Posted & filed under Association Adviser.

MCLEAN, Va. – Despite modest improvements to member communications and a reasonable awareness of lingering shortcomings, results of the 2017 Association Communications Benchmarking Survey indicate that many trade and professional associations are having a hard time implementing changes, and continue to struggle with how to become better communicators.

A strong majority (84 percent) of the more than 500 respondents to the survey, now in its sixth year, believe they are good at creating relevant content. Yet only 17 percent believe they have a good understanding of their reader, member and advertiser needs. Meanwhile, more than 40 percent see serious problems with the lack of revenue generated from their communication vehicles.

Other highlights:

  • Communicating member benefits takes over as the No. 1 communication challenge
  • Associations have notable concerns over ability to generate non-dues revenue from communications vehicles
  • Desire to engage Millennials drives use of non-traditional communications
  • Print communications regains title of second-most-valued media

“Most associations know, through education, current trend research, and member surveys, what they could do to improve their member communications, but taking that first step of creating a strategy to improve engagement is difficult,” said Jill Andreu, Naylor’s vice president of content & strategic partnerships.


On a positive note, associations say they are improving in areas such as overcoming technical communication barriers (e.g spam filters), facilitating member-to-member communications, and maintaining their position as the industry’s No. 1 source of information and providing mobile-friendly communications.

Association respondents had the opportunity for the second year to instantly compare their communications practices to their peers via the survey’s best practices report card feature. Each respondent faces a wide range of communication challenges but all share common ground: While they communicate with more tools than ever, their members (and prospective members) have never been harder to reach, harder to impress or more likely to question the value of their association membership.

Communicating member benefits takes over as the No. 1 communication challenge

While “combating information overload/cutting through the clutter” remains a significant challenge, for the first time since our study began in 2011, “communicating member benefits effectively” replaced information clutter as the most frequently cited communication challenge. “Cutting through clutter” came in at No. 2.

Associations’ “ability to produce consistent video” moved two spots up the communications challenge ladder from 2016, ranking in the top five communications challenges for the first time. However, associations reported having an easier time grasping and mastering communications tools overall: “Overcoming technical barriers” dropped from responding associations’ top five communication challenges for the first time.


Notable concerns over ability to generate non-dues revenue from communications vehicles

Generating non-dues revenue from communications continues to pose a challenge for associations. The good news is fewer respondents reported non-dues revenue earnings to be a problem this year (41 percent) versus 2016 (54 percent); however, generating extra funds for mission-critical activities is still a challenge on the rise: Just 11 percent of survey respondents reported obstacles to generating non-dues revenue in 2011.

Contributing to this problem could be a lack of understanding of reader, member and advertiser needs. Only 17 percent of respondents believe they comprehend what these audiences want from their association communications. Additionally, only two in five say they check in with their sponsors once a year to gauge the return on their association communications investment.

“Only 15 percent of respondents indicated having a fully customized offering for their sponsors,” said Charles Popper, Naylor’s senior vice president of business development. “For an association to maximize the non-dues revenue generated from their communication vehicles,” he continued, “they need to track and measure reader engagement and satisfaction, and then use that data to customize appropriately. This year’s survey shows that associations believe they have the content foundation to attract advertisers. The next step is proving that such content is worth an investment of time and money.”

Desire to engage Millennials drives use of non-traditional communications

Newer forms of communications, such as Snapchat, Instagram and blogs gained traction in perceived value. This was the second year Association Adviser asked survey participants to give their opinions about the usefulness and value of these channels. For the first time, the survey also asked respondents to rate the value of leadership development events, young professional events, private online communities, apps, text messaging and podcasts, all of which were given moderate attention by respondents.

Perhaps the piqued interest in these less-traditional communications is in response to associations’ ongoing challenges around engaging young professionals. Fifty-seven percent invite younger members to participate in volunteer committees, 56 percent plan young professional-oriented education and development, and 51 percent create communications targeted for younger professionals.

“Millennials live in an instant gratification kind of world. They are accustomed to searching for something they want and finding it – instantly,” Andreu said. “Pushing out updates and information through many communication mediums, and keeping up with trends will keep this significant and growing membership base engaged and invested in their membership,” she continued.

Print communications regains title of second-most-valued media

Respondents once again ranked member magazines as the second-most-valuable member communication channel (Live events ranked No. 1 for the sixth consecutive year). One in three associations report they communicate with members multiple times per month via print. Live events and member newsletters continue to rank highly as well.

“Although there is increased interest in channels like Snapchat, apps and podcasts, it’s not surprising that traditional communications retain a foundational position in association communicators’ toolboxes,” said Andreu. “People want to consume information differently, and associations that offer multiple channels for information consumption and interaction will remain more relevant and engaged with their membership than those that don’t.”

Download the full Association Communications Benchmarking Report here. Associations can continue to take the survey here. Participants who respond to more than 50 percent of the survey can immediately compare their results to those of their peers. Completing the survey also unlocks access to Association Adviser’s Best Practices Report Card that allows associations to evaluate their communication performance against communication best practices and provides tips for improving communication efforts.

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About Naylor Association Solutions

Since 1969, Naylor has helped build strong trade and professional associations by delivering solutions that engage members and generate non-dues revenue. We offer an array of solutions, including communications strategy, print, digital and video content and production, full-service event management, advertising, sponsorships and exhibit sales, career centers, online learning, association management and association management software (AMS). Our expertise and breadth of services help us see opportunities others miss, and our commitment to excellent customer service fuels our passion to help associations achieve more success. Naylor’s headquarters is located in Gainesville, Fla., with additional offices in Alpharetta, Ga.; Hunt Valley, Md.; McLean, Va.; Schaumburg, Ill.; and Winnipeg, Canada.

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