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Create Lasting Relevance by Integrating Data, Design and Content

By Kathie Pugaczewski, CAE, CMP, Vice President of Communications and Technology

With the speed and sheer volume of information and tools available, associations need to strategically implement and integrate technology to create and enhance our relationship with our members. As our technology options continue to increase, our attention and capacity are decreasing. We have a natural tendency to respond to the increasing level of choices by doing more and more, instead of going deeper to create relevant offerings. More choices mean we need to be more discriminating in what we choose and to not let the tools dilute but rather enhance the message.

We need to focus on quality and quantity, relationship and transaction. Adding one more meeting, one more social media tool, one more benefit to make up for a declining membership is not a sustainable strategy if it’s not based on our members’ needs and expectations. We need to simultaneously operate efficiently while engaging our members in conversation and collaboration.

While it’s important to benchmark to other associations’ technology practices for ideas, our members are not comparing us with other associations. They are comparing us with their experiences with Amazon, Apple, Google, LinkedIn and Facebook. While we don’t have Amazon budgets, we can assimilate the concepts used by these successful companies and apply them on our scale. Simply stated, successful companies (and associations) understand their customers through the effective use of data, design and content.

An association’s website platform is a hub, providing both transactional and relational functions. Invest in a merged content management system and database website platform that integrates key functionality including: open API (Application Programming Interface) which allows for third party software integration; secure payment processing; receipts and invoices; searchable directories; an integrated email program to merge data fields, allowing personalized communications; a member portal with purchase and participation history; continuing education certificates and tracking; a members-only section with content by subject matter experts (our members); and responsive code so the website will resize to different devices – larger screens, mobile phones and tablets.


We get to know our members by collecting both qualitative and quantitative data. Find out their interests, expertise, demographics, specialties, talents, industry vertical, company size, birth year, number of years in profession, volunteer interests, challenges and expectations. With these data points, we can connect members to each other, engage them in the association and match our offerings to their needs.

We should only collect data that we intend to use. How many membership and event surveys have we sent, collecting data and feedback that was simply ignored?

Create and execute a touch point plan for first-year members, long-term members, varying levels of experience, members who have participated and members who have not participated. Don’t just invite them to meetings — recognize and thank them for their involvement. Give them ways to contribute based on their talents and specialties. Offer virtual volunteer opportunities by getting members to post to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to drive conversations, or send them your list of new members for the month and ask them to email a personal welcome.

We increase the value of data collection by giving the data back to members:

  • Send personalized emails with merged fields that show our members we understand them;
  • Provide searchable directories that connect members to members and the public to members;
  • Identify patterns in the data to deliver new offerings (i.e., a large contingent in health care that would benefit from a special interest group, a missing segment to target, or a hot topic that could be the subject for a webinar);
  • Use surveys and polls to identify trends and opportunities;
  • Conduct focus groups to understand our members’ perspective and narrative;
  • Offer a mentorship program that matches newer or younger members with those who have more experience.


Good design gains and keeps readers’ attention by merging art and science, engaging both the right and left sides of our brains. When done well, it visually leads, informs, guides and organizes.

  • Use color to organize content;
  • Merge design and data into visuals and infographics;
  • Provide tabbed content areas that organize content like file folders;
  • Engage readers with descriptive headlines and concise copy that leads to more in-depth content;
  • Make information easy to scan with bullets and carefully organized chunks of information;
  • Use photos that humanize the organization and tell a story;
  • Take time to explain your site with instructions and demos for users;
  • Help users understand the value of using the tools you integrate.


Associations have always been about connecting people with common interests. The technology tools we choose should be about connection, collaboration, knowledge exchange and professional growth at all career stages – energetic young professionals, mid-career members who are looking for leadership opportunities, and experienced thought leaders. Our members are subject matter experts and we need to tap that expertise in a variety of formats (white papers, case studies, tip sheets, templates or simply a testimonial on the association’s value to their career).

Associations are in the relationship business. The technology tools we have available give us a tremendous opportunity to serve our members better through data, design and content that facilitate connections, conversations and community.

Favorite Resources

Cool Infographics:
Content Marketing Institute:
Smashing Magazine:
Marketing Sherpa:
Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies:


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