You plan events to connect with your members but what are your members hoping for in your event? Do they want to grow professionally? Develop new skills? Connect with other members? The only way to know what your members want is to ask them.
By asking members for input before planning an association event, you can boost event engagement and increase member satisfaction.
In this guide, we’ll review why you should involve your members when you’re planning, the top questions to ask members before planning your next association event and – bonus! – we’ll look at the top questions you should ask yourself in this process (a little introspection is never a bad idea!).
Involving members when planning events
There are a few benefits to involving your members in your event plans. When you lean on them during the planning process, you can find out:
- What type of event you should plan (networking, lunch and learn, late night, etc)
- How many people you can expect to addend an event
- If a virtual or in person (or hybrid) event is the best type to plan
- How often you should plan events
This touch base with members can also help you set your own goals for your events.
6 questions to ask members before planning an event
Now that you know why you should involve your members in your event planning, here are the questions you definitely should be asking.
1. What type of event would you like to attend?
This member survey question could be an open-ended question, or in a multiple-choice format. Planning association events requires some creativity, and open-ended questions let your soon-to-be attendees spark new ideas you haven’t thought of yet.
However, some members might need prompting to know what kinds of events are even available. In a multiple-choice format, you can include choices like:
- In-person event
- Online events
- Hybrid events
That way, you get a general poll of what your members want. You can also include an “other” option to bring open-ended responses to multiple choice formats.
2. What industry topics interest you most right now?
Planning an educational event like a webinar, conference, or speaker series? Let your members guide the topic or speaker selection! You could boost attendance at the event—and see greater engagement.
Prompt members by offering options for industry trends they might want to learn about or influential figures they’d like to hear from. You can also include an optional text box alongside this question where members can volunteer to present on a topic or help make a connection to a potential speaker within their network—you never know
3. What are you hoping to gain from our events?
Different events provide different opportunities for your members. While a happy hour might be good for networking, it won’t resonate with your members as well if most are looking for educational opportunities.
You can present this as an open-ended or multiple-choice question. Some of the multiple-choice options for your survey could include:
- Educational opportunities
- Philanthropy or other community involvement
- Brainstorming with peers
4. Did you notice anything missing from previous events that you would like to see at future opportunities?
This open-ended question gives members the opportunity to speak freely! They can identify issues or opportunities that you might not have pinpointed yourself.
Knowing what didn’t go as smoothly in the past can help you improve functions of your events, including:
- Marketing and outreach efforts
- Scheduling and event planning
- Communications and follow-up
5. What type of merchandise would you like to see?
Event swag can be a fun and memorable addition to an event!
It can also be a way to express your appreciation for your members and their participation. But you don’t want to spend time and money designing and purchasing merchandise items no one wants.
To ensure your merchandise options are actually desirable, ask members what type of swag they would like. This might include:
- Water bottles
- Tote bags
Or a variety of other small takeaway items.
6. Do you have any other suggestions to help improve our event offerings?
Finally, ask one last open-ended question to give respondents the opportunity to express any other opinions, constructive feedback, or desires.
This gives respondents an opportunity to pause and reflect for anything they may not have been able to fit in their past answers. They can also provide further details that can clarify any previous responses.
How to ask your members these questions before planning an association event
There are many ways you can communicate with your members to get their imput on your events.
1. Email survey
Sending an email to all your members with a link to a Google Survey or other survey-taking software is an easy way to bulk-target all your members.
2. Phone calls
Depending on your staff capabilities and how many of your members you’d like to speak to, you can call your members individually to chat with them about their interests, goals and how invested they are in you planning an event.
3. Social media
If you members interact with you on social media, you can use their poll tools to hear from your members! Nothing like connecting with them in a space where they’re ready to interact with you
4. Forums and CommUnity Spaces
Our CommUnity platform lets you run polls and votes to give you insights directly from your members. You can also monitor forum conversations to see what the hot topics are between your members.
5. Post event surveys
If you already plan events, include a post-event questionnaire in your wrap-up communication plans. If you can hear from your members what they thought of an event just as it’s finishing up, their ideas and opinions will be fresh in their minds.
What members to target for event insights
Now that you know what to ask and how you plan on asking it, you need to decide who to blast it out to. With these types of surveys and member insights, you don’t want to just focus on getting the most responses, but also the highest quality of responses you can get.
We’d recommend reaching out to:
- Former Event Attendees: These members are great to turn to for input since they are familiar with your organization’s event offerings to date, and can therefore offer both new ideas and constructive criticism.
- Long-Time Association Members: Long-time members have important context about the history of your organization and the types of events you’ve held in the past. They can let you know whether certain event ideas seem on-brand with your overall mission.
- New Members: New members will have a fresh perspective since they’ve recently gotten involved in your organization and may notice certain issues that your long-term members have come to accept as normal.
Use your membership database to identify these audience members and create segmented email communications to each group for your association event planning.
4 questions to ask yourself before planning an event
On top of asking your members for their ideas and feedback, take time for self-reflection and ask yourself questions before planning your event. These are the 4 must-ask self-focused questions we recommend to make sure that your current goals and vision for your membership are aligned.
1. What were the biggest wins and opportunities from previous events?
Review your past event data to determine the successes and challenges of previous events. You can look at figures related to:
- Number of RSVPs vs. actual attendees
- Participation numbers for discussion groups
- Satisfaction levels with the ability to make networking connections
- Event costs in relation to perceived value
You can use these insights to start thinking about ways to enhance your next event, focusing on the successes and addressing any challenges.
2. What type of event is feasible for us right now?
You might want to throw an extravagant member appreciation gala, but is your association positioned comfortably for that kind of expense right now?
Review your budget to determine what size event you’ll be able to host, as well as what features you’re able to cover, such as food, entertainment, speaker fees, event space, and swag.
You’ll also want to be mindful of current events and public health situations. For example, you should review the COVID-19 infection rate in your area to determine if an in-person event is feasible, or if your upcoming opportunity will have to be virtual.
3. What types of events are similar organizations offering their members?
Look to other associations or membership organizations in your field to gain insight into the type of experiences they’re creating for their members.
You can use this information to gauge whether you’re currently offering events with similar or greater value. It can also help you figure out how to differentiate your events or offer something unique to your members that they won’t get anywhere else.
4. How can we create an unforgettable experience for our members?
This question is perfect to ask yourself after you’ve reviewed the event input survey responses from your members.
You’ll want to balance their feedback and ideas with what you’ve learned about your association’s capabilities during your self-reflection. Craft your next event based on what is feasible for your organization and what your members are looking for.
When you strike this happy medium, you’ll host value-added events that will keep your members engaged, and, ultimately, your membership retention rates high.
Use member questions and personal reflection to plan the best event ever
Planning association events takes time and resources. However, planning an event can have a powerful, positive impact on your members’ overall satisfaction with your association. Asking for input from your members, while also asking yourself questions about your organization’s capacity can make for memorable event experiences.
If you’re ready to learn more about best practices for event planning—from managing finances to promoting the big day—make sure to check out our free, downloadable resource, Association Event Planning: The Complete Guide, to use as your ultimate event planning checklist!