If you’re going to spend money on research (and for the record, I think you should) make sure the results provide specific, actionable data to inform your planning and help you gain leverage. Here’s how:

Start from scratch. Too often I see associations use previous questions as the basis for the next research project. Most do it for comparison purposes. Some do it for convenience. If the questions didn’t provide breakthroughs previously, they are unlikely to do so today. The market has changed since your last research project. Your questions (at least some of them) should too. (Matt Braun of Loyalty Research Center has an excellent article about this here )

Hire expertise if you can afford it. Survey Monkey and other simple surveying tools have their place. (I use Survey Monkey myself.) But there is an art and science to determining what questions to ask and how to properly word them. The more complex your research project, the more important it is to work with a pro (internally or externally). The Florida Bar has an expert on staff; other clients I work with have hired an external firm to design, deploy, analyze and debrief their survey projects.

Act on what you learn. Strategy should emanate from what you learn. Members rank your website poorly? Take the input seriously and rework it. Members say dues are too high (most will, by the way)? Rethink your value proposition. (One association I know decided to include webinars as part of dues rather than charging separately for them. Another moved from flat-fee to tiered pricing for membership.) (More from Loyalty Research Center here)

Repeat. Rather than waiting until you have an urgent need, budget regularly for research. Doing so makes it an expectation rather than a fight for a money when it’s necessary.

Mary Byers, CAE, CSP, shares additional strategy starters for busy association professionals in her new online learning series titled, Momentum: Strategy Starters for Today’s Association Professional (powered by Elevate in partnership with CommPartners) at leadwiselearning.com. She is also the author of Race for Relevance: 5 Radical Changes for Associations.