2020 Member & Volunteer Survey Results

Every two years we poll our community to ask what's working and where we can improve. Find out what we learned in our 2020 survey tracker to members and volunteers.
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
June 30, 2020

In January 2020, we invited our members and volunteers, past and present, to participate in a member and volunteer survey. We wanted to learn how their perceptions of and experiences with our club have changed since our last surveys in 2011, 2014, 2016, and 2018. We compare these responses with past survey data to track patterns showing how we’ve grown and changed, and to identify opportunities to improve. 

Of the 15,000 people who received the survey, 2,000 responded for an overall response rate of 13%. Over 1,900 members responded (out of 10,000 contacted), translating to a member response rate of 19%. This response rate is lower than year’s past, but that is likely due to the fact that we’ve introduced regular feedback channels any time you participate with The Mountaineers. To put this in perspective, generally surveyors expect a 2-3% response rate. 

Included in the survey were current guest members and former-Mountaineers. We hoped to learn why people don't join and why they leave. We were pleased to get so much feedback. 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

  • Our community is growing, and the demographics of our membership remains largely the same (more work needs to be done to realize our vision of having our membership represent the demographics of the communities we serve)
  • Generally trending high in satisfaction
  • Key factors in renewal are volunteering, course participation, and tenure
  • Volunteers continue to place a high value on leader development and recognition
  • Volunteers appear to have an increasing desire for cross-branch collaboration and consistency

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Additional Relevant Highlights

  • We've seen significant growth in membership in the last four years, growing from 11,500 in January 2016 to 14,450 in January 2020. 
  • The average membership length for a Mountaineer is 11 years.
  • The #1 reason people join is to take a course or improve a skill. In the open text comments, folks often say they joined for a class but stay for the community. 
  • Volunteers remain more satisfied than members, and more likely to renew and recommend. The number one reason they renew? To continue the lifelong friendships made in The Mountaineers, followed closely by gaining new skills. 
  • 40.8% of our volunteers hope to volunteer more in the coming year than in the last year, and 10.9% hope to volunteer less. The most cited reasons to volunteer more include wanting to pay it forward, hoping to improve personal and leadership skills, and a love for the community. The most common reason for wanting to volunteer less is due to a change in life situation impacting availability. 
  • People who participate in more courses are also more likely to want to renew. Members who participated in 0 courses were 77% likely to renew their membership, but this increases to 85% and 91% for members who participated in 1 and and 3-4 courses respectively

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KEY TAKEAWAYS

Overall, the survey validated top priorities for our Vision 2022 Strategic Plan: to LEAD innovation in outdoor education, ENGAGE future Mountaineers, and ADVOCATE fiercely for our wild places. The data validates that the investments outlined in our strategic plan are the right ones, and that we’re making progress in these mission critical areas while adjusting in response to shifting volunteer needs.

Our volunteers are more connected to one another and across branches than two years ago, which may come from recent investments in leadership development and cross-branch programs. One example is the popularity and success of our Alpine Ambassadors program. We’re also excited to see a clear desire for continued leadership development in the future, although those efforts, like everything we’ll do for the foreseeable future, need to be scaled appropriately in light of COVID-19.

Interestingly, we found that our volunteers have more price sensitivity than members in relation to our new pricing strategy. By pricing courses more consistently by course and across branches, we’re better able to realize the value of our volunteers and invest in volunteer development and recognition. It’s great to see our membership respond positively to the pricing changes, and we’re excited to see more people than ever take advantage of our scholarship opportunities. In the last year, we gave away 30% more scholarship than in the previous fiscal year.

Our biggest opportunities are in decreasing barriers to entry. Specifically, members have requested more entry-level courses. In response,our Foothills Branch offered a new, beginner-level version of our popular Conditioning Hiking Series called GoHike! While the course was ultimately canceled due to COVID-19, it sold out in less than a day, and more volunteers stepped up to be able to welcome more members. Prospective members also spoke to the costs associated with getting outside, specifically with all of the gear you need. That’s why we launched our Gear Library in 2018 in partnership with WTA, to begin by supporting our youth partnership programs, and we will continue to leverage and expand the library to support more people of all ages getting outside.

Members and volunteers have also requested a more transparent and uniform equivalency process for courses and skills. Being able to offer equivalency tests is something we’ve been working on for a number of years, and we’ll continue to invest in transparent, uniform processes to make sure everyone earning badges for Mountaineers programs has the same set of base-line skills. 

Leadership progression is another area that was called out for needing more transparency, and we couldn’t agree more. While roughly half of our membership is women, only 40% of our volunteers identify as female, highlighting a gap in leadership. This is an improvement over the past, but still highlights a leadership disparity in our organization, which we know is even more acute when it comes to leaders of color. In support of this work, in October 2019 at our annual Climbing Summit, the group approved the new Climbing Leadership Structure to achieve a number of important outcomes for The Mountaineers, many of which are directly related to equity: 

  • Offer transparency about what level of vetting a leader has to the students and equalizes the experience for all aspiring leaders.
  • Provides a clear leadership pathway where aspiring leaders can see a road map to how they can become a leader in whatever climbing pursuit interests them. 
  • Provides early leadership opportunities, giving our members a chance to feel valued and develop their leadership skills early on, while also developing technical skills. We believe this will lead to more leaders, and early identification of individuals who may have been overlooked for leadership opportunities in the past, thereby reducing the burden on our top leaders to run outings. We believe this will increase our trip offerings overall.

