Research: The Growing Gap Between Leaders and Their Members

Researcher Gary W. Toyn has long investigated the challenges faced by organizations across the membership spectrum. In this study, Gary turns his attention to the central question of member expectations - and how recent data suggests a growing perception gap among the membership organizations that serve them.

At Access, we frequently consult with clients and prospective clients who are seeking to boost member engagement and retention. In the course of those interactions we see a surprising gap between organizational leaders and their members. Frequently, the misalignment that exists is due to a lack of understanding of what today’s members really want from their affiliation.

In many cases, leaders of organizations have never asked members what they need or want, nor have they asked what types of services and benefits members expect. Some leaders rely on guesswork or assumptions in identifying their member’s needs, and others simply ignore member feedback altogether.  We see this happen far too often.

This anecdotal evidence suggested there was enough evidence to warrant a full-scale study into this gap we see between leaders and members. We wanted to know if our observations are limited to our unique role as a solution for lackluster member engagement, or if the phenomenon we see reflects a wider, more systemic issue among all membership/constituent based organizations.

The results of our study can be found in a new ebook. It's original purpose is to serve our clients by providing rigorous data to help them better engage their members. But like other studies we’ve published, we've opted to share the results of this new study with all those who have a vested interest in growing their own membership organization.  

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Quick Highlights

Some of the findings of this study include: 

  • How leaders overestimate their understanding of their members by an average of 27%.
  • The rate at which leaders ignore their organization’s value proposition.
  • When it comes to member benefits, a significant gap exists between what members want from an organization, and what leaders offer.
  • The popularity of benefits that help members offset the costs of membership.
  • The rate at which leaders are unaware of how member satisfaction and retention correlate directly to the quality of member benefits.

The ebook also offers remedies to help leaders identify any gap within their own organization. It also provides data-driven strategies to help your organization attract, engage and retain more of your members. 

Click here to get the ebook: Bridging the Leadership/Membership Gap 


Addenda for Trade Associations and Alumni Organizations

Because we have made a strong commitment to serving the unique needs of trade associations/organizations, unions, and alumni groups, additional analysis of the study is also available:

1) Trade Associations and Unions Addendum

For those who run trade associations / organizations and unions, a recent Supreme Court ruling has underscored the urgency related to member recruitment and retention. With that comes the necessity of improving your value proposition. While some associations and unions spend considerable resources on advocacy, it’s often difficult to communicate the value of advocacy efforts when it comes time for members to renew.  Our study reveals the types of benefits that will gain the most traction among your members.

When circumstances outside your control work against you, how do you stem the tide of member attrition? How are other trade associations and unions succeeding in an ever-challenging environment?  

Click here to get free copy of the Ebook + Addendum for Trade Associations and Unions:

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2) Alumni Organizations/Associations Addendum

The study reveals how alumni organizations have the largest gap between leaders and their constituents/members: a whopping 52% difference. It also reveals an interesting (if not troubling) self-assessment of the quality of benefits alumni organizations offer their alumni constituents.

When compared to leaders from all other types of constituent/member-based organizations, (whether dues-paying or not), our results reveal some important insights, and may challenge the way many institutions approach their alumni relations efforts. 

Click here to get the Ebook + Addendum for Alumni Organizations/Associations


About the study/methodology

Access has ongoing relationships with thousands of organizations worldwide, along with millions of rank-and-file members. Consequently, we are uniquely positioned to conduct a simultaneous attitudinal study of both leaders and their members. Some of the groups we surveyed are clients, but most were not.

Our methods relied upon surveys and interviews to help us gather the necessary data. Respondents were from trade and employee associations, unions, non-profit and higher education alumni organizations. Of the 4,000+ responses we received, 53% were leaders, 47% were members.  Overall, our margin of error is a respectable ±2.8%.

Get the results of the study:

Ebook: Bridging the Leadership/Membership Gap

Ebook + Addendum for Trade Associations and Unions

Ebook + Addendum for Alumni Organizations & Associations


Click to get your free ebook

Topics: alumni, membership marketing, alumni benefits, benefits packages, member acquisition, member engagement, membership benefits packages, Membership Organizations, loyalty programs

Written by: Gary Toyn

For 25+ years Gary Toyn has helped organizations large and small improve their constituent/member acquisition, retention and engagement. He's a multi-published author, writer, and researcher.

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