The livelihood of professional associations and societies, such as the Case Management Society of America (CMSA), depends on the society’s value proposition, commitment to its members and advancement of the related profession. These in turn contribute to the professional society’s continued growth in membership and to enhance the engagement, retention and loyalty of its members. Members may join an association because of two primary reasons. First, the members’ understanding of the society’s purpose, reputation, contributions and value. And second, because of how the society’s priorities correlate to the member’s professional goals, needs, aspirations and advancement. When a society provides relevant and meaningful services to its members, they describe their experiences as exceptional and to have helped enhance their personal and professional goals.
A sustainable professional society must engage its existing members and attract future generations of members. It not only ought to respond to change; rather, it must anticipate it and provide the members with competitive, impactful, new, superior and diverse products, programs and services. Often the members have similar or aligned goals and expectations as the society. However, members may be interested in different interactions and engagement approaches — those that enhance their professional stature in the industry. Therefore, membership associations and societies must have flexible strategies that make it easy to adapt the society’s services and to ensure long-term success. For CMSA to exercise an adaptable set of benefits and services, it must have foresight to look ahead and examine where the case management and healthcare industry is going, anticipate the future needs of its members, and determine how its current programs and services must change to meet these forecasted needs. One way of evaluating the members’ perception of the current society’s benefits and offerings is through the conduct of a formal “voice of the customer” survey, which is the subject of this article.
The benefits members of professional associations and societies receive in exchange for a certain fee comprise a standard set of products, programs and services. Although these offerings are usually the same across members and equally available for use by any member, satisfaction, engagement and retention tend to be a personal experience and an individual member decision. Moreover, the perceived value of the membership must outweigh the costs incurred for the society to remain competitive and in service to its members. Therefore, a society’s value proposition must not be built on a transactional exchange of services or based on the financial terms (membership fees or dues) alone. Successful societies are those that provide varied opportunities for members to build impactful relationships or networks and achieve meaningful personal and professional advancements.
Engagement is a constant need throughout the member lifecycle. Similarly, value is an ongoing challenge the society must demonstrate for its members and throughout the livelihood of the society. The meaning and perception of engagement may vary by member. For some, it is the investment of money such as dues; for others it is time or attention spent on the society’s benefits and/or affairs; and for some others, it is participation as a formal officer of the society whether at the local or national levels. Regardless, engagement is a byproduct of the activities and degree of presence as demonstrated by both the association and its individual members. Optimal engagement then must constitute meaningful, long-term and mutually beneficial experiences and relationships — conditions that advance both the members and the profession to ultimately produce value. Therefore, engagement and value are interconnected in the context of a professional association or society existence.
To determine the extent of a society’s value and membership engagement, it is most desirable to employ a data-driven approach in this examination. This undertaking is known to depict a more accurate picture and direct understanding of the members’ perception of the society. Through its national membership committee, CMSA applied such an approach in early 2019 and conducted a survey to assess its members’ perception of the value of and satisfaction with the membership at both the local chapter and national levels. CMSA aimed to understand the value proposition of its membership and the extent of member engagement and retention. CMSA has always recognized that member development, advancement, retention, growth and engagement are strategic focus areas for its sustainability as the industry’s premier case management professional association. It intended to use the findings from the survey to articulate a compelling member value proposition statement, one that can be used by CMSA national and its local chapters for the recruitment, engagement and retention of members. Additionally, the statement would be beneficial for the members to use in their communications about the professional value and benefits of the membership, whether to their employers, professional colleagues or other stakeholders.
The Case Management Society of America, under the leadership of its president and executive director, requested the 2019 National Membership Committee to identify and implement an approach that would address one of its strategic goals: assess member’s perception of the value of and satisfaction with the CMSA chapter and national memberships. The committee then set out to answer this goal using a membership survey. The two main questions the survey aimed to answer were: (1) what is the state of membership engagement and retention as reported by the CMSA members? And (2) what is the perception of the CMSA members regarding the value of and satisfaction with the products, programs and services they receive as part of their membership benefits?
SURVEY DESIGN AND DATA COLLECTION PROCEDURES
The National Membership Committee convened over a one-year time period regarding its designated charge of understanding membership value and engagement. It developed a 14-item membership survey for this purpose; 11 were quantitative and three qualitative. The committee designed the survey based on expert opinion and a select review of literature that pertained to professional associations and societies membership engagement and retention. The final survey comprised the following components:
- Three items about the background of the survey respondents;
- four items about CMSA’s membership value (5-point Likert scale, 5: extremely valuable; 1: not valuable at all) and satisfaction (6-point Likert scale, 6: extremely satisfied; 1: extremely dissatisfied);
- two items concerning intent to renew and recommend membership to others using a 5-point Likert rating scale (5: extremely likely; 1: not at all likely);
- two items specific to the value of (5-point Likert scale, 5: extremely valuable; 1: not valuable at all) and satisfaction with (6-point Likert scale, 6: extremely satisfied; 1: extremely dissatisfied) the CMSA membership benefits as described through its products, programs and services; and
- three open-ended items, using a free text box, that provided the participants with the opportunity to describe the value and benefits of their local and national membership and to share any other comments they thought important to communicate.
