12 January 2012

Do We REALLY Know What Our Members Need?

For ONCE I was able to participate in #assnchat this week! KiKi was taking the week off, so Nikki Jeske (aka "Affiniscape") hosted. Nikki did a great job, but I thought her closing question was particularly good:
And....there was silence. And this was in the midst of a hoppin' #assnchat. Which I think was really informative. I don't think we know the answer to that question. I think, if most of us association professionals were honest with ourselves, we'd admit that we're so insulated from our members that we don't know what they need. We know what WE THINK they need, but we don't truly know what they think they need.

Of course, that begs the further question: how? How do you - how do I - ensure that meaningful member interaction between large numbers of our members and large percentages of our staff takes place on a regular basis? And how do we capture the knowledge that results?

I don't know the answer to this - but I damn well am going to try to find out.


3 comments:

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

I was discussing this yesterday during a Design Summit I was facilitating. One of the ideas put forth was to create a corps of Needs Ambassadors (needs a better name), a group of volunteers who would in turn go out and have face-to-face and/or telephone conversations with individual members asking a series of open-ended questions and follow-ups.

I remember when an exec I worked with became president of our state association, he and a few other officers did a two-day drive around tour, stopping at various members headquarters and talking about their current efforts, needs, and perceptions of the state association. That same exec encouraged us as staff to always meet in members' HW when they wanted to talk with us so we could observe what they had going on and look for clues about how we might assist.

When I was an exec, I called a few members a week just to connect and tried to have our board do a member call-a-thon for a few hours as part of one of you board members.

Common theme? Outreach, listening, dialogue.

Terry Coatta said...

I completely agree with the idea of getting out and dealing with members 1-1 and face-to-face. But I wouldn't necessarily start with creating a set of ambassadors. Just get out there and do it yourself. Until you have that gut-level intuition about what drives your members, its hard to interpret/accept information that comes back from others. And just doing it yourself doesn't require setting up a process or program, or training, etc. It really is something that you can just go do tomorrow if you want.

Also, I think that getting good feedback from members is amenable to the virtuous circle effect. Once you have established some good relationships with members, its easier to get your staff to do it as well. Once you have members who know that they are being listened to, they'll help you connect with other members. Or they'll be happy to become the type of ambassadors you talk about.

Elizabeth Weaver Engel, CAE said...

Thanks for the great comments, Terry and Jeffrey. Lowell Aplebaum has also posted a fantastic response over at Association 141+.