As data becomes the focus of strategic planning conversations across industries, associations and nonprofits are increasing their investments in data-management processes and technologies, with the goal of gaining a deeper understanding of their audiences. To achieve this goal, these organizations must build a strong and defined framework for collecting, maintaining and using the data. As determined by Marketing General Inc., a research firm serving associations and nonprofits, poor data management is one of the top reasons these organizations believe their membership is decreasing.
To maintain the integrity of a group's data, a rigorous data-governance program should be implemented that sets standards and establishes procedures for the collection, storage and use of member data. Doing so helps to ensure the information is well managed and serves business objectives across all departments. With that goal in mind, organizations should consider the following.
Use Small Data
Organizations typically have an abundance of information about their members, event attendees and prospective members just sitting in their association-management software systems. With the right processes and structures in place, this data can provide invaluable insight into membership trends. For example, by analyzing meeting attendance patterns in relation to the time and location of the gatherings, organizations can determine the optimal time and location for their next event to boost attendance. Similarly, analyzing event participation rates in light of member interests can help to highlight underserved membership segments. There are a number of potential "small data" application-use cases, but by evaluating data in this way, organizations can harness the power of their data to develop targeted marketing and communication strategies to recruit and retain members.
Advance Carefully and Deliberately
When starting a data-governance initiative, start small and define top organizational objectives. Opening a conversation with executives across departments is key to determining priorities and allows organizations to define the specific types of information that would best serve leadership needs. Once these have been defined and the framework is set, the data strategy can be organized around it. These activities help associations and nonprofits achieve success in a relatively short time period.
Longer term, the goal should be to have a comprehensive system that captures and measures data that's relevant to all stakeholders in the organization, but building this infrastructure and ensuring quality and accuracy will take time.
Empower a Data-Governance Team
Effectively implementing a data-governance strategy requires the establishment of a team that oversees data inventory, ensures the information's quality and accuracy, and streamlines access processes so that the data can be used by appropriate stakeholders across the entire organization. The team should include personnel from diverse stakeholder department functions who understand the organization's strategic goals and how the data will be used to achieve them. Data governance is not just another function of the IT team. It is a strategic tool to inform decisions, and needs to be a main priority for executives, staff and volunteer leaders.
The leader for the team should be a business user of the information, an executive who understands the impact the data can have in establishing and measuring the achievement of organizational objectives, and who has the communication skills to bridge organizational silos between departments to help staff understand the strategic value of the information.
Staff participation and support is mandatory for successful implementation. Ensuring employees are dedicated to consistent and accurate data collection starts with explaining why it is so important and how it impacts their roles.
Employ a Data-Collection Strategy
Having a defined and consistent strategy for data collection, maintenance and usage helps an organization set short and long‐term goals based on recent patterns and trends. When determining an appropriate strategy, here are a few tactics to keep in mind:
• Limit data collection. Every piece of information collected should serve organizational goals in one way or another. Review fields that are being filled out by members and event attendees with an eye to eliminating nonessential fields and keep the system as uncluttered as possible.
• Collect data regularly. Member interests and needs change over the course of their relationship with the organization, so regularly updating information will help an association make decisions that yield the most impactful benefits to members.
• Diversify data-collection methods. Semi‐annual surveys are often used to gather data and develop an understanding of constituents, but response rates can be low. Consider monitoring engagement data as another way to learn about the organization's audience. For example, compile conference-session attendance numbers to determine topics that are of high interest.
• Share the impact data makes. Highlight how pertinent data helps provide value to members by increasing organizational understanding of their interests and needs. Strong data also helps an organization speak on behalf of their member base to external influencers, such as the media or legislators. Members are more comfortable providing data when they understand its purpose.
• Be vocal about data security. In addition to talking about the value data provides, communicate the organization's commitment to data security.
• Debrief regularly. To measure how strong the database is, define a data-integrity metric -- a percentage of records with accurate and complete data -- and identify the fields to include in that definition. For example, a record might be complete if it contains a name, valid mailing and email addresses, the member's specialty or profession, attendance information, or other related information. Run data integrity reports regularly and share progress with stakeholders.
About the Author: Shaun O'Reilly is vice president of marketing at MemberSuite, an innovator in cloud‐based association-management software (AMS) and business-intelligence solutions for member‐based organizations of all sizes