Surveys are an indispensable tool for both non-profits and associations as they provide a window into the minds of their supporters.

For associations, better understanding the intentions and provocations of their members, especially if they happen to differ substantially from others in the group, can help leaders communicate more sensitively and more effectively to each segment.

A critical part of member engagement strategy is recognizing the fault lines that exist within your organization and making sure not to aggravate them when communicating the org’s agenda to your members.

For example, police and law enforcement associations would certainly want to know that 60 percent of white and Hispanic police officers feel that police relations with blacks were either excellent or good while only 32 percent of black officers agreed. Additionally, a significant majority of black officers believe that the public protests following the several officer- involved killings of black citizens were at least partly motivated by a desire to hold law enforcement accountable. Yet only 27 percent of their fellow white officers agreed. And the kicker, 92 percent of white officers believe that the U.S. has already assured equal rights for African-Americans, whereas only 29 percent of their black colleagues agree.

This sort of chasm would obviously influence how a law enforcement associations, communication director would approach a hypothetical campaign in which the association lobbies legislators to give officers more procedural rights when an on-duty civilian shooting death occurs. Given the political minefield that is today’s race relations the association would want to relay its priorities and actions to its members in a way that doesn’t rankle them- especially if the issue of race is tied into any of those initiatives. Pluralism demands finesse.

On the other hand the very same survey of almost 8000 police officers conducted by the Pew Research Centre found that 86 percent of all respondents felt that police work had become more difficult due to the attention surrounding the high profile killings. 93 percent of officers, regardless of race, thought their colleagues now worry more about personal safety.

This information, too is advantageous to possess, because now that same hypothetical proposal to give officers more procedural rights if they become involved in a shooting that leads to a civilian death can now be reframed to members not as a race-relations issue, but as a police safety issue.

The police association can tell its members that it is lobbying for a new initiative – not so white officers can kill innocent black citizens with impunity – but rather so that all officers can have better peace of mind when doing their jobs even in the unfortunate event of an accidental shooting. Same agenda, different presentation.

Though survey data is just one piece of the puzzle, it’s an invaluable piece. All communication directors need to understand their members and what makes them tick so they can effectively illustrate to each member, how their goals align with those of the association. Different people respond to different messages so segmentation and personalization is vital.

A one-size-fits-all. Cookie-cutter communication is no longer viable—there are simply too many organizations on America’s advocacy landscape vying for attention.

Only the dextrous survive.

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