Feedback is integral to nearly every facet of our lives. Our families give us feedback when we make a meal or plan an outing. Our coworkers give us feedback when we complete a project or help them with a problem. Heck, our phones even give us feedback letting us know if – and how well -- we completed a digital chore or activity.
For those with the desire to improve and grow, feedback is vital to understanding where you are in that process. It either lets you know that you are falling short of expectation and need to take a different approach; or it tells you that you are on the right track and should use the momentum of success to drive harder, faster and further.
In your associations and member-based organizations, you get all kinds of feedback from bosses; colleagues; and, certainly, from your members. Which is great, but acting on that constant feedback without tying it to a strategy or vision can influence action that only benefits certain individuals or projects, leading to exclusivity or division of purpose.
This is why it’s so important to take feedback and observations from various areas and assess them holistically as they may relate to the overall success of your organization. Individually, they are inputs to our broader achievement. They may not mean much alone, but if you view them together and take time to reflect on how your organizational performance may be improved in service to your goals, you can create a roadmap that leads to a healthy, lasting, and growing organization.
Below are some ideas on how you can properly scan for and be open to feedback, without losing sight of how it contributes to the health of your organization.1. Stay Close to your Members
This one may seem like a no brainer, but it’s vital to knowing if your organization is on the right path to growth and prosperity. Certainly, you can have wonderful marketing and member onboarding in place, but if your members don’t see and feel value thereafter, they won’t stay long, leaving you in the constant chase for new members (never a good place to be).
Surveying your members can be incredibly powerful. You may have tried this before with lackluster results. Give it another try, but remember: keep the surveys short (think 5 minutes or less); keep them relevant to a specific topic (don’t ask too much about too many unrelated things); and keep questions and answer possibilities clear and concise (avoid abandonment by confusion).
Remember, surveying your members is the first step in identifying overall sentiment and trends. Surveys point you to the “what.” There’s another step in gaining insight from your members that will tell you the “why,” and that’s interviews or conversations. The qualitative nature of a good conversation following a survey submission gives you valuable context to make better decisions. This, of course, leads to member loyalty and even evangelism for your association or group.2. Follow Trends
It’s not uncommon for association and non-profit professionals to wear many hats. We’re busy. We’re spinning many plates. So, it’s easy to bury our heads into our own sliver of the organization and not come up for air. That’s a mistake.
To move your organization to a healthier position, you need to know what new and fresh ideas out there are working for other groups and can be adapted to benefit yours. Now, you don’t want to adopt trends for no reason. It has to be relevant to your membership and your strategic goals. But the goal here is to consider trends that resonate with your audience (and prospective audience) in an attractive way.
Take the last year, for example. Prior to 2020, many of us were toying with the idea of hosting virtual events or adopting an online community, but just couldn’t quite get our arms around the idea enough to execute. Well, then COVID forced us to implement these digital options without the luxury of time for planning (truly, it showed just how nimble and adaptable associations and non-profits can be when necessary).
Even though many made it through (and are still making it through) offering new ways for members to learn and connect in the absence of in-person options, think about how much smoother that transition could have gone if the digital-first trend had been monitored, planned for, piloted, and iterated prior to the forcing event that was the pandemic. It pays to scan the environment for new opportunities so that when the chance to be more relevant in your members’ eyes comes, you’re prepared to act.
3. Keep an Open Mind
Admittedly, this one is tough for association and non-profit pros. Again, you have a lot going on. And you live in a world where things have been done a certain way for a while.... because they work. Why rock the boat? Well, there is more competition out there for member-based organizations than ever before. There are for-profit companies mimicking the subscription and member benefit model. And don’t forget how accessible information is on Google or YouTube.
But your organization is in the unique position of having members and staff who are credible subject matter experts and are passionately working to elevate the status of an industry, interest, or profession. That’s hard to compete with, and the steady percentage of people who choose to belong to associations and other member-based groups supports that notion.
Even still, don’t take your position in the market for granted. You have to keep an open mind when it comes to adopting new ideas, new approaches and new technology. It's tempting, but try not to dismiss something new because you feel you simply don’t have time for it, or you “know” your members wouldn’t like it. Much like the trend advice above, scanning your environment for possible advantages will keep your organization relevant and important in the eyes of your members and potential members.
Probably the most important thing about this point is how valuable it can be to transfer an open mindset to others. Thinking most especially of the board and executive committee. They may think, if things are going fine, why innovate? Why try new things?
It’s up to you to inspire them to think about optimizing your organization to reach maximum health. Even if that means trying those new things incrementally. Adopting an organizational open mind will attract more members and help sustain the mission of the organization for decades to come. Talk about a legacy!
4. Match Emotion with Data
All the above tactics sound great. But if you don’t have numbers and data to back up what you’re hearing in conversations with members or seeing within your space, you don’t have a long-term leg to stand on. Blending qualitative and quantitative data is the best way to examine possible enhancements to your organization.
It’s tempting to see a cool trend or find a neat piece of technology and start pitching for it because it just feels right. But without spending the time to collect data around what outcomes are possible, you’re setting yourself up to fail.
Be the hero in your organization and come prepared to have conversations about the future with not only ideas, but data supporting why these ideas will work. You can use data from your in-house surveys, or from industry surveys that currently exist (a Google search here is a powerful tool).
The best way to generate positive and enthusiastic support from your board, coworkers or members is to create a vision that showcases what solving your organization's biggest problems may look like from start to finish. So don’t get trapped in the emotion of excitement. Ensure your enthusiasm for an idea can be adopted by others by giving them all the data they need to see it work in reality.
5. Develop a Strategy for Success
Similar to the above point about the wisdom of pairing excitement with data, you should never (like, NEVER) move forward on a new idea without developing a strategy to implement it. “Strategy” and “strategic planning” may be overused in the association and nonprofit space, but that’s probably so because planning and strategy work.
It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of trying a new process or a new software tool. If your problem is pesky enough, you can be fooled into thinking these adoptions will be the solution for all your problems. The true benefit only comes when pairing a potential solution with proper planning, vetting, processing, and execution (I.e., who does what and when?).
Let’s lean into the online community example again. If you have issues with poor membership engagement, you may think, “Oh! Implementing an online community will solve that issue because I’m giving members a new place to connect and get involved.”
Well, that may be true. But did you poll your members to discover why their engagement is low? Maybe it is because they feel the need for more constant interaction via a protected, association-sanctioned community space. But, even still, do you know what they are looking for within the digital walls of that community? And do you have the staff to ensure your members’ goals are supported? And how can you leverage your community to support other organizational goals (i.e., events, professional development, membership growth, etc.)?
All of these considerations need to be mapped out before choosing the actual tool. Because it’s your intelligence and planning that lead to success; the features within a software solution is merely the vessel to get there.