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Association Analytics: Begin with the End in Mind

Often association leaders ask me, “Where is the best place for us to begin our data analytics initiative?”  I like this question and am reminded of Steven Covey’s expression that before we undertake a new initiative, we should “begin with the end in mind”.  When it comes to data analytics for associations, this means starting with your strategic plan.
One association’s strategic plan, for example, specified that they would grow meeting attendance by 10% in 3 years.  This was their largest source of revenue.
In the past the association made decisions by looking at historical trends and was unable to confidently estimate expected attendance, revenue, venue amenities needed, onsite staffing levels and more.  In fact, the more events they held, the greater the risk of an incorrect estimate.
Yet because of the strategic initiative to increase attendance, the first thing they tried was to increase the number of events and market them by email campaigns and direct mail.
The visualization below is a simple bar chart showing the number events by year. The higher the bar, the more events. The color shading of the bars indicate the number of registrants. The darker the green, the more registrants. We can quickly see 2010 had the most events, but not the most registrants.  In other words, although the association increased the number of events, this did not increase the number of attendees. In fact, holding more events actually caused a decrease in meeting profitability as a whole, since there were more expenses associated with fewer registrants.
events
By reducing the number of events by combining smaller, similar events to a larger meetings, the organization was able to dramatically exceed the target set by the board.  In other words, by holding fewer events, they had more participants.

What is the Cost of Not using Data?

When making business decisions it’s important to weigh the costs of:

  1. Bad decisions
  2. Decision delay
  3. Lost opportunities
  4. Damage to image/reputation

Often these costs are much greater than the costs associated with analyzing data. Taking a “decision tree” approach can be a logical way to evaluate where to start:

  • Are there areas in your strategic plan where data can answer questions, provide insight and direction?
  • Which areas do our customers care about? Will it make a difference to them – add more
    value, improve their experience – advance our mission?
  • Do we have the data – or can we get it?
  • Will we be able to take action on the results of the analysis?

 

The Analytics Convergence

Data-guided decisions permeate our everyday lives as individuals, but how can you harness that power for your association and your members? The field of data analytics and big data is exploding with opportunity. Businesses are encroaching on the areas that used to be the private domain of associations – content, networking, events, etc. – because they are employing the power of analytics. But now, the process and tools needed to analyze and interpret data are much less expensive and easier to use than before. Are you ready to have a conversation with your data? Each level of business intelligence has a unique language to make your data speak!
The following presentation was created by Debbie King, CEO of DSK Solutions, Inc. and David DeLorenzo, CIO National League of Cities. This information was first featured at the 2013 ASAE Finance, HR, and Business Operations Conference.