The background items aimed to describe the type of CMSA membership the survey participants held, the length of their membership, and their engagement in the CMSA’s professional opportunities. Two of the survey items, each applying a Likert rating scale, explored the participants’ perception of value and satisfaction with 17 unique products, programs and services CMSA had been offering to its members in the form of membership benefits. The remaining items examined the value of and satisfaction with the membership and member retention.
This descriptive, cross-sectional survey design of a purposive sample applied an online data collection procedure using a secured SurveyMonkey® software application. CMSA disseminated a special communication email to its members in early February 2019. The email invited CMSA’s membership at the time to voluntarily participate in the survey. It announced the purpose and data collection period, explained the anonymous nature of the survey (no personal information was requested), assured the members of privacy and confidentiality of their individual submissions, and described the URL/weblink to access the survey. Data collection lasted until June 2019, with email reminders sent regularly to the members for participation.
The data from the survey participants were exported into Microsoft Excel (Microsoft 365) for analysis, which applied descriptive statistics. The final sample consisted of 767 usable surveys received from both CMSA members and officers. This represented nearly a 10% survey response rate. Distribution of the survey participants (Table 1) by type of membership seemed to align with that of CMSA’s. As expected, the highest percentage of participants was in the chapter members category (78.23%) compared to chapter leaders/officers (17.94%) and industry leaders (3.83%). Concerning the length of membership, nearly 63% reported they had been members for five or more years, of which almost 23% indicated being members for over fifteen years and over 34% reported to have been members for more than 10 years. These findings helped answer part of the survey question number one; membership retention was found to be high based on the reported length of membership. Upon examining recruitment of new members, it was observed that over 12% of the participants had been CMSA members for less than one year from the time of the survey.
Membership engagement, the second part of the survey question, was examined based on the involvement of members at the chapter or national levels and their perception of the value of and satisfaction with their membership. Although nearly 30% of the survey participants limited their activities to paying the membership fees, the remaining 70% expressed active involvement in the society (Table 1), indicative of high membership engagement. More specifically, over 44% of the survey participants reported to attend local chapter meetings, 18% participate in chapter-based committees only, nearly 20% participate in national committees only, and over 6% participate in both local chapter-based and national committees. Because the opportunity for members to participate on committees is usually limited due to the small number of committees and the number of members per committee, the percentage of participants in this survey who indicated to be actively engaged as members of committees at either the local chapter and national levels, or both, was considered reasonable and to have reflected an acceptable degree of membership engagement. In fact, when these types of engagement were combined, they represented involvement from over 26% of the survey participants.
Satisfaction: Extremely Satisfied (6), Very Satisfied (5), Satisfied (4), Dissatisfied (3), Very Dissatisfied (2), Extremely Dissatisfied (1)
Value: Extremely Valuable (5), Valuable (4), Somewhat Valuable (3), Somewhat Not Valuable (2), No Value at All (1)
To examine the second survey question, analysis of the items which inquired about value of and satisfaction with the membership and its benefits, intent to renew and likelihood to recommend CMSA membership to others was performed applying descriptive statistics. The survey participants reported high levels of CMSA membership value and satisfaction (Table 2). Nearly 90% of the participants reported their national membership to be valuable (weighted average of 3.67 on the 5-point scale), while over 85% found their local chapter membership valuable (weighted average of 3.60). Similarly, over 65% rated their national membership at the very satisfied level or higher (weighted average of 4.77 on a 6-point scale), and nearly 60% expressed their satisfaction with the local chapter level membership at very satisfied or higher (weighted average of 4.60). No doubt, these results might have contributed to desirable findings in the participants’ intent to renew their CMSA membership or recommend it to others (Table 3). Ninety-three percent of the participants indicated a favorable intent to renew their membership (weighted average of 4.13 on a 5-point scale), while 90% expressed their potential recommendation of membership to others as favorable (weighted average of 3.93). These findings support the fact that member satisfaction contributes to retention in the form of future membership renewal. Ultimately, those who are satisfied are also more likely to recommend the society to others.
Table 4 presents the survey findings about the participants’ perception of the value of and satisfaction with 17 unique CMSA products, programs and services available to the members. These programs varied from access to information on the CMSA website, to representation at the state or federal level on health policy issues, scientific publications, continuing education program offerings and to award/recognition programs. Participants’ ratings of the value of and satisfaction with the membership benefits were analyzed using frequency statistics and weighted averages per benefit type. The results showed acceptable levels of satisfaction and value with the membership benefits. The participants’ weighted average ratings of the value (5-point Likert scale) of the membership benefits ranged from 3.334 (discounted job posting and career opportunities) to 4.219 (ability to earn continuing education credits) while weighted averages of satisfaction (6-point Likert scale) with these benefits ranged from 4.278 (participation on a national level committee) to 5.135 (availability of free continuing education credit). These findings revealed that participants were highly satisfied with 14 of the membership benefits, as evident in the above 90% of the survey participants indicated rating the benefits at either “satisfied, very satisfied or extremely satisfied.” As for the remaining three benefits, over 86% but less than 89% of the participants rated them at the satisfied or greater level. In contrast, the findings showed that over 91% of the participants perceived the value of only eight of the benefits at either the “valuable, very valuable or extremely valuable” levels. Seven of the remaining nine benefits were rated at such levels of value by more than 78% but less than 88% of the participants; and the final two were considered valuable or of greater value by 71.15% and 74.76% of the survey participants, respectively.
