Find More Meaning in Your Metrics

By / Sep 9, 2015 (iStock/Thinkstock)

In baseball, “Wins Above Replacement” has become a powerful metric for connecting player performance to teams’ missions: winning games. Associations have missions, too, but can their membership metrics make the same leap?

Back in July, we took a look at how the “moneyball” strategy in baseball was being felt in ticket offices of Major League Baseball clubs and what associations could learn from it for their own “ticket” (i.e., membership) sales. But I didn’t say much about what “moneyball” means, other than to call it a “data-inclined business strategy.”

One definining quality of “sabermetrics,” however, shows how associations could take their own membership metrics to new levels.

Perhaps the most widely used new statistic to arise from baseball’s sabermetric revolution is Wins Above Replacement (WAR). It’s a composite measurement of a lot of other player stats that quantifies “how much better a player is than what a team would typically have to replace that player,” according to’s WAR explainer. What’s so elegant and effective about WAR is that it makes the leap from a mishmash of statistics like batting average, on-base percentage, runs batted in, and fielding percentage to their impact on a team’s win-loss record, because, as Baseball-Reference puts it, “ultimately, baseball teams are interested in wins and losses, and so is WAR.”

Can you calculate a ratio of how many website visits it takes before someone is inclined to volunteer or donate to your organization?

You could say that winning games, and winning World Series trophies, is the mission of every baseball team. WAR helps a team understand how an individual player gets it closer to that goal.

Of course, associations have missions too. (Insert yours here.) That’s why Shomari McCrimons, MBA, and VJ Mayor, CAE, are encouraging associations to dig deeper into their metrics to uncover more meaning.

“Historically associations have gauged their annual success based on the number of members they have from year to year and that fluctuation. I view that as looking at total home runs, going back to the baseball stats. Yeah, it’s great if you have more home runs, but it’s really just a small sample or a specific statistic but doesn’t get to the larger extent of [success],” says Mayor, senior director of communications at the National Confectioners Association. “When were those home runs hit? Were they hit in game-winning or game-tying situations?”

Mayor and McCrimons, president of Philanthropy Works, shared these ideas with attendees at the 2015 ASAE Marketing, Membership & Communications Conference in June, in a Learning Lab titled “Memberball: Increasing Member Engagement and Satisfaction Through Innovative Data Analysis.”

McCrimons equates traditional baseball metrics like batting average or earned run average with common “vanity metrics” that associations track, like website visits or Facebook likes. “We think those types of metrics are a good start, but we really try to look at the data that you collect, what does it really mean?” he says. “For instance, with the unique visitors to a website, great metric, but what you’re really trying to see is can you calculate a ratio of how many visits [it takes] before someone is inclined to volunteer or donate to your organization? What pages are they looking to, the people that are actually doing the donations? What is capturing their attention to volunteer?”

In other words, how do your membership metrics translate into progress toward a mission? How many more “wins” does your association get by adding 1,000 new members?

To get there, McCrimons and Mayor recommend per-member metrics, rather than just aggregate measurements: “We want to make sure we don’t forget about the guy who’s actually contributing in other ways outside the very large metrics that we gather around event attendance and donations,” McCrimons says. They also urge associations to conduct more in-depth analysis such as Social Return on Investment (SROI).

In their Learning Lab, they cited the example of the Mentoring Partnership of Minnesota, which commissioned research that found that every $1 invested in youth mentoring resulted in $2.72 of social value through improved school attendance and performance, better health, and reduced need for social services. McCrimons says associations should strive to understand their own results in this way.

Associations “can say we impacted this many kids, we impacted this many homeless, we impacted this many teachers—whomever or whatever the population you work with,” he says. While the number “impacted” can be easily quantified, the quantitative value of the impact would be, well, more impactful. “That’s what the social return on investment tries to do. What is the social impact of one less homeless person, one more young person who’s engaged in sports, or one less person who’s a victim of domestic abuse?”

SROI seems tailor-made for philanthropic nonprofits, but it isn’t hard to see how trade associations and professional societies could adapt it to their environments to ask the same questions. For example:

  • What is the increased earning power of a person with your association’s certification?
  • What is the increased revenue of an organization that hires a person with your certification?
  • For each new member that joins, what is the increase in the collective value of belonging to the association’s community?
  • For each new member, how much are professional standards in your industry improved?

You get the idea. These aren’t difficult questions to come up with, though answering them may be more complicated. (The Mentoring Partnership of Minnesota worked with a research firm and the University of Minnesota for its SROI study.)

Ed Rigsbee, CSP, CAE, a speaker and association membership consultant, has long recommended that associations quantify the ROI of membership (and he wrote a book about it), though mainly with the member in mind. His approach could be adapted for quantifying the association’s impact more broadly, as well.

However you go about it, thinking like a baseball team might help: How does improving performance in one specific regard help you “win” more progress toward your mission? “Associations have to start thinking with the end in mind when they go out and collect data,” McCrimons says.

How does your association equate key metrics with its mission? Do you have a formula for converting membership numbers to “wins”? Have you experimented with measuring social return on investment? Share your thoughts and experience in the comments.

Joe Rominiecki

Joe Rominiecki, manager of communications at the Entomological Society of America, is a former senior editor at Associations Now. More »


Leave a Comment