Don’t Be a Research “Pest”

One of the most important issues in developing an overall research infrastructure for your association is determining how often to survey the members. Survey too infrequently and you risk losing touch with the members. Sending out surveys too often, however, can make your members think of the association as a research “pest,” harming both short-term and long-term research yields.

Organize the Approach
The first task in developing an effective research schedule is to organize your  survey projects into general categories. Most associations can group surveys into one of the following areas:

“anchor” projects – these projects encompass researching the “big issues,” such as measuring member satisfaction,ascertaining interest/usage of key products and services, reasons for joining, and so forth. These anchor projects typically are large-scale investigations that involve dedicating significant resources to accomplish;

specialized research – these projects are less-intensive than anchor projects, and are concentrated on a single issue. Examples include measuring interest/desired features for a specific product/service, “hot issue” research, readership surveys, conference satisfaction research and other such projects;

for-sale product development – these projects entail collecting data that will be packaged as a for-sale product. They mainly include salary surveys.

The next organizational step is to define who the surveys target – in other words, what segment of the membership will receive the surveys. By definition, anchor projects entail the entire membership roster. Granted, if your membership is sufficiently large you will not be sending a survey to everyone, but you will draw your anchor project research sample randomly from the entire roster. Specialized research will target only a certain segment of the membership (for example, only members who use a specific product, or certain demographic categories of members).

For-sale products are more difficult to categorize, since sampling is based on the final product you’re seeking to create. As such, these samples can include everything from the full membership roster (and even non-members) to only a few segments based on the type of association and the product intent.

Develop the Schedule
Once categorized, map out a three-year implementation plan. This plan does not need to be precise – its purpose is to serve as a general road map, and not be a formal research protocol.

The best frequency for anchor projects is once every three years. This can be extended to a four or five-year cycle for small associations (membership of less than 2,000) or accelerated to every two years for very large associations (20,000 or more members).  
Specialized research should be limited to three projects per year for the typical association. Again, small associations should limit specialized projects to no more than one per year; very large associations can extend this to six or more since there is less chance for the same member to receive more than one or two surveys in a given year. Cut the number of specialized research projects in half in the years when an anchor project is scheduled (eliminate them completely in small associations; cut down by one-third in very large associations).

For-sale research projects are driven mostly by the life-cycle of the product. For example, salary surveys typically have a shelf life of two to three years. There should only be one scheduled per year, and none scheduled in the same year as an anchor project.

Lastly, your membership database should include a “flag” so you can track those members who were selected for any given project. Each flag should be dated to ensure you don’t deluge some members and ignore others when creating the survey sample.