6 Takeaways from the Data-Driven Leadership Program

Often we use the word leadership in the association and nonprofit space. The missions, values, structures, and reasons for being an association are about leadership. Thought leadership to educate and affect a profession, advocacy leadership to influence and support important decisions and volunteer leadership to guide and direct the organization to this success. So, when I first heard the title of this program, “Data-Driven Leadership,” I certainly identified with the notion.  

Associations must lean on vital information to lead in all the areas listed above and many more. Notice I said information and not data; I’ll return to that shortly. I attended this panel, and what I heard was so inspiring. Three association leaders shared their stories, experiences, and successes using data to lead. I wanted to point out a few parts of the program (which you can watch in its entirety here) that I think are essential takeaways for association leaders: 

  1. Data leaders outperform their peers
  2. Data helps businesses win
  3. Data creates opportunities to engage members
  4. Subjectivity can be removed from the conversation with concrete data points
  5. Data supports your position as a leader
  6. Leveraging data helps find & keep leaders

Takeaway #1 – Data Leaders Outperform their Peers 

Early in the seminar’s presentation, Reid Colson, SVP, Data & Analytics at UDig, pointed out that many research publications found that organizations and companies that use data-based information to make decisions outperform their peers and competitors. Reports from large research firms like McKinsey and Gartner support this notion that using data to inform decision-making leads to better results for those entities. Reid also reminded us that data strategy programs work best when starting with the end in mind to understand the stories to tell or the problems to solve.



Takeaway #2 – Data Helps Businesses Win 

Organizations can use their data (1) to better engage with their membership, (2) reduce many categories of expenses, (3) retain customers and members and (4) improve employee satisfaction. These four insights had me thinking about the outcomes of using data like this. In my years as an association executive, we always looked for the causes of the reporting and information we used. We’d look at membership retention and realize it was always about where the industry reported it in the 75% to 80% range. We also observed that report showed that the 25% who didn’t renew were usually first-year members. But none of that told us “Why.” Could personalization or deeper onboarding for new members, be the silver bullet? Could we use our data to better explain or enhance the value of our membership? Hearing all this made me wish I could see that information now. 



Takeaway #3 – Data Creates Opportunities to Engage Members 

Having a data strategy provides the chance to hone an organization’s engagement with its members. The data can bring to light services or products that customers are not using or don’t create much demand. Those conversations can lead to opportunities to grow revenue by stopping some initiatives and moving investments to others that are striking a chord with members. 


Looking to accelerate your data strategy? Transform your data into business value. 

Takeaway #4 –  Subjectivity Can be Removed from the Conversation with Concrete Data Points  

Farah K. Ahmed, the President & CEO at the Fragrance Creators Association, highlighted an interesting case study in which her organization was able to leverage data to build, support and better align its advocacy programs to support its mission and membership. They accomplished this by creating a strategy within the leadership team that leveraged data to take opinions and subjectivity out of the equation and look objectively at the organization’s future. With that future agreed upon within leadership, the organization used data to build and support its advocacy programs.  



Takeaway #5 – Data Supports Your Position as a Leader 

Bob Costello, Chief Economist & SVP at American Trucking Associations, shared how they have found that no matter how much money you have or how many members you have, it’s not good enough to walk into a legislator’s office without data to show support for your point and ultimately for your request. Additionally, your data can be the pivotal information that helps lawmakers see that what they are being told can make a difference in some aspects of public policy. They say credibility is earned, and you can move the needle with a great data program. Bob also suggested that associations spend some time familiarizing themselves with data from the St Louis Reserve Bank’s FRED Database to leverage in messaging. 



Takeaway #6 – Leveraging Data Helps Find & Keep Leaders 

“Adaptability, resiliency, collaboration, and trust” are all important words and aspects of a leader or a desired leader. We learned from Eric Joseph, Partner at Heidrick & Struggles, how even in the high stakes work of finding, analyzing, and recruiting candidates by executive search firms’, data is more important than intuition or “gut feelings.” These organizations’ assessment programs can not only aid in finding the right person to take a leadership role in an association but can also be used to decide how best to help incumbent leadership staff. By training an executive in areas where he or she needs support, the disruption and cost to an organization can be minimized by replacing that person. 



I think this program was timely in that it solidified the notion that in today’s age of association and membership organization evolution, those leaders that understand data and are well-equipped to use it have a better chance to hit their strategic goals and position their association for success.    

I encourage all who could not attend to watch the entire program; it is an hour worth your time. And after you do, We’d love to hear from you on what other areas of data strategy or data you envision can help you lead your organization. Let’s connect!


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