SUMMARY: A new nationwide study of membership-based organizations reveals a growing gap between leaders and their constituents, with alumni organizations showing the biggest gap of all. A new ebook reveals the data, and offers new solutions to help leaders boost alumni engagement.  About a 5 minute read.  

I admit it.

I’ve been preoccupied the last few months.

Blog posts have taken a back seat to writing a new, nationwide study measuring the misalignment between member-based organizations and their members. We’ll release the results to a world-wide audience in a few weeks. 

But I wanted you to see it first. You, my colleagues in alumni and advancement will be the first to see the study, along with an addendum we produced with specific analysis relating to alumni organizations.

The study involves a simultaneous survey of leaders and members from trade and employee associations, unions, non-profit membership groups and higher education alumni organizations. It's packed with a ton of data, along with some important new insights into member engagement. I'm excited for you to see it. (click here to get your copy) 

What's our motivation for doing this study?

At Access, we're frequently asked to consult with all types of membership groups who need help boosting member engagement, acquisition and retention. In the course of those interactions we see a surprising level of misalignment between organizational leaders and their members. Frequently, that misalignment is due to a lack of understanding of what today’s members really want. 

In many cases, membership professionals 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 phenomenon far too often.

As such, we believe there was enough evidence to warrant further research into the matter of leader/member misalignment. We wanted to know if our observations are limited to our unique role as a solution for lackluster member engagement, of if the phenomenon we see reflects a wider, more systemic issue among many other membership/constituent based organizations.  

Our Unique Position

Over the past 35 years, we've developed ongoing relationships with thousands of organizations worldwide, along with millions of rank and file members. Consequently, we are uniquely positioned to conduct this simultaneous attitudinal study of both leaders and their members. Some of the groups we surveyed are clients, but most were not.

Of the 4,000+ responses we received, 53% were leaders, 47% were members.  Overall, our margin of error is a respectable ±2.8%.

The results of our study were aimed at helping us better serve our clients, and deliver rigorous data to help them better engage their own members. And like other studies we’ve published, we are willing to share the results of this new study with all those who have a vested interest in growing their own membership organization.

Study Highlights

After gathering and analyzing the data, our research suggests a persistent gap in understanding between leaders of membership groups and their members. Here are a few highlights:

  • The study identified that leaders rate their understanding of their member’s 27% higher than members rate how well the organization understands them.
  • When it comes to member benefits, a significant gap exists between what members want from an organization, and what leaders offer.
  • Members rate some types of benefits more valuable than leaders, with members being particularly interested in benefits that can help offset the costs of membership.
  • Leaders too often make erroneous assumptions about their organization’s value proposition, or they ignore it altogether.
  • Many leaders aren’t aware that member satisfaction and retention correlates directly to the quality of member benefits.


Highlights of the Alumni/Advancement Results

We at Alumni Access have made a strong commitment to serving the unique needs of the alumni/advancement community. Consequently, we constructed this study so we could isolate responses from alumni professionals and their members. The results are found in the addendum with specific analysis for all alumni organizations, not just those with a dues-paying structure.

When we compared leaders from all types of constituent/member-based organizations, we confirmed some the long-standing issues facing alumni relations professionals. But we also gained some new, rather surprising insights.

Alumni Relations: Result #1 

We asked all membership professionals to rate their understanding of their constituents, on a scale of one to ten (10 = extremely well). The average rating from non-alumni professionals was 7.49.  But for leaders of alumni associations and organizations, the average rating was only 4.92.

Gap eBook blog Images_#1

These results show the biggest gap among all respondents. Alumni relations professionals rate their understanding of their constituents 52% lower than their counterparts from other types of organizations. It’s the lowest rating among all member-based organizations.

We were surprised by this result, and wanted to double check our results, so we also looked at how alumni professionals assess the value of the benefits they offer their alumni.  

Alumni Relations: Result #2

Gap eBook blog Images_#2

Using a weighted average, (where a “poor” scores equals “1,” and “extraordinary” equal “4,”etc.), we can see just how poorly alumni organizations rate their own benefits.

A whopping 55% of alumni professionals rate their benefits as having “little” or “poor” value. In contrast, only 26% of non-alumni professionals rate their benefits as having such a low value.

What accounts for the large gap among higher education alumni organizations? The study addresses those issues.

Why don’t alumni organizations focus more effort on building their value proposition with better benefits?  The data revealed some interesting practices that are unique to higher education alumni organizations. But if we were to follow the practices of all the other types of member/constituent based organizations, I believe we'd start to see a resurgence in alumni engagement and giving.

Like any study, the results often raise more questions than it answers.  It's packed with helpful information that can help you identify any gap between you and your alumni. It also offers guidance about simple changes you can make to better attract and engage your alumni.  

Once you've reviewed the data, I welcome your own analysis and insights.

To get your copy of the study and alumni addendum, click here.


Click to get your free ebook


Topics: Alumni Relations & Engagement, alumni, institutional advancement, membership marketing, facebook marketing, value proposition, gap analysis, disengagement, ebook