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Are You Measuring What Matters to Grow Revenue?

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The dollars your association takes in are the obvious measure of revenue success. But on your way to growth, what data should you be watching? Start by identifying meaningful numbers around your strategic goals.

Associations tend to gather a lot of data, but they don’t always consider how to segment or combine it to generate meaningful key performance indicators (KPIs), says Lynda Carlisle, partner at the communications consultancy CS-Effect. Silos are often the culprit and can prevent associations from building an effective engagement and revenue plan.

“You may have membership data on renewals or lapsed membership that the CFO alone is looking at from a revenue standpoint,” Carlisle said. “But those numbers can help the organization identify what they need to create a communications strategy and messaging that will resonate with a member.”

A focused dive into member behavior has helped the American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians identify shortfalls in event attendance among particular segments and then develop methods to better attract them to ACOFP events. “We’ve expanded our KPIs to look at registration for member segments that are the future of the profession,” said ACOFP Executive Director Bob Moore, CAE.

The association has offered free conference registration for those members, which has doubled student engagement. It also monitors a group of nonmember attendees that it offered memberships to in 2019. “We have tracked this cohort and have been able to maintain just under half of these physicians since,” he said.

Any meaningful work around KPIs should begin with a discussion of what strategic goals the association is trying to meet, says Megan Cruz, CAE, practice director at McKinley Advisors.

“The organization should be defining the problems that they’re trying to solve, and the data they’re collecting should be providing insight into the effectiveness of the organization at solving those problems,” she said. “Before data collection can start, you should have a thorough, achievable, and measurable operations plan.”

That plan is particularly important with new products. When prototyping a new idea, she says, associations should monitor engagement with it to plan speedier adjustments . “We believe in the minimum viable product approach—looking into what is the most solid product you can build with the fewest features,” Cruz said. “The benefit there is that you can test that pilot product and you can adapt it based on actual performance.”

The organization should be defining the problems that they’re trying to solve.— Megan Cruz, CAE, McKinley Advisors

Tracking Engagement for Growth

Engagement metrics are central to efforts at the Society of Women Engineers to diversify membership. “We look not only at our [overall] net promoter score for the organization, but the net promoter score for our membership within the United States versus most of the world, or the net promoter score across different ethnic groups or by gender identification,” said SWE Deputy Executive Director Honna George. “Our overall net promoter score in the aggregate is strong, but that doesn’t help us identify areas of growth or areas for growth for key member segments.”

To evaluate engagement and growth potential in specific areas, the SWE team is watching retention rates and event attendance by cohort. It’s also paying attention to metrics related to major decision points for members, such as the conversion rate between high school prospects and college-age first-year members. And because diversity at associations often hinges on people feeling welcome in the organization, SWE measures the sense of belonging its members feel (or don’t).

“Belonging is more subjective, but we ask it consistently across several different areas,” George said.

She adds that for an organization to draw meaningful conclusions from its data, it needs to establish consistent terms for KPIs across departments and agree on definitions and usages. This prevents different stakeholders from cutting numbers differently to serve their own goals.

“We’ve standardized it—here’s the data, here’s the metrics we’re pulling, here’s when it’s pulled, here’s when it’s communicated,” George said. “Everybody has a single point of truth, and there aren’t alternative narratives.”

Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel.

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