Inside SAA’s Member Survey Results

Contributed by Dennis Meissner (Minnesota Historical Society)
on behalf of the SAA Council

N.B. The following article was originally published in the July/August 2012 issue of Archival Outlook.

At the beginning of the year, 2,151 SAA members—that’s 35 percent of us!—completed an exhaustive (and probably exhausting) web survey that tried to get at the value proposition undergirding SAA membership. What do we value most, and least? How loyal are we to the association? What do we like about SAA publications, education products, and annual meeting services? Which of us are most satisfied, and which of us want change? The SAA Council got its first peek into the newly compiled data in May, and will be spending the next year or so teasing as much meaning as possible out of it. And a lot of that meaning will come directly from a series of online conversations with SAA members, starting now.

The Survey

The 2012 Member Needs and Satisfaction Survey is about how we feel about SAA and what we really want from it. It builds on the 2004 A*CENSUS (Archival Census and Education Needs Survey in the United States), which concentrated on who we American archivists are demographically, professionally, institutionally, and economically. A*CENSUS was fundamentally about us. This year’s survey takes it in another direction.

The comprehensive survey was constructed by Indiana-based Association Metrics and was intended to address three broad questions:

  1. Which SAA benefits and programs do members value, and how does the value proposition play out across key demographic cohorts?
  2. What reasons do different cohorts give for belonging to SAA, and how well do the various SAA programs and services perform for those cohorts?
  3. How can SAA best deploy its limited resources to drive member retention, member satisfaction, and non-dues revenue?

To provide meaningful data addressing those questions, the survey assessed every significant SAA program or service—continuing education, publications, The American Archivist, Archival Outlook, the website, Annual Meeting, staff, and governance—in relation to each distinct membership cohort (as expressed in dues categories). As you can imagine, no easy answers emerge from the complex web of data points that resulted from this matrix. A great deal of analysis will be undertaken by the Council and staff over the next year or more. For those inclined to engage with the raw data themselves, you may review the summed responses:

SAA 2012 Member Survey – Frequency Distribution Report (PDF)

The Summary Report

To jump-start the process, Association Metrics produced a more than two-hundred-page summary report that presents the many different data correlations produced by the survey in a more approachable form:

SAA 2012 Member Survey – Summary Report (PDF)

This provides an initial categorization that the Council can use to begin breaking down the findings into meaningful chunks. A principal of the firm walked us through the report’s structure and highlights in a conference call in May. Members may find the staff’s synopis of this presentation helpful in understanding the summary report:

SAA 2012 Member Survey – Methdology (PDF)

Although few specific findings were derived by Association Metrics, they did point out some key messages that floated to the top:

  • The top three reasons individual members belong to SAA are (1) to stay current on information about the profession, (2) to network and build professional relationships, and (3) to receive SAA’s journal and newsletter.
  • The top three reasons institutional members belong are (1) to stay current on information about the profession, (2) to receive SAA’s journal and newsletter, and (3) to get the member benefits for their employees.
  • The loyalty profile for SAA is similar to other professional membership associations. The loyalty profile of individual members is 54 percent loyal, 37 percent neutral, and 9 percent vulnerable. For institutional members, their profile is 59 percent loyal, 31 percent neutral, and 10 percent vulnerable.
  • The value of an SAA membership for individual members is driven by member benefits, membership dues, the SAA Council, the Annual Meeting, publications, and continuing education.
  • The value of an SAA institutional membership is driven by member benefits, membership dues, strategic initiatives, publications, and the Annual Meeting.
  • Only 3 percent of individual members and 2 percent of institutional members have experienced a significant problem with SAA in the past six months.

The Road Ahead: Facilitating Discussion via “Off the Record”

Although these general findings are helpful and somewhat encouraging, the most useful findings will emerge only through concerted effort. At its June meeting, the Council decided that it will begin evaluating the data clusters, one topic at a time. As it analyzes the data, many questions will doubtless emerge, and they will drive further discussion.

A crucial part of that discussion will take place in a mediated way between the Council and individual members, through the vehicle of this new presidential blog. We will use the blog to articulate questions that puzzle the Council or that clearly call out for input from members, and we hope that the online topical discussions that emerge will help to inform interpretations of the data and resulting actions.

The Council earnestly hopes that it can use this process to create a better association—one that identifies and addresses member needs more effectively and one that provides an optimal suite of member services at the most affordable price for members. If we can do this, we can truly ensure that SAA is a high-performing, high-value member association.

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