If you ask for data, you better have a good reason

It probably goes without saying that most consumers are more protective of their personal data than ever before. With technology making it essentially free to communicate with anyone (email, text, phone), when you ask for data from your members and customers, they're going to think twice about giving you that data. They're not just going to answer any question you ask them. You've got to give them a really good reason.

For example, many associations have been working on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives in the past year (some for several years!). Part of this effort requires the association to know a lot of personal information about their members (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender, age, personal pronouns). This is information that can be viewed as highly personal to a member or customer, so simply asking for this information isn't enough; you need to explain to the customer why you need this information. And more importantly, you need to explain why your organization having that information will benefit the member giving you that information.

Here's an actual mini-case study:

A few years ago I submitted a presentation idea to speak at a conference, with plans for having a colleague of mine serve as co-presenter. As part of the submission process, there are several required fields, including age, gender, race, and sexual orientation. My colleague completed the form and answered all these questions, except when it asked for sexual orientation. For that question she responded: "And this is important because…"

And she was absolutely right. Because the conference coordinator had not explained at all why they were collecting that data. And thus, my co-presenter wasn't interested in providing it.

Collecting data is easier than it has ever been, which can tempt us to ask all kinds of questions of our members and customers. But remember: just because you can, doesn't mean you should. And more importantly, if you do ask for any data beyond contact information, you need to explain why you need that data, and you need to explain why your having that data is good for the member or customer.

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