New Survey Highlights Challenges Facing Small-Membership Associations

The survey of organizations with fewer than 500 members revealed positive membership trends but found ongoing concern about delivering member value.

The priorities and challenges of small-membership associations aren’t terribly different from the priorities and challenges of large-membership groups, according to the findings of a new survey released this week.

The annual Small Membership Survey Report [PDF], by Toronto-based software company Wild Apricot, identified the same top three priorities reported in last year’s survey: Small-membership organizations are most concerned about increasing membership, increasing member engagement, and demonstrating member value. Among the challenges that respondents said they face were attracting and engaging millennials and getting their boards and members to adopt new technologies.

The survey gathered input from 487 organizations that represent fewer than 500 members and have operating budgets of less than $500,000. The findings provide a glimpse into the many facets of running a small-membership organization, including information about membership growth, recruitment and retention, membership models, and finances.

“We realized that the staff of these small organizations often work in isolation, without the ability to share information, best practices, and challenges with their peers as many of the larger, more established associations do,” Wild Apricot founder Dmitry Buterin said in a statement. “Our survey report offers an opportunity to benchmark against other similar organizations in terms of budgets, membership recruitment, and retention strategies and more. It also offers a forum for small membership organizations to share common questions and concerns.”

Although the survey identified the same top three priorities in 2014 as in 2013, it found differences as well. “When we looked at the full spectrum of priorities this year, ‘finding new sources of revenue’ was only a top priority for 3.9 percent versus 11.5 percent in 2013, which we hope indicates a stronger financial outlook,” the report said.

Other key findings:

  • 55 percent of respondents said their organizations are run by volunteer leaders exclusively. Another 50 percent reported that their boards have eight or more directors, and 24 percent have between six and eight.
  • More small associations saw membership gains. Just over 59 percent reported an increase in membership, up from 43 percent in 2013; 21 percent said membership stayed the same, down from 41 percent last year; and 15 percent said membership decreased, up slightly from 12 percent in 2013.
  • Membership dues, cited as the most critical source of income by 91 percent of those surveyed, made up over 90 percent of the organizations’ revenue.


Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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