Association performance measurement is a critical issue overlooked by many associations and other not-for-profit organizations. It is not unheard of to keep pushing forward until the wheels come off the cart no matter how the organization's wellness suffers. Many organizations are too focused on short-term goals to "waste" time and resources on fixing things before it is too late.
To begin addressing this problem, we offer a brief series of starter steps to help you conduct an association performance measurement check up. Doing so can help reveal the means to benchmark your organization's pros and cons before its wellness suffers.
Step 1: Association Performance Measurement Begins at the Top
Knowing how things can go wrong begins with understanding association governance. This requires benchmarking the governance processes as they move towards success (or failure.)
Any analysis or evaluation process starts with examining the association's framework. How are decisions made? How are they passed down from board to staff and/or other volunteers?
Also, identify your organization's characteristics that impede effective association governance. Do these features interfere with how the necessary decisions are being made or do they inhibit that information from being transmitted? Both?
Association performance measurement at this initial step then becomes relatively simple. Track the time required by the board and management to make decisions. Also, track how long the results need to become operational. This data is then compared with what are considered to be acceptable benchmarks.
Defining these benchmarks means determining an optimal window for decision turnaround. These benchmarks can be incredibly general or very specific to represent the differences between particular tasks. Your organization will need to decide what fits them best.
Once your benchmarks are determined, begin tracking data on decision making and implementation. This allows inefficiencies, logjams, and errors (or even ineptitude) to be identified and dealt with.
Step 2: Determining Personnel Quality
Associations and other not-for-profit organizations can only ever be as good as the people working for them. This includes board members and staff.
If the board is ineffective, it will not pass clear directives and motivation along to the staff and other volunteers. This will leave catastrophic gaps in policies and strategies. Also, governance will likely become muddied and inefficient.
If the staff is ineffective, it cannot properly implement policy and conduct operations. Key aspects of management will fail (e.g., pushing revenue streams) and membership will drop off.
Benchmarking association performance measurement in this regard can be simple. Assess which tasks are getting done, how long they are taking, and qualify success based on their objectives. However, successful or not, are the processes (and their management) are causing issues such as low morale or membership dissatisfaction?
A formal evaluation process among boards, CEOs, staff, and even membership is key to benchmarking success in this area. This should include a section on satisfaction that goes beyond objective metrics. This is needed to determine if success is coming at an unexpected cost.
Step 3: Membership Must Have Value
A healthy organization must offer some value to its membership. Just what this value may be is subjective. Value can represent direct benefits such as access to group insurance or discounts, for example. It can also be less tangible, such as networking opportunities, the chance to help others, and access to information protected by association gatekeepers. Regardless, this value must be measurable.
Value does not mean the same thing to everyone, however. Members may not define value by the same terms as does the organization. Members will often let you know when they believe value is missing even if you do not agree. This can manifest as complaints and comments, or memberships not being renewed.Do not wait until the negative feedback piles up before acting. Begin analyzing and measuring your membership value before it becomes a problem. Value delivered online can perhaps most easily be measured with an analytics platform. Getting full and effective use of analytical data requires some training, but some rudimentary benchmarks can be monitored. For example:
- Measurement: Site traffic is low. Meaning: Your traffic generation strategy is floundering.
- Measurement: Lots of pageviews but a high bounce rate. Meaning: You have trouble retaining online visitors.
- Measurement: A low average time on page for a part of your website you expect people to spend time with. Meaning: Your content or on-site function is not sufficiently engaging.
- Measurement: Traffic behaviour is not flowing through to your desired destinations. Meaning: Your call to actions are either ineffective or unclear.
Beyond your website, there are some ways to track and measure ROI on membership value. Open and click-through rates on email blasts and newsletters, for instance. Attendance rates at events. Direct purchases. However, all of these require direct interactions to measure, so what happens if value is not as tangible? You need some means to probe your membership to otherwise measure their perception of value.
Membership surveys, polls, and feedback channels are all ideal for measuring value that is not directly tied to a tangible goal. This covers things such as overall satisfaction with membership -- how members perceive your organization. Is your organization there to help or is it merely looking to sell to its members?
Of course, there is a lot more to a careful association performance measurement and benchmarking process. These three starter steps will point you in the right direction to a full check-up, and the CSAE offers some resources to help you do so.
Learn About Association Performance Measurement and More …
Written by Richard Paton, What Makes an Effective Association: Benchmarking for Performance is a helpful, informative read to take association performance benchmarking to the next level.
Also see The ROI of Membership: Today's Missing Link for Explosive Growth by Ed Rigsbee, CAE, to discover methods for boosting membership, including by improving its deliverable value.