By Guest Blogger:

Emma Thompson, Director

Ashridge Communications



A full member survey is one way of engaging members and offering the whole membership an opportunity to give you their views.   Other methods of seeking member opinion and feedback are used, however regular full surveys are conducted by around three quarters of membership organisations (Member Engagement Survey 2017).

Finding out what… and a bit of how

Surveys are predominantly quantitative, providing you with the numbers that validate your plans, giving you direction for your next product development or enabling you to track progress using carefully calculated metrics. A survey may contain some open questions, asking your audience to offer alternative responses, explain the reasoning behind the rating they have given or inviting them to comment freely about what they think or need from the organisation.

If you have CRM or other systems to monitor members’ CPD logging, event attendance, committee involvement, election voting, communications preferences –  as well as renewals, upgrades and payment of fees – you might not need to ask your members about these things in a survey: you already have the data that tells you what they do.

Investigating how and establishing why

Using surveys, CRM and other data, we can establish what stakeholders do, when they do it, some of the how and a little of the why.  Now this is where qualitative research comes in: qualitative insight is essential to help you understand the detail of how and the reasons why audiences exhibit the observed behaviours and attitudes. How they use your services; why they might consider your competitors instead; why an online training course works better for them than a trip to the city; how you could help them day-to-day or progress their career.

There are many ways of gathering the deeper knowledge and understanding you need. And with the rise in availability of data and technology, there is discussion and debate over what constitutes quantitative and qualitative methodology.

Traditionally, commonly used qualitative approaches are discussion or focus groups and interviews – either face to face or by phone. A small number of individuals with characteristics that match the requirements of the insight are selected to participate.

Using external moderators and interviewers can bring independence and clarity to the process, avoiding any bias that organisation staff may unintentionally introduce.  But good insight can also be gathered in-house using simple methods, such as asking staff to call a sample of new joiners, upgraders or lapsers on a regular basis with a straightforward question set.

Which comes first: the quant or the qual…?

Sometimes the quantitative survey comes first, and is followed by a focused qualitative study to explore the details behind the numbers.  Other times, some qualitative insight is needed upfront, to understand a situation from the members’ point of view, and help you draft an appropriate survey question.  Ask a small panel then put the possibilities they identify to the whole membership in the next survey to see which of the given responses resonate most with different segments of members.

A quantitative member survey and other captured data will provide you with numbers, measurement and a vast array of information about what your target audiences do.  And careful question design and analysis will enable you to establish some of the motivations.  By gathering more detailed insight through qualitative research, you’re not only obtaining a richer understanding of motivations and reasons why, you’re also actively demonstrating the organisation’s interest in its members’ points of view and working more collaboratively – which in itself brings huge benefits.

Ashridge Communications offers expert research services & trusted consultancy to the membership sector, bringing fresh thinking to help your membership body thrive – with insight, ideas & strategic solutions delivered by membership specialists, aligned to your goals.