Insight for membership organisations

Why does knowing what members think matter? The simple answer is that without evidence of what members actually think we might make the wrong decisions. A classic example is the future of the CSP member magazine – Frontline.

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy has over 56,000 members. We are a member led organisation. But, only a small number of members can get involved in our elected Council, Country Boards and committees. So how do we find out what our members think, want and need?

Part of the answer is through structured market research. We have used member surveys and focus groups to understand our members. Some research related to specific services or issues; for example, what members want from their member magazine or the destination of new physiotherapy graduates.

Other exercises research specific member segments. For some years we’ve had a rolling programme of both surveys and focus groups covering student members, newly qualified members, overseas trained members, longer standing members and associate members. Each group was researched every few years, largely to inform our membership recruitment and retention work.

We have also run an annual large-scale member perception survey. This is sent to a representative sample of at least 10,000 members. This was used to help our Council judge our performance. Together these exercises provided a patchwork quilt of insight into our members.

This year, we ran a major exercise using external contractors to understand all our member segments at one time. This involved in depth telephone interviews with 65 members. They were representative of all types of member, of different levels of involvement and included members from all countries and regions. The qualitative results informed the design of a large-scale market research survey.

Over 1000 usable responses were received to a survey sent to a stratified sample of members. The survey is likely to by 99% accurate for results to a plus or minus 4% margin of error. Together the qualitative and quantitative work give us a greater degree of certainty about what our members actually think about the CSP.

The research tells us a lot about how members want to communicate with us. Channel use and preferences are things we have tested regularly before. This year’s more comprehensive exercise gives us more of a sense of how key communications fit into members views of the broader package of member benefits. Our magazine, Frontline, is rated as one of our top three member benefits.

Most members read Frontline, but even if they don’t many more like receiving it as a reminder of their belonging to the Society. They see it as almost a luxury item in some cases. We have now learnt that it is also their main source of information on our campaigns. In contrast, only 6% of members choose to engage with the CSP via Twitter. This is perhaps surprising given our relatively young average age.

These insights are critical to making the right decisions. Periodically colleagues have suggested we save money by moving to a digital only version of Frontline. Members of our Marketing & Communications Committee have sometimes suggested changing the focus or tone. Our annual reps conference this year even discussed moving to an opt-in requirement to get the magazine at all.

If we did not ask our members what they thought, we might have concluded these were good options and that members would be happy with change. However, the research suggests this would be a big mistake. The silent majority of members want Frontline and want it in hard copy. Most read it and most think it is right for them. So the insight has helped us avoid making a mistake, which would have damaged our relationship with our members.

We are still digesting the 90 pages of our latest insight report. But the initial learning is fascinating. Some of the data confirms what we thought, but some is surprising. Asked to personify the CSP now we were described as; male, young enough to be active but old enough to be knowledgeable and smart. Being described as male was a surprise for us.

Over 70% of our members are women. Our Chair and CEO are women. Most of our Council and Leadership Team are women. However, respondents told the researchers that the face of the CSP for them, is their workplace rep. Men are probably disproportionately represented amongst our stewards. This probably explains this perception. It certainly gives us something to think about.

The research also gives us a wealth of information about why members join and what they want from us. Our suspicion that our members are deeply tribal has proved to be accurate. Many join the CSP because it is the “done thing” amongst physios and physio support staff. Building on this sense of belonging, to enhance engagement, is clearly an area we need to work on.

Equally, we  knew that our core services are highly valued. PLI cover, employment (union) advice and support for career development are all important to our members. However, they are not always sure what the full range of benefits is or how to access them. Some thinking is clearly needed about whether the offer is overly complex or needs communicating differently.

I am told the CSP is unusual amongst professional bodies and unions for our focus on insight. Although we may feel we are good at collecting insight I am not sure we are always so good at using it to inform decisions. This is largely due to it not being shared and discussed widely enough. So, we are looking at how we repackage the data into more easily digested chunks to assist our Council, and colleagues across the organisation, in their decision making and planning.

Insight is never completed because the more you learn about members the more you realise what you don’t know. We plan to review our annual survey and rolling insight programme in light of the new work. There are opportunities to refocus and build on the more sophisticated ways of recording insight we have used this year. For example moving from simple overall perception scores to graduated rating of; engagement, customer experience and sense of value for benefits. It would be great to share ideas with similar organisations.

What has been the experience of other membership bodies of gathering insight?


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