Aspiring to be Data Driven

Aspiring to be Data Driven
Forum Magazine cover

In the May 2015 issue of FORUM magazine, published by the Association Forum of Chicagoland, McKinley’s Patrick Glaser, MPA, MA, writes about how associations can maximize the return on research investment to better understand member wants and needs, leverage evidence-based pricing structure, deploy member segmentation strategies, and more. See below for an excerpt from the article “How to Be Data Driven.”

Many associations aspire to be “data-driven.” But what does that mean, exactly? Is your association data-driven because it conducts surveys and focus groups? And what impact does being data-driven have on your members and staff? Are you asking the right questions at the appropriate times to capitalize on insights and avoid survey fatigue? Do staff members have an established protocol to ensure that data collection efforts are consistent and accurate, not redundant and flawed?

Data-driven associations are associations that understand member wants and needs, leverage evidence-based pricing structures, deploy member segmentation strategies and more. Despite great potential, however, these types of research programs can be difficult to design and maintain, particularly when you consider the staff and monetary resources they require. A little planning, therefore, can go a long way toward maximizing return on research investment. Following are data sources at an association’s disposal, pitfalls to avoid and steps to take to become truly “data-driven.”

Data Sources

No consensus exists on what it means to be data driven. The term implies that organizations make decisions based on evidence and information, not hunches. This may be particularly helpful for associations since, in the absence of data, staff and leaders may rely on anecdotal evidence and personal experiences for decision making.

However, personal experiences and opinions may not accurately reflect the pulse of the membership at large. Data-driven associations take a broader view and consider a range of other inputs. Not surprisingly, they typically look to their members, nonmembers and other stakeholders for feedback, and they have a variety of methods to capture that information, including:

  • Direct research with members (e.g., surveys, focus groups, interviews)
  • Website and marketing analytics (e.g., website visits, email campaign statistics)
  • Data available from the association database (e.g., purchasing data, demographics, event and product statistics)
  • Data from other associations (e.g., 990 forms, environmental scans)
  • Social media data and other online forums (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, listservs)
  • Publicly available information about the field (e.g., government sources, published articles)

Many associations have access to database records, website analytics and old survey reports. And even those with sparse data can capture vital information without large expense. Continue reading>>>