When economic downturns tighten professional development and travel budgets, the in-depth, industry-specific data that helps members make better decisions is one of the most evergreen attractors an association can offer potential (and current) members. In fact, research conducted by the American Society for Association Executives (ASAE) in the years after the 2008 financial crisis found that some of the primary draws that membership organizations offer are research and industry data. The need for association research only continues to escalate.
While investing in quality research is crucial for many associations, it is equally important to have goals and a plan in place for what your organization will do with that research. How will it be packaged and made available to your community? Will it become a unique revenue stream or added value for select member groups? How will you facilitate and maintain the conversation around the industry-critical research topics you’ve investigated? How will your organization’s other departments—from education to development and more—both inform and leverage your findings to make better decisions?
All of these aspects of an association’s research efforts comprise what we call the research ecosystem. Your findings are only as valuable as you make them, and there are many important steps outside the actual conducting of research that can ensure you are providing actionable, marketable, and valuable research for your broader member community.
The Research Ecosystem
- Adopt a structured approach to research
Because most associations do not have dedicated research staff, finding an experienced research partner is a crucial first step in revamping the quality and market value of your research. Working with internal stakeholders and members of the community you serve to understand the goals, gaps in understanding, and important variables to consider in your research can help improve the entire research ecosystem.
- Conduct the Research
Many associations depend on independent third parties, like Vault, to conduct their research and manage the collection of sensitive data. Using an experienced and trusted partner also helps to build confidence among your member community.
- Create an Actionable Report
Consider how to package the research your organization has conducted in a way that helps audiences digest it easily and extract the most relevant or new information that impacts their decision making. Will it be shared online or in print? With interactive data visualizations, more narrative context, and supporting explanations? What suits your member community best?
- Promote Your Findings
How will you share and socialize what you’ve found? Consider the preferred methods of dialogue and engagement in your industry and community, as well as the scale of your findings. If you have important insights to share, but perhaps not an entire day’s worth of conference content, then breakout sessions, webinars, interactive reports, and other visually-engaging presentations can help make your findings more shareable. Finally, productizing your data and specific benchmarking studies can make an attractive added member benefit or a monetized recruiting tool that gives prospects a taste of your organization’s rigor, expertise, and leadership while making them eager for more.
- Evaluate the Effectiveness of Your Research
In order to continually deliver valuable research to your community, understanding what worked and what did not work about a given research project can help to shape future questions and the way you present and promote future findings. Reflection and cross-departmental feedback can help your future research make the best use of organizational resources and better serve its strategic goals.
If you’re ready to dig into a more robust research program that can benefit your membership through 2021 and beyond, let’s discuss how Vault can support your goals. Contact Karen Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.