Digital Acceleration and Future of Membership Organisations

In the latest edition of our Digital Products for Growth Newsletter, we explore how AI is transforming memberships orgs by enhancing  member engagement, personalisation  and operational efficiency. 

5 mins

Key Takeaways

  • Membership organisations expect AI to benefit membership engagement, personalisation, and organisation processes.
  • Privacy concerns are paramount as membership organisations handle sensitive personal data, necessitating robust security measures and transparent data usage policies.
  • Quality data is vital for successful integration of AI. Quality will be determined by technology integration and data curation challenges being met.

Membership organisations — professional or industry associations, nonprofits, arts institutions, voluntary associations, clubs — have a lot of data about their members. That data should  help them establish and maintain a productive relationship with members and among members. 

But membership organisations are facing a growing challenge. They’re sitting on more and more data while internal teams are shrinking and resources are getting stretched. Result? They struggle to assess and act productively upon that data.

It’s no surprise, then, that AI was such a huge part of the discussion when Spork invited Jeremy Warrillow from the The Institute of Directors (IoD), Rowan de Pomerai from the Digital Production Partnership (DPP) and Mike McSherry from the London Cycling Campaign (LCC) to our latest roundtable to talk about the future.

The New Norms for Membership Organisations

“Like many membership bodies, we have been forced to reduce the size of our team. With membership now growing once again, is there technology that can work alongside the team to support some of the everyday functions so they can concentrate on actual people?”

Jeremy Warrillow, Head of Membership Services, Institute of Directors

Many membership organisations were dealt a blow during COVID when membership fees were seen by many as a non-essential expense. The fallout frequently led to cutbacks including staff reductions.  

And while memberships are slowly recovering, lower staff levels are still in place and the constraints due to today’s difficult economic climate means that this may remain for some time.

How do they retain and rebuild membership whilst operating with smaller teams and reduced resources? In the face of this challenge, many are exploring Artificial Intelligence (AI) to boost member satisfaction and add extra value to their membership offering.

Enhancing Member Engagement through AI

Keeping members engaged is a central — if not the central challenge of membership organisations. In order to do so successfully, organisations need to understand what their members want, what they expect, what their priorities are — and these days higher member expectations require anticipating what members might want in the future. That growing mountain of membership data might hold the answer but can they dig it out?

“We’ve got a massive library of content, and we’ve got to get the right stuff in front of the right people. That’s a big issue for us, and one which we share with all media companies. But while I’d love to have the resources of Netflix, we operate on a much smaller scale!”

Rowan de Pomerai, CEO, The DPP

AI-driven data analysis can help by:

  • revealing patterns in use of services, which contributes towards greater personalisation
  • converting unstructured data from forms and surveys into actionable insights, improving responsiveness
  • using those insights to suggest next steps to improve or consolidate that member/organisation relationship, assisting staff by developing options and saving time. 

All of this supplements the skills and abilities of member management and engagement staff; boosting member satisfaction as well as enhancing the overall value proposition offered by the organisation. However, leveraging AI comes with its set of challenges, such as:

  • the need for suitable — often new — data management systems;
  • integrating these new systems into existing operations;
  • privacy and data protection concerns.

Navigating Privacy in the Digital Age

Member data is crucial for organisations, enhancing communications by enabling timely and targeted news alerts, ensuring accurate fee collection, inviting members to relevant events and creating better, more valuable experiences. This data is absolutely vital to the operation and growth of the organisation as it strengthens member relationships with both the organisation and their fellow members.

Another vital element of that relationship is trust. Organisations must not only comply with stringent data protection laws but also build trust with membership through transparency, secure data handling and robust safeguarding practices.

Today, the increased adoption of apps and digital platforms means that membership organisations are now custodians of a greater amount of personal data than ever before. They hold contact details, transaction histories, financial information — even location, where meetups are part of the experience, as is the case with the London Cycling Campaign. 

One of the resources that LCC provides members is connecting cyclists to each other – for route ideas, lessons, or just companionship on two wheels. So member to member communication is very much part of the LCC member experience, and member safety involves the organisation being very much on top of their safeguarding processes. Easier when an organisation is small,  but when its membership grows, how do you effectively keep tabs on the peer to peer interaction?

It’s something Mike McSherry of the LCC has been thinking about. Having been alerted to a series of concerning messages, he saw a clear pattern and took the appropriate actions, resolving the situation smoothly and satisfactorily. 

But the process is essentially a manual one. Fine for now but would it be as effective as the organisation scales? Mike reflects, 

“There’s a real balance to strike with safeguarding users of any social service appropriately at the same time as keeping messages between users private (from staff etc.). AI could potentially be used to flag inappropriate messages, rather than waiting for complaints or having staff generally scrutinising user messages — cutting down staff time used and preserving privacy more.”

Mike McSherry, Community Cycling Officer, London Cycling Campaign

The exponential growth of data collected has understandably heightened privacy concerns among both members and the organisations themselves. We are sure to see more and more ways in which AI is being employed to assist people in managing and addressing those issues.

Overcoming Data and Integration Challenges

Targeting the right audience and improving engagement is both a challenge and a priority for membership organisations. Technology offers solutions and opportunities. But when it’s time to integrate new technology into existing infrastructures, the challenges can multiply:

  • unexpected customisations are needed 
  • costs spirals out of control
  • timescales start slipping
  • data quality is deemed insufficient
  • the IT department gets even more overstretched.

AI’s ability to analyse, improve and deliver actionable insights can make marcom strategies more effective and help improve user experience, but questions remain about how much it can do today vs what it will be able to do in the future. But the success of these initiatives — today, tomorrow and further ahead — will hinge on the quality of data.

High-quality, well-curated data is essential, as the old adage goes: “garbage in, garbage out.” As such, organisations must prioritise data integrity to fully harness the benefits of AI.

Looking Forward: The Evolving Role of AI

Every day, organisations and their technical partners — partners like Spork — are finding new ways in which AI can help membership organisations scale up, offer value and streamline processes. 

For many years, feature wish-lists have included personalised content feeds, virtual support assistants, and boosted networking through curated profiles. And solutions have delivered to various degrees of success. But can AI now genuinely deliver the value and higher membership engagement that organisations need — especially with staff and resources so stretched? At Spork we believe this to be an exciting space — as did our fellow panel members.

But we’re all aware of the challenges associated with implementing AI effectively and safely. Careful planning, practical testing and trust built on transparency is the way forward.

Sign up to our newsletter

We'll never share your email with anyone else. By clicking 'subscribe' you agree to Spork Digital Ltd storing and using the information above as set out in their Privacy Policy.