To determine whether or not the benefits package you provide is effective, look no further than your membership itself. A member engagement survey can help you get a better sense of member opinions and, in turn, help you shape a more robust benefits package that better serves member needs and interests. This isn't just vital for keeping current members happy — it also serves as a valuable tool to recruit stronger numbers.
How to Solicit Feedback
How you solicit feedback influences the quality of information you receive. Member engagement surveys can be conducted online, on paper or even in person. What works best for your membership will largely be determined by their location and working conditions. If your members are spread out or spend most days at a desk, an online survey may be most practical. But if your members are primarily in the field, consider bringing them together for conversations, preferably in small groups.
The timing of a survey is also critical. You want to choose a period when members have the bandwidth to respond or meet up. Once you've identified the optimal time, choose your feedback window. Don't expect members to turn around a survey within a few hours. Give them a week or two — long enough that they can find time to complete the survey but not so long that they forget. Be sure to publicize your member engagement survey in advance and make clear the purpose of the exercise. This indicates that member feedback is a valuable part of union governance.
To gather as much feedback as possible, and to ensure that feedback is up to date, don't make collecting responses a one-time occurrence. Conduct surveys periodically, but not so often that members ignore your requests. Striking the right balance requires a culture of communication among your members: When you aren't conducting a formal survey, let your members know that they can report concerns to their union stewards who will share the feedback with the board.
Framing the Right Questions
Ask direct questions and you'll get direct answers. Keep your questions short and clear, and avoid using jargon or acronyms that may not make sense to all members. Avoid both vague and overcomplicated wording, and be sure that each question focuses on only one topic.
Use a format that allows you to collect both qualitative and quantitative feedback. Choosing yes or no questions or a five-point scale provides data that can be averaged to provide a baseline on your membership. Pair those questions with a request for more specific information to help develop a more nuanced look at what your members like or need and why. Keep in mind that even if it provides opportunities for open-ended responses, no survey should take a member more than 10 to 15 minutes to complete.
Your members should not feel that there is a right answer to a question. While it's OK to use phrasing that helps members align their thoughts with the feedback you're seeking, avoid directing them toward an answer. To determine whether your questions are leading or easily misunderstood, consider asking a small group of members to test the survey.
Making and Communicating Changes
Feedback from members is only valuable if the board acts on it. Making changes based on member feedback also makes clear that their input matters, increasing the likelihood that they will come forward with their thoughts and suggestions in the future. You also need to act fast. Don't sit on the results for so long that members forget that they ever took a survey.
Once you've collected the survey data, begin by looking for themes. Is there one specific benefit that most members value, or one a majority would like to see? These findings should be prioritized as you're developing solutions to address member concerns. Next, determine which feedback you can act on and where your impact may be limited.
When you have a robust understanding of the survey findings and what changes you intend to implement, communicate with your members. Send an email or a newsletter or hold a town hall to summarize the findings and let members know what they can expect to come from the exercise. In instances where the union cannot have an impact, provide guidance to members on how they can address the concern (for example, guide them toward community resources or suggest that they speak directly with a manager).
Your members want to feel comfortable giving feedback and know that you're listening and working to keep them happy. By making feedback a part of the culture and acting on what you hear, you help create a satisfied, loyal member base.
Heather Kerrigan started her career in journalism at Governing magazine, reporting on state and local politics and policy, with a specific focus on public workforce, environment, health care, education and technology issues. Prior to co-founding River Horse Communications, Heather offered freelance editorial services to a variety of outlets, including serving as volume editor and lead author for SAGE Publications' Historic Documents series and editor-in-chief of The Kanter Journal. Heather also blogs for two government-focused publications, GovLoop and NEOGOV, covering issues of importance to federal employees. Heather is the author of the book Retire Rich With Your 401(k) Plan. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from The George Washington University.