Associations need to conduct research on a regular basis throughout the operational year. There are many reasons for this, such as measuring the effectiveness of products and services and identifying areas where new services can be offered to association members. An association needs to ensure that it is constantly evaluating both its performance, and the member’s perception of the value the association is providing in return for their membership.

As an association evolves, leadership needs to make decisions regarding the addition of services or programs or an elimination of programs that have become obsolete. Research provides association leaders with the information needed to make decisions that are data driven, and this eliminates guesswork and adds more credibility to decisions.

Research skills are critical for association leaders to ensure that the association is operating as a high performing association and providing value to its members. For more information on high performance associations, please read my past blog article.

Types of Research for Association Management

There are two main categories of research: primary and secondary. In this article, primary research will be categorized as any research you as an association leader collect yourself. This would include data collected from surveys, interviews, focus groups etc. Secondary research uses data that already exists, i.e. reports, white papers, statistics etc.

In this article I focus on primary research, as this is a task that association leaders should take seriously to maintain two-way communication with association members. For more on maintaining communication with members, read my colleague’s blog article on surveying association members.

There are two main types of primary research:

  • Qualitative
  • Quantitative

Qualitative Research

Qualitative research utilizes the procuring of member’s opinions, behaviours and impressions. This type of research must be interactive so association members can create an environment where members will share their opinions. This can be achieved in a personal interview setting, in focus groups or through observation. This research can be done in neutral environments and should be every interactive to gather verbal and non-verbal feedback.

It is important for an association leader to use this personalized approach, as it helps to create a relationship with members that proves that their needs are valued and taken into consideration. It also creates the perception that these members can contact the association leader to speak about any issues that may arise and provide feedback on positive outcomes the association is achieving. Two-way communication within an association contributes significantly to the association’s performance.

Members will also receive value from the association because the association leader is proving that their opinions are important and placing value in the information found in these informal discussions. The association will receive first-hand information that can provide valuable information on what the association is offering, and what members would like to receive from the association.

One drawback with this type of research is that there is a lack of ability to validate the information being provided, and the data being garnered from these meetings.

Quantitative Research

Quantitative research requires the collection of data for the purpose of ranking and to produce significant results. The most common examples of quantitative research in associations is evaluations, surveys and questionnaires.

This type of research is the most common in associations as it can reach all members electronically and can provide clear precise data. It typically doesn’t take long to create and send out these types of research. There are many software options available that are free or low-cost that create data reports that can be used by the association leader.

The biggest issue in quantitative research is trying to achieve a high return of these surveys. However, an unhappy member is more likely to complete a survey, which will help the association make improvements for future programs.

Members are trained to expect surveys after each educational event, and high performing associations should be sending member satisfaction survey to their members at least once a year to ensure the satisfaction of members.

Combining Quantitative & Quantitative Research Findings

For associations to achieve the most relevant and useful information, a combination of qualitative and quantitative research should be performed by an association. It is important to combine statistical data with personal opinions.

Association leaders need to take the time to understand the membership. Engaging in personal conversations and asking questions to the members will provide valuable information. Within these conversations more questions can be asked to dig deeper into the topics to find the most relevant information. Combining this information with statistical data will enable the association to have the most comprehensive information to make decisions regarding the services that association offers to its members.