Mariner Management and Whorton Marketing & Research conducted a 2006 study to examine the ROI of components by measuring the actual experience of members. Four associations, profiled below, participated in the study with each providing a cell of 2,000 randomly selected members to be surveyed.
- Org. 1 is a trade association in the hospitality field with 3,500 members and 41 components.
- Org. 2 is a health care professional society with more than 100,000 members and state level components.
- Org. 3 is a hybrid organization with primarily individual members with 11,600 members and 75 sections.
- Org. 4 is a professional society with over 50,000 members and 182 components.
Based on the survey findings, chapters appear to have a powerful impact on association membership levels. More than 40% of survey respondents indicate, in essence, that the chapter's presence has a positive effect on their likely future renewal in the sense that, if chapters did not exist, they would be less likely to participate. There are several aspects to this value perception that are worth noting in an analysis of the characteristics and attitudes of people who indicated that chapters have the greatest effect on their future renewal decisions:
- They are more likely to already be "at risk" members—only 66% are "extremely likely" to renew, compared to 80% of those who indicate the chapter would have no effect.
- They are more likely to be active in another association, even though they hold fewer memberships on average; 36% belong to and 33% participate in at least one other national association, compared to 44% and 21% who belong and participate in another association among the other respondents who indicate the chapter doesn't matter in their renewal decisions.
- They are earlier in their careers and thus probably younger, reporting an average of 16.5 years in the industry, 25% less than other respondents. They also have spent far less time as a national member (average of 8.2 years) than other respondents (12.5 years) although they report almost as many years of chapter level membership.
- They are probably far more connected in that far more indicate networking as their #1 motivation (61%), compared to 44% among other respondents.
- There are also significant differences in the effect of chapters across the four associations who contributed members to this study: the number fluctuates from 65%, 42%, 14% and 6% indicating that chapters definitely have an effect on renewal decisions, while 42% of members of a scientific/technical society did; in contrast the two organizations with primarily state level affiliates only had 6% and 14% indicate a definite effect.
This study provides strong evidence that chapters DO matter in terms of their impact on future renewal decisions for their national parent organization. To some degree this study quantifies the ROI of chapters in terms of present value to association membership programs; of far greater concern is the apparent strategic impact of chapters on the long-term value and overall financial performance of associations.
In applying these findings to your own association, there appear to be three key drivers that play major roles in determining the value of chapters:
- Association Culture
- Geographic Location
- Factors Influencing Local Involvement
Association culture matters in the sense that associations primarily serving professionals we would consider more extroverted showed stronger responses in terms of their frequency of participation, and see greater chapter influence on their positive decision to renew. Professions or industries that are reliant on joint participation in the marketplace should find the value of participating in local components higher than those in more technical or more introverted fields.
Geographic location matters, in that participation in chapter level services appears strongest in the South. It may be that the culture of specific locations encourage or discourage the need to affiliate at some level. Our stereotypical views of Southern hospitality, Western independence, and Northeastern competitiveness have at least some basis in reality, and some effect on participation in and perceived value of chapters.
The value of chapter involvement is, not surprisingly, focused on professional development. While we often speak of creating opportunities to socialize, real value of membership is created through professional networking and education. Although in this study we see strong value potential in the future of chapters, there are serious challenges in the area of service delivery. In coming years, if chapters are to realize this potential, they (and their national parent associations) must find ways to offer an increasing variety of formats to meet the needs of a membership that is shifting to a younger generation, who may value non-traditional communications, and an overall membership who are facing increased transportation challenges that make face-to-face interaction less possible.