Association Management

2016 Benchmarking Study Reveals Association Communication Hurdles Remain

By • October 13, 2016

Jill Andreu
Jill Andreu, Naylor Association Solutions

Reviewing metrics in the association world can mean anything from budget inspection to monitoring growth in Twitter followers. Data gives a straight, no-fluff account of performance, with year-over-year improvement not just a goal, but a necessity.

Each year when Association Adviser and Naylor Association Solutions launch the Association Communications Benchmarking Study, we certainly hope to see measurable improvements in the ways associations communicate with members. We want to learn what associations are doing differently and better, what resources are being utilized to engage members and whether communication tools are being monetized to their fullest degree.

While the 2016 study uncovered promising new trends, data revealed that associations face the same primary challenges that they faced in 2011, and the approach to tackling those challenges has not necessarily improved. Unfortunately, doing more with less is a new reality, but with appropriate planning and a written strategy, associations of all sizes can move toward an A+ communications program.

Primary challenges

For the fifth consecutive year, “combatting information overload/cutting through the clutter” has been the no. 1 association communications challenge (cited by nearly 70 percent of respondents, up 16 percent from 2010). The logical take-away from that statistic would be to reduce the amount of information sent to members, but associations reported they communicate more frequently, touching members four more times per month (on average 30 times) than in 2015.

Granted, the prevalence of social media factors into that statistic, but with four in five associations believing at least half of their communications are ignored, and just 24 percent of respondents reporting a click-to-open rate of 20 percent or higher for their most popular digital publication, it is imperative that associations inspect their current messaging. Make sure every message counts and create a master calendar with dates and times for all departments to have member touchpoints, understanding that diversions may happen.

[ctt_hbox link=”3599w” ]Make sure every message counts: @AssocAdviser[/ctt_hbox]


[ctt_hbox link=”e52Cv” via=”yes” ]Create a master calendar with dates & times for all member touchpoints: @AssocAdviser[/ctt_hbox].

Associations still have difficulty communicating membership benefits effectively to their dues payers (67 percent cited this issue), yet 86 percent of respondents stated they are good at creating relevant content. An association’s industry knowledge and clout weave into its content, and aside from valuable education and peer collaboration, the biggest benefit associations provide is advocacy for members and the industry. Relevant content alone is an incredible member benefit. Subtly remind members of that in your communications.

[ctt_hbox link=”NafyY” ]Regularly remind members of the incredible content & advocacy benefits they receive by being a member of your assoc: @AssocAdviser[/ctt_hbox]


Customizing for member segments continues to be a top communication challenge (more than doubling in response, from 23 percent to 55 percent, during the past five years), and only 28 percent of associations think they are using member data wisely enough to deliver a customized member experience.

Technology continues to evolve to serve the needs of the association community, and while cost may be a barrier, tech products and services provide so much more than database management. When asked whether certain technologies are being fully utilized to create customized experiences, only 34 percent of respondents utilize an email marketing system; 28 percent fully utilize their AMS; and 15 percent fully utilize their career center. These tools help communication staff learn more about member preferences and provide a data-based foundation for more targeted communication. Associations should consider the positive impact technology can have on the entire organization and make necessary investments.

Generating non-dues revenue from communications is a greater problem this year, with more than half (54 percent) of respondents stating they have trouble generating significant non-dues revenue from their publications.

This struggle may be related to lack of measuring and recording reader engagement. Less than one-third of respondents reported having a process in place for measuring member engagement with their communications, and nearly half (48 percent) said they consider their ability to measure communication effectiveness a serious or significant problem. A lack of confidence in the ability to show sponsors or advertisers a return on their investment can hinder an association’s enthusiasm to pursue non-dues revenue opportunities. Watch our webinar about maximizing non-dues revenue for ideas about how to launch more revenue opportunities.

[ctt_hbox link=”f7xab” ]Provide measurable indicators of the return on investment your sponsors receive when they invest in your association: @AssocAdviser[/ctt_hbox]

Survey highlights

Traditional conferences and events continue to rank as the most highly valued communications channel for associations, with an overwhelming 90 percent of survey participants consider conferences and other events “very” or “extremely” valuable.

Other legacy member communications channels, including eNewsletters and print magazines, continue to be among the most highly rated communication channels (73 and 59 percent, respectively), indicating that traditional channels are still desired.

Online communication opportunities gained steam in the category of top communication channels, with most jumping significant ranking points over 2015. Online career centers and Twitter jumped from ranking 13 and 14 in 2015 to tie for the seventh-most-valuable communication channel in 2016. Video jumped from 18 to 9, and, interestingly, Facebook jumped from 12 to 5. Facebook once was considered the sacred personal social media spot for members, but pushing information into a news feed (where members have an option to view or not) is a smart move that associations are embracing.

[ctt_hbox link=”e0X06″ ]Integrate communications through print, online and social opportunities: @AssocAdviser[/ctt_hbox]


The 2016 survey provided many more interesting points of interest to association executives. Please go to to obtain a copy of the full report. Finally, with all of this data in mind, remember Naylor’s Take AIM approach to communications: assess what content members want; integrate communications through print, online and social opportunities; and measure results to ensure your communications program is on the right path.

About the study

Naylor has partnered with 11 member organizations of the Association Societies Alliance since 2010 to conduct a comprehensive annual study that focuses exclusively on the communication tools, strategies, best practices, resource investments and gaps of membership organizations.

It’s not too late to participate!

The survey remains open at Survey participants immediately see how their results compare to their peers and receive a report card detailing how their responses compare to industry best practices.


Tips for Improved Association Communications:

[ctt_hbox link=”3599w” ]Make sure every message counts: @AssocAdviser[/ctt_hbox]


[ctt_hbox link=”e52Cv” via=”yes” ]Create a master calendar with dates & times for all member touchpoints: @AssocAdviser[/ctt_hbox]


[ctt_hbox link=”NafyY” ]Regularly remind members of the incredible content & advocacy benefits they receive by being a member of your assoc: @AssocAdviser[/ctt_hbox]


[ctt_hbox link=”f7xab” ]Provide measurable indicators of the return on investment your sponsors receive when they invest in your association: @AssocAdviser[/ctt_hbox]


[ctt_hbox link=”e0X06″ ]Integrate communications through print, online and social opportunities: @AssocAdviser[/ctt_hbox]


Jill Andreu is Naylor’s vice president of content strategy and development. She is responsible for the overall strategy, leadership and management of Naylor’s content department.