10 Questions to Ask Your Members BEFORE Planning an Event

by Korrin Bishop

our association’s number one event goal is likely to offer valuable experiences to members that help them achieve their professional goals. It’s only logical that they should have a voice in the event planning process. 

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 the top questions to ask members before planning your next association event. We’ll also review the top questions you should ask yourself in this process (a little introspection is never a bad idea!). 

6 Questions To Ask Members Before Planning an Event

You need to ask your members key questions to get a thorough understanding of their needs and expectations. Their responses can guide your pre-event planning, and help craft an experience that’s built just for them. 

Here are six questions you should definitely 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:

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:

  • Networking
  • Socializing
  • 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:

  • T-shirts
  • Water bottles
  • Tote bags
  • Pens

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 Send Your Event Input Survey

After creating your event input survey for members, you may initially think to blast it out to all of your members. However, with this type of survey, you don’t want to just focus on getting the most responses, but also the highest quality of responses you can get. 

To get high-quality responses to your survey, send your questions to specific groups of members that can provide insight into various cross-sections of your overall membership. For planning association events, you’ll want to perform outreach 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

In addition to asking your members for their ideas and feedback, it’s important to incorporate time for self-reflection. Before planning your next association event, use these four questions to assess what activities feel most aligned with your current goals and vision for your membership.

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 External and Internal Questions to Make Planning Association Events a Success

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.

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