An additional qualitative approach was used to examine the value of the national CMSA and local chapter memberships from the survey participants’ perception. Two open-ended items were used for this purpose; survey participants were asked to describe the value of their memberships using one word only for each of the national and local levels. These questions resulted in 620 and 609 responses, respectively. The responses contributed to 187 unique words the participants used to describe their national membership and 218 for the local chapter. Despite the similarities noted in describing the value of the two membership levels, there also was a distinctive difference between them. Participants reported that both levels were excellent, valuable, informative and beneficial. Additionally, survey participants valued CMSA national membership for its educational (52.94%) and conference (7.49%) offerings, support (20.32%) for the members and case management practice, networking (19.25%) opportunities, state of professionalism (17.65%), being informative (13.90%) and resourceful (6.95%), and for its representation (10.70%) of the members in the industry. In contrast, the participants valued the local chapter membership for creating opportunities for networking (47.71%), offering educational (47.25%) programs, sharing of essential information (11.93%), demonstrating professionalism (6.42%) and for being supportive (5.96%) and resourceful (5.05%).
The last open-ended survey items inquired about opportunities for improvement. Regardless how successful a professional association is, continuous evaluation and enhancement are necessary for sustainability and success. A basic thematic review of the responses to this question revealed six priorities for improvement. These were:
- Increase member access to the events of local chapters, whether meetings, educational offerings or representation on committees (local).
- Support small chapters because of their limited capabilities for holding chapter based events (local). A suggestion frequently shared to address this concern was “collaborative programming and events across multiple chapters” that are close together in the region.
- Mentor new members and create opportunities for their involvement (local and national). The interest here was to facilitate members taking leadership roles such as committee chairs and chapter or national officers.
- Enhance partnerships with industry leaders and other professional organizations (local and national). This should support the local chapters in their programs. At the national level, these partnerships should expand the type of collaborations across industries and to enhance the breadth of professional representation of case management practice.
- Diversify the educational offerings, including those which provide continuing education credits (local and national). Some of the survey participants recommended the expansion of the methods of learning to include virtual and remote delivery of content, especially for those who otherwise could not attend because of required distance of travel. At the national level, it was recommended that educational offerings comprehensively meet the needs of the diverse case management professionals across practice specialties and care or employment settings.
- Create opportunities for rewards and recognitions of smaller chapters (national). This recommendation was important because of the inability of small chapters to compete with those of large numbers of members and more financially capable.
Membership associations and professional societies must regularly examine their value to members; determine the state of the benefits they offer; and identify how these affect membership engagement, retention and growth. By understanding such important dynamics, these organizations are then better able to define engagement in a way that is meaningful to and resonates with their members. They also can articulate strategic plans and goals and implement realistic actions that ultimately align with the interests of the members and the profession at large. The membership survey and its findings reported in this article have provided an important view of how CMSA has performed on its mission and promised value to members. This was important because satisfied members are usually loyal and tend to bring in new members who then contribute to the society’s growth and professional impact. Indeed, CMSA members reported desirable levels of value and satisfaction with both the local chapter and national membership levels, including the products and services. These were also demonstrated in the length of membership, intention to renew, recommendation to other future members and involvement in the society’s activities.
By knowing what members value most about their membership, CMSA then can determine what its members respond best to. It also can provide more of these desirable benefits, terminate what is perceived as least valuable and improve those identified to have better potential. By doing so, CMSA then ensures alignment with its members and in preparing future member engagement strategy. The membership survey allowed CMSA to qualify its value proposition at the national and local chapter levels. CMSA leaders and officers can use these statements of value in their membership strategy and marketing materials while members can use them to explain the value of the membership to their employers and colleagues in the industry. As expected, the CMSA national membership was found to demonstrate a broader and far-reaching value compared to the local chapter. Nationally, CMSA provides its members with the opportunity for further education, growth and development; support from and networking with peers and industry leaders; professional representation; information sharing; and remaining current on the practice. Locally, CMSA provides its members with the opportunity for networking with other professionals, participation in continuing educational programs and information sharing.
Acknowledgement: the author extends special thanks and appreciation to the members of the CMSA International Membership Committee, Janet Coulter, Ellen Fink-Samnick, Chesney Hoagland-Fuchs, Faith Holland, Gigi John, Anne Lewellyn and staff liaison Nikki Jackson for their support of and contribution to the survey.