Why don't student members do membership surveys?

In the course of our research work for membership bodies, we’ve noticed that the proportion of fellows and retired members taking part in a survey is often larger than the proportion of such members in the whole membership. 

Conversely, the proportion of student members in a survey sample tends to be somewhat lower.

Redressing the balance

That’s not to say that every student member is declining to take part: there is always some representation of the student population in the survey sample.  And, redressing the balance of their responses in relation to other members can be achieved to some extent by re-weighting the survey data to match the whole membership profile. 

But that’s by no means an ideal scenario; it would be far more satisfactory to receive input from many more of this important group: the professional members of the future. Furthermore, for some organisations, the member survey is the most significant member research activity.

Demands for opinion

As consumers, we are inundated with requests for feedback: rate your purchase, how did we do today, take just 3 minutes to tell us more, choose one of these smiley/sad faces (when you leave a shop, a restaurant, a toilet facility…).  The likelihood of being bombarded with these demands for opinion increases with digital connectedness.  Why would a student member feel compelled to complete your organisation’s - possibly lengthy - online survey, if it’s the fifth (tenth, twentieth…) time they’ve been asked to give their opinion that week?

Similar to the above issues, your survey is probably buried among the hundreds of digital interactions members experience every day.  Student members may be less likely to read the detail of a survey invitation email: if it’s not considered important or interesting within the first few seconds, it’s quickly swiped aside. 

Having to click the ‘not applicable’ option to irrelevant questions is time consuming and can make a student member wonder why you bothered to ask their opinion in the first place.  A one-size-fits-all questionnaire is not going to work.  It’s got to be a reasonably personalised experience; any member would expect nothing less.

Motivation matters

Apart from the general issue of cutting through the digital noise, there may be barriers related to these members’ motivations and engagement.  Our sector research a few years back found that students and younger members are more likely to lapse that other member types because they leave the profession or they haven’t yet found a job, the cost of continuing to the next membership grade is prohibitive or they join another professional body instead.  At the point your conduct your research, they may not be as engaged or enamoured with their membership as you think.  We also found that many of these members are not aware of their membership or they don’t know of, understand or value the benefits. This might particularly be the case for those whose membership is provided by their education establishment or comes ‘free’ with their course.

Increasing participation

To improve student members’ participation in membership surveys, organisations could try using knowledge of their preferences and habits as an advantage:

  • Tailor the email - and the survey itself - to ensure it’s relevant to student members
  • Promote widely, using the channels you know your younger members use
  • Make the digital survey experience flawless; it has to function seamlessly on mobile and not take too long
  • Make sure it’s about them. Questions have to be directly relevant to student members. Most off-the-shelf survey software can be used to build a questionnaire that routes and skips to display only relevant questions, based on the users’ responses.  Initial research design is crucial to ensure you are asking the right questions to give the insight you need.
  • Give something back. It’s obvious, but if student members have told you what they think of their membership, what they like most or why they are a member, ensure that what you offer them matches what they need.  And make sure they know about it.

The above ideas are applicable to all types of members, not just students. And, of course, surveys are not the only way to get the input you need.