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What Data Is Most Valuable to Associations?

  • 4 Min Read

Learn how data can help you determine the true value of your association’s learning programs so you can make better decisions on how to provide value to your members.

Mark Lowry

A lot of people are overwhelmed at the thought of data analytics. Between your association management system (AMS), learning management system (LMS), email platform, website, event software, app and more, you’re sitting on a wealth of data—perhaps to the point of not knowing where to start. Or maybe you are using your data but know you could be getting so much more out of it.

The value in all that data comes down to the questions it can answer for you. Associations want to know things like:

  • Which of our members are more likely to renew—and who are we losing?
  • Are our marketing campaigns working or are we going in circles?
  • Which of our programs matter most to our members, and which should we sunset?
  • Are some of our courses more likely to lead to future purchases? Are some of them dead ends?

So what data is the most valuable for answering these questions?

Define What Success Looks Like

The first step is to figure out what success looks like for your association. What are your goals? For example, you might want to grow your membership, improve renewal rates, generate more revenue through your learning programs, improve member engagement and so on. Internally, you could be looking for initiatives to retire because they don’t generate the return on time and money invested that you want.

Determining Value With Data Visualization

The true value of a course or learning program isn’t limited to the number of people who enroll or the amount of revenue it generates. It’s also about who those people are and what else they are doing with your association. In other words, it’s about the journey. Doing what’s called a network analysis lets you visualize all your courses, events and products, and the interactions between them.

Image of a network analysis. Circles representing courses are connected by lines of various thicknesses.
Data visualization can help you follow your members’ journeys with your association

This allows you to map the journey and identify the courses that draw people in, which ones they’re likely to do next, and what other products and events are associated with each pathway. You can distinguish how engagement changes based on role and career stage. Looking at this data over time lets you identify trends that help you make strategic decisions about where to focus your resources. Let’s consider a few examples.


Let’s say you sell courses and certifications, and through your data visualizations you discover that there are a handful of courses that reliably lead to people enrolling in your certification program, while the journey for another group of courses is more of a “one and done.” If one of your goals is to increase certifications and the continuing education credits to maintain them, maybe you want to look at discounting that first set of courses or even making them a membership benefit. Meanwhile, you can look at the members who tend to engage with the second set of courses and see whether there’s a way to extend that journey, or maybe you’ll decide that the resources you’re putting into them are better directed to other more valuable streams.


The way you’ve designed your marketing campaigns, members who are close to completing a course are enrolled in an email campaign promoting additional courses, and those emails go out monthly. But they have a terrible open rate—or an above-average opt-out rate. Looking at your data, you discover that the overwhelming majority of people who complete a course wait six months before signing up for another. With that in mind you can send fewer, more targeted emails when members are ready to read them, not when you want to market to them.


Maybe you host an annual conference and several smaller regional events each year. Identifying patterns in who is attending and what they are interested in can help you focus the content. Perhaps you discover that student and early career members tend to attend the virtual stream of hybrid events, while professional members who have your certification attend in person. This allows you to schedule the most relevant sessions and activities in the most appropriate ways. With the right data you can determine which events give you a better return and which ones to scrap altogether.

Get More Out of Your Data

Compiling all the data across your digital ecosystem into visualizations makes the information infinitely easier to use. You can map out and understand member journeys so you can make better decisions on how to provide value to those members.

I’ll be speaking at the D2L Association Executive Symposium in Washington, D.C., on November 29. Join me there to learn more about generating useful insights from your data.

Written by:

Mark Lowry

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Table of Contents

  1. Define What Success Looks Like
  2. Determining Value With Data Visualization