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[PART 3] Developing a Membership Engagement Lens: Managing expectations when attempting to obtain feedback from members

If you’re trying to capture the membership experience, you will most likely come across the issue of having low response and participation rates when sending out surveys or using other routes to obtain feedback from members. In my experience, there are many reasons why members don’t respond to these attempts to obtain feedback. Sometimes it may be as simple as someone else actually paying for a membership, like an employer or university, on behalf of a member as part of a professional development opportunity or package. At the same time, individuals who are paying for their membership directly are more likely to have an incentive to express their perspectives and experiences in order to make the most of their membership.

Before you throw in the towel or become discouraged, here are some reasons for silence from members that you may want to take into consideration:

1) Members are too busy

Due to professional and/or personal obligations, members may not be able to respond right away to your request. One tip that might be helpful is to share ahead of time that a request for feedback will be coming and to follow up with a few reminders once it is sent.

2) Members do not want to actually be involved in the organization

In this case, they are not responding because… They do not wish to devote anything more than a monthly, quarterly, or yearly payment to the organization.

3) Members have been burned before or let down by the organization

Some members may have expressed concerns before that were ignored or remember broken promises from the past that make them reluctant to provide feedback to you. The key will be to build trust over time. If you will not be around for at least a year then it will likely be difficult to build an adequate level of trust to obtain feedback from these members.

4) Members are angry or frustrated about their experience in the organization

This is similar to what I shared above, however, something that stands out for these members is that they may wish to sabotage or undermine your efforts to make improvements for various reasons. Withholding feedback may be a way to hurt the organization the way it has hurt them.

5) People are happy with the organization and don’t think change is needed

When members are having the experience they wanted or feel that expectations are being met, then they may not think that it’s necessary to provide feedback in order to improve the membership experience.

6) You haven’t been in the position long enough to expect any feedback

Sometimes it is best to just touch base with members routinely and start working on a few high-level activities that show you are committed to serving the needs and interests of members (as well as learning about members). Take some time to introduce yourself and your intentions for the role that you’re in.

Overall, one thing that has worked well for me is to just start with what I have. Start somewhere and start small. This enables me to at least put together a short and long-term plan for checking in with members and working on some initiatives that leave space for different members to provide feedback over time. Additionally, since I have generally been an active member of these organizations myself, I get to interact with and build relationships with other members that help to provide insight into the membership experience in an informal and legitimate way.

-Dr. S Anyatonwu