Monday, July 8, 2019

Participation Tracking Is Not for the Faint of Heart

We track our members. We don't use face recognition software, metadata, or complicated algorithms. We use an even more diabolical mechanism. Microsoft Excel.

What am I talking about? I'm talking about the sometimes difficult work of maintaining a member participation tracking system in your association. A way of knowing how many and which programs or activities each member is participating in. When done consistently, it provides invaluable information about which members are engaged and which are not, which members are likely to renew and which are not, and which members you should be seeking to engage and which you should not.

I had a meeting this past week where we took a fresh look at our system. It's a surprisingly complicated engine and it was probably due for a tune-up, so the meeting was a good use of our time. As we went through the many dozens of details, I was struck (again) by a really important decision we had to make in setting the system up.

As I said above, the purpose of our tracking system is to understand which members are likely to renew their membership and which members are not. The implied correlation is therefore that participating in programs is aligned with a member's likelihood to renew. Those members that engage in few or no programs are at a heightened risk for non-renewal, and therefore warrant additional attention and marketing from the association.

That, I hope, is pretty straightforward. It's an assumption, but a reasonable one from where I sit. But the next decision is often fraught with difficulties. Given that the goal is to predict which members may or may not renew, which programs should you track? All of them? Or just those that are highly correlated with member satisfaction and a member's likelihood to renew?

Our answer is the latter, and that's one of the things we did in our recent tune-up meeting: go through all the programs of the association and decide, based on which we believe are highly correlated with member satisfaction, which we should track and which we shouldn't.

The problem is that not everyone may agree with the decisions in this space, and there is unfortunately a large absence of data on which to base some of these determinations. And even asking the question can sometimes lead one down a rabbit hole one would rather not go down.

Our Annual Conference? That's correlated with member satisfaction, right? I mean, if someone is taking the time and paying the cost to attend the conference, they're likely to renew their membership, right? What about our data programs? If the member is contributing their own data to help us to produce that benchmark report for the industry, then they're obviously interested in staying a member, right? And what about our trade show? And that job fair we launched for our industry? Members who participated there are satisfied with their membership, right?

Typically, my short answer to all these questions is "yes." It frankly has to be. To make the exercise worthwhile, we have to accept that higher levels of member participation in programs equals higher levels of member satisfaction.

But that, admittedly, is a generalization, and there are undoubtedly circumstances where such a correlation does not exist. They went to the Annual Conference, but were unimpressed with the speakers. They give us their data, but no one in the company can find a use for the resulting report. They exhibit at the trade show, but they didn't get enough leads out of it. They show up at the job fair, but are still struggling to hire the right people.

My advice is not to get trapped in these details and concerns. Separate satisfaction surveys and interviews are a better way to make these assessments and to correct them if necessary. When working on your participation tracking system, stay focused on the goal of just tracking participation where you think it matters.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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