Unions face a growing legislative and judicial threats to membership through “right to work” legislation and recent court rulings such as last year’s Janus Supreme Court case. As a result, unions need to start adapting and thinking more like non-profit associations and clubs.

In the past, unions have had a relatively easy time recruiting members and collecting dues. Dues could be auto-deducted from payroll and the benefits of membership were clearly articulated and understood.

According to the 2018 Bureau of Labor Statistics, 10.5% of American are members of unions – down from an estimated 30-40% in the 1940s and 1950s. Part of this reduction may well be the changing nature of employment in America – particularly a reduction in manufacturing and traditional labor jobs. However, unions also face growing legislative and judicial threats to membership through “right to work” legislation and recent court rulings such as last year’s Janus Supreme Court case.

As a result, unions need to start adapting and thinking more like non-profit associations and clubs. Membership in these non-profits has always been optional, and associations have therefore been ahead of their union counterparts in providing additional value to members and driving better engagement through data and metrics.

Collecting Good Data

Many unions have never bothered to examine or optimize their methods of collecting and tracking member data. It just hasn’t been a priority. With shrinking membership numbers, it’s now more important than ever to actively seek member contact information, key demographics and activities. As we’ve learned from the successful social media giants, people are more likely to share data with an organization if they believe they are getting something in return.

Unions need to start adapting and thinking more like non-profit associations and clubs

An easy-to-use and rewarding online experience is therefore key for union members. Unions and their locals should serve as a central hub of critical information that benefits the member and is simple to access and use. When the information being provided is valuable, members are more likely to frequent the site and update their contact information and preferences. Further, unions can utilize expanding AI tools to passively track what pages the member visits, articles and links clicked, and purchases made through the union.

Managing Your Data

Good content and a great user experience are key for bringing members to your site, and all of this needs to seamlessly connect to a backend database to take advantage of the data gained. A solid, relational membership database – or CRM (customer relationship management) system – is important to have on the backend so union staff can actually use the information being collected on your website and by activists in the field.

Since unions are unique in the information and activities they track, the membership database should be flexible and allow for easy configuration of fields, records and online forms. An internal database admin or external consultant can also help with data clean-up and reporting.

With shrinking membership numbers, it’s now more important than ever to actively seek member contact information, key demographics and activities

Scoring Members to Identify Union Champions

You’ve got the software and data collection mechanisms in place for your union members. Now how do you take advantage of it? One critical area is measuring members and the value they bring to your union.

Scoring member engagement is critical to any organization. For-profit retailers have been using it for decades to give benefits to frequent shoppers and consumers.

But non-profits like unions have different priorities than big corporations and need to look at other factors besides how much a member spends to measure value. An active and engaged member is much more valuable to a union than someone who just pays their dues. They can also be a huge help with union brand messaging, organizing, and member recruitment.

The first step in measuring member engagement is to define what makes your members most valuable, also known as your Key Performance Indicators or “KPIs”. KPIs should be closely aligned with your union’s strategic goals and vision.

Your organization should define 3-5 KPIs and weight their importance. Narrowing these down can often be the most difficult piece of the project, but you should stick to 3-5 as large numbers of KPIs can often twist results and make tracking more difficult.

Once you’ve assigned activity points and weights to your KPIs, you are able to come up with a sum to easily reference the member’s value to your organization. Usually a scale of 1-100 is helpful as it is easily digested. Once you’ve created your scoring system, you can better understand the tiers of engagement with your membership.

  • Who are thought-leaders and key activists in your union?
  • Which members are scoring 80, 90 points and above?
  • Are there trends in engagement? Are you losing engagement among a certain member demographic?

Having this data can help unions better respond to the new challenges they face, and become more nimble and adaptive to changing member preferences and needs.

An active and engaged member is much more valuable to a union than someone who just pays their dues.

How Aptify Can Help

Built for national unions and large locals, Aptify provides member management software for unions that’s both intuitive and mobile. With both member- and staff-facing interfaces, your union can capture data, plan organizing events, process dues, track grievances and run reports from anywhere, at any time.

Learn more about why the Communication Workers of America and the Air Line Pilots Association trust Aptify as their technology partner.

Read their story