What Your Members Value

What Your Members Value

The conventional wisdom among association managers is membership and revenue grows when value is provided and when important professional, and sometimes personal, needs are well-served. “Value” is so predominant that it spurs daily conversations on and across all staff levels and functions in associations regarding what and how to provide value to member and non-member stakeholders. As trusted advisors, McKinley consultants earnestly participate in these discussions, and recently conducted a year-long research effort to refresh and refocus the association community’s understanding of what members and non-members truly value.

McKinley partnered with Survey Sampling International (SSI), a global survey sample provider, to survey more than 1,600 working professionals in the United States about their careers, their membership affiliations and the benefits they value. Importantly, survey respondents were sampled and statistically weighted to reflect the demographic composition of the U.S. Results were later validated with a small sample provided by the American Society of Civil Engineers, a partner in the research effort.

Respondents were asked to compare 16 tangible benefits in a series of exercises. Each tested benefit was selected based on popularity among associations or the potential to be offered by most associations with little or modest additional effort. Since the respondent pool included both members and non-members of associations, McKinley was able to not only identify what working professionals value and need, but also how those tend to differ depending on one’s membership status.

The 16 benefits tested broadly represent four main focus areas typically found among associations:

  • Practical advice
  • Good-of-the-order benefits
  • Career-oriented benefits
  • News and trends

In doing so, McKinley pinpointed not only the value that each individual benefit provides to professionals, but also the importance of each category of benefit. For example, do good-of-the-order benefits, such as “ethical standards,” truly drive membership, or are career-oriented services more important?

The results of the survey are illustrated below (benefits are abbreviated). Overwhelmingly, working professionals identified practical benefits as the most crucial and valuable to them personally. For instance, “expert advice from seasoned professionals to help you figure out challenges in your work” scored a 100 (out of a possible 100 score) on the benefits scale. Since each score is based on a metric scale, “expert advice” is literally four times more important to the typical working professional than “live online presentations on topics related to (respondents) work,” for example.


Interestingly, when association managers were later surveyed as part of the project, they most commonly responded that live online presentations were the most valuable out of the set of options—perhaps suggesting that being in-tune with today’s professionals’ needs is more difficult than we believe. As well, when analyzed according to the four main focus areas, results show that practical advice and career benefits tend to be the most valued professional benefits:


Check out a recent interview with Patrick and Curtis Nunley of ASCE on Personify Nation.

Please contact Patrick Glaser for more information on the study including a detailed description of results and a copy of the benefits simulator that you can use to test the different benefits included in the research. The benefits simulator allows you to examine differences between members and non-members, different age groups and even across genders.