2022 Association Benchmarking Report: A Member Engagement Evolution is Underway

By Sarah Sain, CAE • August 30, 2022

The changes the world has experienced in the last few years – a global pandemic, rising inflation and economic uncertainty, labor shortages and high turnover in the job market, global unrest and social justice movements – accelerated an evolution that was already underway in how association engage with their members. The newly released 2022 Association Benchmarking Report, produced by Naylor Association Solutions and Association Adviser, highlighted the ways in which associations say they’re shifting their approach to engagement, where challenges remain, and what opportunities can be seized.

Overall, the 2022 report found associations are shifting their priorities toward quality over quantity in their member engagement, being intentional in their member messaging, and resolving technical challenges, but they have opportunities for improvement when articulating member benefits, generating non-dues revenue, and engaging younger generations.

Below are five takeaways from key findings in the report. To dive deeper into the full 2022 Association Benchmarking Report, download the report and read Association Adviser throughout the year for analysis of the trends and tactics to be learned from the results.

  1. New challenges rise to the surface.

On average in 2022, associations engaged with members 30 times per month (via print, digital, social media and video). While this sounds high, it is down from levels reported in 2020 and 2021. Much of that decline can be attributed to associations becoming more judicious about their use of social media and creating content that is more relevant for specific member groups. To that effect, “Combating information overload/ cutting through the clutter” was not the No. 1 association engagement challenge for 2022, as it has been for all years except one since the report’s inception. In fact, it fell to the fifth most frequently cited challenge, the lowest level in the history of the survey.

While pleased with associations’ ability to move the needle in a positive direction during a time of upheaval, a few areas within association ecosystems deserve note as needing improvements. This year’s survey results showed associations continue to struggle to communicate their member benefits effectively, generate non-dues revenue, engage young professionals, and leverage data to make strategic decisions. Improving member attendance at all types of events (live, virtual and hybrid) was another frequently cited challenge as travel concerns and budget restrictions continue to be a problem for some attendees.

  1. Staffing and resources are lean.

More than half of associations (51%) felt understaffed overall, the same level as in 2021 and significantly higher than 43% in the early days of 2020. Although association professionals are known to excel at wearing multiple hats, being understaffed is not a sustainable model for the long-term. Associations recognize that, as 59% would use an unexpected budget surplus or windfall to hire more staff in 2022. Until then, associations should more quickly adopt a business model that simultaneously leverages in-house staff, member volunteers, technology and outsource partnerships in an integrated way.

  1. Events and digital tools are highly valued.

Live events remain the overall top-rated member engagement channel, as there is no better substitute for face-to-face interaction. Committee meetings and networking events also entered the Top 10 list in 2022 of engagement channels that associations say are very/extremely valuable, joining training/certification events, showing that events remain a foundational way in which associations engage members. The remainder of the Top 10 overall channels show associations’ increasingly prevalent use of digital engagement tools to capture their audiences’ attention. Email blasts, association websites, member e-newsletters and webinars are all highly valued tools used by associations, along with social media giants LinkedIn and Facebook.

  1. Integration opportunities remain.

Integrating member engagement tools and strategies is a way for associations to streamline their efforts and work smarter instead of hard. What is integration? It means that each member engagement tool has a well-defined frequency, message, audience and purpose; that content is repurposed and cross-promoted as appropriate; and that vendors can coordinate their purchases across all channels. Integrating your association’s efforts allow you to manage information overload, better customize content, harness your association brand and offerings, use staff time more efficiently, and make strategic decisions. All sounds good, right? Yet just 32% of associations said their member engagement tools are fully integrated, while 35% said they are somewhat integrated.

  1. A disconnect on non-dues revenue.

There continues to be significant concern over associations’ inability to generate revenue from sources beyond member dues. More than half of respondents (53%) agreed this gap is a significant problem, up from 49% who felt this way in 2021. An increase in non-dues revenue would help move associations toward those investments they’d make if they came into an unexpected budget windfall, including hiring new staff and upgrading current tools and technology.

The biggest barriers to increasing non-dues revenue are unsurprisingly time (“Understaffed and not enough bandwidth”) and resources (“Limited amount of resources”). That highlights a real opportunity for associations to bring in an experienced partner, yet only one in seven respondents (14%) say they outsource advertising sales, down significantly from (30%) in 2021.

Associations are quickly adapting to the world around them and the pace of change affecting every industry. While results from this year’s benchmarking report showed us that progress has been made, opportunities still abound for associations to engage members and earn non-dues revenue in new and exciting ways.

Download the full 2022 Association Benchmarking Report today. This valuable tool explores the challenges associations face to member engagement, communications, staffing and resources, and non-dues revenue, as well as what trends and tactics they can employ to better serve members through improved tools and best practices.

About The Author

Sarah Sain, CAE is senior director of content services for Naylor Association Solutions. Reach her at [email protected].