

The paid participation, on the other hand, allows members to pay a subscription fee. You can offer several levels of membership. The price will then differ on the member’s level. Though it may require changing the associations’ membership structure if you currently have just one fixed type membership model.

If the majority of businesses don’t want to pay or can’t spend what’s the next step? Well, associations can always find sponsors. A sponsor can be anyone like a software development company, bank or any other related industry. Obviously, you will have to offer the sponsor something of value in exchange for their sponsorship. However, when making the offer make sure that it isn’t something that infringes on the personal data and other aspects of member businesses.

Most sponsors will want the opportunity to introduce themselves to your members. Some sponsors may also want to be included in your communication regarding benchmarking. However, in no way should you agree to provide member related information like emails, phone numbers, addresses, earning reports, etc.

Important! Some members may feel demotivated when charged directly for benchmarking. If many members think that way, the fee can be incorporated into the membership fee. That way they won’t feel the pinch paying separately.

Add Value to Influence Participation

Associations should add value to boost participation. However, knowing what value to add is important, you always want to add something that’s appreciated by members. In most cases, members will appreciate an expert analysis of the benchmark figures in context to their business type and model. That expert analysis can be done by an in-house expert, or an external consultant can be hired. Either way, it helps to add a great deal of value primarily for business who are having a tough time making sense of all the benchmarking figures.

Note: You may run a survey or a poll to find out what in addition to benchmarking would help businesses the most. That survey can be run online, or it can be done in person. The results of that survey can then be used to come up with a value-added proposition.

Associations Matter

Businesses realize just how important an association is to their success. However, it is up to associations to continuously add value to everything that they offer. Also, going above and beyond of what is expected of them will merit an often-high price commanded by premium grade associations. Motivating members to participate in benchmarks all boils down to what you’re offering them in return. Keep in mind that one business’s value-added offering may not be as valuable for another organisation. Though once you know what motivates businesses it is possible to use that to generate higher participation rates on the whole.

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