Tag Archives: strategic planning

2011 Benchmark Survey for Membership Organizations

This annual survey of membership organizations was conducted in January of 2011. Membership organizations are not-for-profit entities who have dues-paying members and whose primary activity is providing services to those members.

There is very little data available for the membership organization niche. The purpose of this survey is to help to fill that void. The survey included 35 Canadian industry, trade and professional organizations of all sizes.

It was particularly timely this year, because most membership organizations are just starting to emerge from a battering due to the economic downturn.

The most important lesson from the survey is that many leaders of membership organizations do not think of the organization as a business.

Below are the highlights. The detailed survey results are available for purchase. To find out more about the survey or to purchase a copy, contact us at survey@zzeem.com.

Benchmark Survey Highlights



Member dues and sponsorship are the primary sources of revenue for all respondents.

Most of the respondents saw higher membership and sponsorship in 2010 and expect a further increase in 2011.

Almost all of the organizations surveyed have no legislated or regulatory requirement for membership. Membership is completely optional. And so is sponsorship, of course.

Despite this risk, we are surprisingly complacent about our membership. Fewer than half of us of us have a clearly defined process to attract and retain our members.

We are even more complacent about our sponsors. Less than a quarter of us have a clearly defined process to attract and retain our sponsors.

But we’re surprisingly optimistic. Three quarters of us expect membership to increase in 2011 and more than half of us expect sponsorship to increase. This seems to be based entirely on the economic outlook. Not on a confidence that the organization has a strategy to sustain and enhance revenue.

  • Hope is not a strategy.


The survey told us that many organizations found their costs increasing at the same time as their revenue was decreasing.

It also showed huge variations in productivity. We found out that many organizations in excess of $1 million in revenue are operating successfully with five employees or fewer whereas others of the same size have a substantially higher payroll.

Respondents are not investing in productivity-enhancing technology but they are investing in their web presence.

  • The use of business process technology is much more limited in this sector than in the for profit sector. Many processes that were automated years ago elsewhere are still performed manually by membership organizations. This is particularly true of finance and communication processes.
  • However, outward-facing technology is quite current. Almost half of the respondents have done a major overhaul of their website within the past 12 months.

Financial Reserves


One quarter of the organizations surveyed have no financial reserves. Of those that do, three quarters have less than 12 months of reserves. But only half of us plan to add to our reserves in 2011.

Board Engagement and Efficiency


About half of the respondents consider their board members to be “highly engaged”. Just over 40% of them consider their board to be “highly efficient”. Smaller organizations had a higher level of engagement while larger organizations had a higher level of efficiency.

Value Proposition


Most of us don’t know. Most respondents have a strong value proposition but less than a third of the organizations surveyed were highly confident that their board members could clearly state this value proposition to a prospective member. Even fewer (only 13%) were highly confident that directors could clearly state their value proposition to a prospective sponsor.

  • If the board isn’t clear on the value proposition then who is? We need to articulate the message.

Planning for the Future


Three quarters of the organizations surveyed have a current strategic plan. This is indeed good news. But for those who do, one third have no operating plan to ensure that the strategic plan is implemented.

To find out more about the survey or to purchase a copy, contact us at survey@zzeem.com.


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Filed under Association, Association Management Issues, Benchmark Survey, Governance

Frank Sinatra didn’t move pianos.

Frank Sinatra was one of the most important popular music figures of the 20th century, but he didn’t move his own piano. “The Chairman” knew the importance of delegating the more mundane aspects of his work to professionals who knew how to do it more efficiently. He spent his time doing what he did best, not what “had to be done”.

If you are a board member of a not for profit organization, you probably don’t get paid and you have another fulltime position for which you DO get paid. Now every month you are expected to produce something for your volunteer position. Sure it’s rewarding to be serving the community. What better way is there to connect with your community and give a little back? As a volunteer, you certainly return to society some of the benefits that society gives you.  My question to you is “did you really get involved to pay the suppliers; print the flyers; send out the renewal notices; to prepare the financial reports?” I don’t think so. You got involved to help the community, to give back, to be a leader.

How can you lead if you are so involved in doing? Being a board member offers the opportunity to create a vision of the impact of your organization. Governance issues; strategic plans; results measurement; performance indicators; these are the areas where a board should be spending its time.

Whether your organization has a board of directors, or a board of governors, governance is what it does. Governance relates to decisions that define expectations, grant power, or verify performance. Operations is how the organization does what it does. Far too many oganizations spend time working on their expectations but never assign those tasks or do not verify that the assigned task was actually accomplished. That is the area you as directors need to focus. That is leadership.

So take a cue from “The Chairman” and stop moving your own piano – delegate.

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Get your head out of the fog

On those days when the “meniscus of whelm” is about to break and the more than filled glass of your life is about to breach the carefully structured tension that holds you together, stop, step back and look at what you do from the viewpoint of an outsider. “What am I doing to move forward?” “Wait a minute, where am I going?” “Where am I anyway?” (The tagline on my mobile phone, it always gets a smile.)

Chances are, if you are on a board of a membership organization you are not even getting paid to deal with this stress, so at times it can be even more stressful than your job. So when the song you cannot get out of your head begins to sound like “Once in a Lifetime” (Talking Heads)…
“You may ask yourself, what is that beautiful house?
You may ask yourself, where does that highway lead to?
You may ask yourself, am I right, am I wrong?
You may say to yourself, my god, what have I done?”

…take some time to talk with your peers. Take in a seminar or a workshop on a topic of interest. There are other points of view out there.

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Filed under Association Management, Leadership