Put Small Data to Work for Your Members

Big data holds big promises—including artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the blockchain—you may not be quite ready for that leap into the future. You can still put your data to work by focusing on small-data projects that immediately improve the member experience.

These days, talk of big data is everywhere, especially its potential to power innovations like artificial intelligence, voice-enabled apps, and the blockchain. But when I talk to association professionals about these emerging tech trends, I see one of two reactions: excitement or blank stares.

The fact is that data modernization is an ongoing process to prepare for the future, but not all associations are quite there yet. That doesn’t mean you can’t put your data to good use in smaller ways—a point made this week in a conversation in Collaborate, ASAE’s online member community [member login required].

Michael Hoke, client partner of nonprofits and associations at xScion Solutions, noted that many future technologies are still out of reach for associations without solid policies and procedures for effective data management. “You can’t demand that your organization start using machine learning and expect your bad data to suddenly start producing better and more strategic insights than it does now,” he wrote. (Hoke gave Associations Now permission to quote from his Collaborate comments.)

To get ready for big-data projects, organizations must first be able to organize, clean, and centralize smaller subsets of data, he says—a process that many associations have been undertaking in the lead-up to General Data Protection Regulation enforcement (the deadline, by the way, is this Friday).

Rather than panic that your organization isn’t ready for GDPR or a big-data future, Hoke says it’s more productive to start small, focusing on “small data problems.”

“There are so many new efficiencies and so many opportunities for immediate ROI sitting right there in front of us with our current data sets, some of which can be unlocked with even a minimal amount of effort,” he wrote. “Not only will modernization in this area create immediate results, you will also create buy-in at all levels of the organization for additional investment … the foundation to begin taking advantage of forward-thinking technologies.”

Use Small Data to Boost Retention

For an example of how a small-data project can go to work immediately to serve members, look to the personalization that Jennifer Sims, membership manager for the Association of College Unions International, puts into end-of-year correspondence with ACUI’s institutional members.

Sims sends a year-in-review note, which is becoming a popular way to help members make sense of their engagement with their association. Drawing on information stored in a customer relationship management database, she tells the story of a members’ specific experience with ACUI, highlighting the value of membership for that particular institution before the annual renewal cycle hits.

“The note takes them on a trip down memory lane,” Sims says. “The email is a bulleted list of activities that members from each institution took advantage of” and a lump-sum number detailing how much members saved on discounted items, services, and programs.

Without a centralized database to store the data, this personalized note would be hard to send, Sims says. Her project started two years ago, and it’s a big reason why retention has increased steadily—from about 89 percent in 2016 to 94.6 percent this year.

“We were really excited about the results, and our board recently commended us for this effort,” Sims says. “But more importantly, we’ve had several positive comments from our members. A little bit of data goes a long way.”

Have you focused on a small data recently? How did it help to boost the member experience? Tell us in the comments below.

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Tim Ebner

By Tim Ebner

Tim Ebner is a senior editor for Associations Now. He covers membership, leadership, and governance issues. Email him with story ideas or news tips. MORE

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