Two C-level executives share how their associations have embraced research to shape decisions and drive changes—and how their organizations and members have benefited or will benefit as a result.
Data has always grounded association decision-making. But now it is moving beyond spreadsheets, trends, and projections, and into the realm of storytelling, where boards, staff, members, and communities can discover a bigger picture and respond to it. Here is a look at two of those stories.
Using Data to Determine a Profession’s Future
Like many organizations, The American Institute of Architects New York State developed its previous strategic plans by working with an instinctive board and facilitators. However, initial conversations around the 2021 strategic planning session took on a different tone.
Moving through the first months of the pandemic, AIA New York State was questioning everything it did and how it did it, looking for answers to questions. The staff and leadership felt it was imperative to do an assessment of the educational, professional development, and legislative needs of the members that was based on data coming directly from the membership. They were committed to create a member survey to uncover those needs and to use the results as a basis for their new strategic plan. This commitment was not only philosophical but also carried a significant financial investment for the future.
The group also knew it needed to work with an outside partner to get this work done. So, it developed an RFP that narrowed down the project and the results they were looking to achieve. After speaking with outside vendors, as well as academic institutions, Siena College Research Institute—which has a national reputation for its polling work—was selected.
Using pre-planning questions as a starting point, AIA New York State worked with Siena to make sure they had the terminology correct and did a test survey to a sample group of members. They also limited the number of questions asked, forcing them to think strategically and keep in mind those questions that would help implement change and develop programming.
After the test survey, the group rolled it out to the full membership of 9,000-plus in April 2020. While the association was concerned about response due to the pandemic and other factors, it ended up receiving 1,400 responses, providing a viable instrument to move ahead developing organizational direction and programming that members valued. As a result, the group went into its October strategic planning session armed with data that the board would use to determine an incredible future for the architecture profession in New York State.
Tracking Young Members for the Future
More than 114 years ago, students at the University of Maryland School of Dental Medicine started the Alpha Omega Dental Society (AO). Young leaders who advance through the membership while moving through their careers have shaped the culture and direction of the organization since 1907. Today, the membership includes 800-plus dental students from 30 North American, British, and Israeli chapters.
Executive Director Heidi Weber, CAE, has monitored 200-plus dental school graduates every spring through an in-house tracking program that identifies where graduates are accepted or where they will practice and communicates with local chapters to ensure the connective tissue between the new resident, a new potential city, and the organization is intact through the transition to dental residency. Residencies usually last one year or up to five, making retaining the residents as members in this period between school and profession a top priority for both the organization and the board.
Repurposing the data inspired the Residency Network Project, which connects dental students seeking more concentrated information about residency programs with current or resident AO members. Since residency is time, financial, and cultural investment, dental students want to learn more from individuals who have first-hand knowledge.
This allows AO to show young members the value the organization provides during their educational career. In addition, chapters report an average 90 percent retention rate of resident members when they are connected to local chapters. The expanding story of AO fosters a culture where young members are networking and mentoring one another, which builds a data portfolio to share with the dental community.
How to Develop Next-Level Data Visualization
If your association is looking to become more adept at letting the data tell its tale and how it can apply to a given goal or objective, the DelCor Technology Solutions team recommends expanding your thinking and seeking opportunities to refresh your data set that may change the picture. For example, Strategic Consultants Gretchen Steenstra and Tobin Conley suggest adding unstructured data such as chat during virtual sessions to identify patterns that may lead to new or updated content. Or update member profile data, such as the infamous “area of interest,” based on behavior.
By embracing data, associations will find themselves able to make better decisions that leads to higher member satisfaction and a stronger organizational culture and outcomes.
April 6, 2021By: Georgi Ann Bailey, CAE and Heidi Weber, CAE