Skip to content
May 1, 2019

What Top-Performing Organizations Have in Common

Associations in the process of restructuring and advancing their missions often want to know what leading member organizations are doing and what sets them up for success. They are usually searching for something attainable – potential best practices they can mirror within their own organizations.

After decades of working with top-performing associations spanning across sectors, McKinley’s researchers and consultants set out to discover common practices and themes that correlate with consistently high member satisfaction and meaningful impact on the profession or industry.

To do this, we studied 11 successful organizations based on three key performance indicators (KPIs):

  1. Member satisfaction
  2. The value members receive compared to the cost of dues
  3. Net Promoter Score®

As promised, we recently released the results of the study in our latest report, The DNA of Top-Performing Member Organizations, in hopes that the insights would inspire other organizations. Our findings revealed three common characteristics:

In addition to these top priorities, we discovered a number of innovative ideas and perspectives within the participating organizations.

Relationships and collaboration

Across all 11 interviews, participants stressed the importance of cultivating a healthy relationship with board members to foster trust and drive success. They also underscored the impact that strong relationships with volunteer leaders and staff has on collaboration, emphasizing the need to promote critical conversations and support cohesive decisions.

Heather Hoerle“When you have a diverse team helping deepen and enrich conversations, you make good decisions.”

– Heather Hoerle, executive director and CEO, The Enrollment Management Association (EMA)

Setting a strategy

Six of the 11 organizations cited strategic planning as one of the most important steps to ensuring success, noting that effective planning puts intentionality in their practices. The results show greater impact, stronger organizational commitment and effective decision making.

Scott Artman“When I came on, we developed a longer-term strategy that focused on the members and where we wanted to go with the organization. Our strategy map relates to how it betters members and staff — how it furthers the organization as a result. Staff get excited about it.”

– Scott Artman, CPA, CGMA, executive director, National Association of Tax Professionals (NATP)

Scenario forecasting and planning

As a result of the Great Recession 10 years ago, many associations have prioritized long-term forecasting as a measure to navigate the uncertainty of the future. For the participants, this helps lead to intentional growth and increased likelihood of future success no matter the circumstances.

Karin Nelson Jaros“When you look forward five or 10 years, it might look very different so we ask ourselves, ‘how can we take advantage of the momentum we have right now?”


– Karin Nelson Jaros, director of membership, The Morton Arboretum.

Looking toward the future

Another commonality each successful organization shared is the ability of leadership to acknowledge setbacks and turn them into lessons learned. Some participants cited rushed decision making and lack of data – mistakes that they have translated into learning experiences and advice for their peers.

These participants also know to look ahead and plan for future priorities. In addition to diversity and inclusion, succession planning, content development and delivery, they highlighted the following goals they have in mind for the next one to three years.

The results of the report further explore these areas, serving as a guide for organizations and their visions for the future. Explore more common themes, unique perspectives and priorities you can implement to enrich your organization by downloading the full report today.


More Posts from our Expert Advisors