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We received a lot of feedback about our focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion - some positive and some negative - but overall our community applauded our efforts to acknowledge the inequalities of outdoor access and work to create more transparent, equitable systems within The Mountaineers. Looking ahead, our Equity & Inclusion Committee will focus on how to better incorporate principles of equity and belonging into our leader training, courses applications and student recruitment processes, and course curriculum.

Finally, we were heartened to see a groundswell of feedback in support of our conservation and advocacy efforts. Our community appreciates the work we do in this area to make public lands accessible to all, and we’re committed to continuing this important work, which is only possible because all of you continually lend your voices in support.

We appreciate the thoughtful feedback shared with us during this process. We hope you are as excited about the future as we are!

BONUS FEEDBACK

At the end of our survey we asked “Do you have anything else you want to say about The Mountaineers?” In most surveys, 0.005% of people fill this out. Well, not at The Mountaineers! We received over 600 responses – a 30% response rate.

Some comments were positive, some were negative, and all were helpful insights for our organization. Overall, the constructive feedback decreased from 2018, we saw an increase in the number of kudos, and sometimes comments contained both! There were fewer comments about technology/our website, and fewer comments about the availability of easy hikes. Thanks to our hike leaders who stepped up in recent years to make sure we have more than enough of those to support the demand of our membership! We received lots of feedback (in support of) Alpine Ambassadors and (calling for more) availability for climbs. And, as already mentioned, we had lots of support and constructive feedback for our efforts around equity and inclusion. 

Here's a representative sampling:

Caution

  • Expense of classes and activities is a barrier.
  • Classes offered that interest me fill up quickly which makes it hard to get the basic requirements to be able to continue on in doing hiking activities that really interest me.
  • The barriers to entry are very high. You are required to graduate courses to participate in activities, which makes sense because you want to ensure everyone meets a standardized base skill level, but that barrier is still there. I order to overcome that barrier you need to complete courses and courses are pretty inflexible. The courses can span over long periods of time and rarely include make up field trips. My schedule uncertainty make this a very large barrier to entry.
  • There is not enough space available in many courses, and the fact that you have made many of them required in order to graduate from others and there is no space is extremely frustrating.
  • From time to time I'll attempt to sign up for a trip only to find out it's full. It's full on the day it opens and it leaves me with the impression there's a selection process going on such that those the leader may not want on their trip are weeded out. It's not a personal thing aimed at me; I've been on waiting lists only later to be among "the chosen".

Advice

  • Although I haven't been active in activities for a number of years, I am proud to be a Mountaineer, and hope to resume a more active role in the near future. I believe the Mountaineers should consider/investigate having a paragliding as an activity. I have been paragliding at Tiger Mountain since 2011, and can tell you that many people that paraglide would fit well into the Mountaineers organization. 
  • I and many others would like "real" badges, not just virtual ones! 
  • After attending the Mountaineers 2019 Leadership Conference, I would like to see Mountaineer Leaders explicitly address the need for emotional safety in the announcement posting for an activity. I have only gone on one day hike, 3 years ago, and I felt left out and frustrated by the leader's inability to make sure we worked together as a group. 
  • I hope youth programs are a way to bring more POC and low income Seattlelites into The Mountaineers.
  • I think there's something to be said about finding the balance between the seriousness and safety of skills being taught, and enjoying the activity we paid/showed up to learn. From my limited experience so far, it seems that some instructors have trouble finding that balance, and forget that we're all here to learn about and ENJOY all the mountaineering sport has to offer. I understand that we need to be competent members of a team, but we also sign up for courses to learn, so we shouldn't be looked down upon when we're actively learning a skill and not proficient in it yet.

Kudos

  • Thank you for these questions! They mean to me that you are really trying to make Mountaineer activities more respectful and inclusive. Keep it up!
  • Have just joined and taken 1 class. I was very impressed with content and instruction and blown away by how included I felt. I was not at all sure a female, late 50s novice would be particularly welcome, and I felt that I was.
  • I am very impressed with, and delighted by, the success of the club's fundraising activities over the last few years. There has always been great "buy-in" by the volunteers. Now there is also great "buy-in" with donors!
  • I think The Mountaineers is really progressing as an organization and developing into a strong force for good for both its members and the outdoors. 
  • Thanks for supporting and preserving the outdoors! Above all, strive to be a welcoming community.

Main image by Karen Wallace.


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Susan Westphal
Susan Westphal says:
Jul 16, 2020 08:59 PM

Reading the survey results reminded me of something. I love Mountaineers and have been a member for probably 10 years. Some years I am very active, other years, not so much. I occasionally meet people who have memberships, but haven't gone on any hike or activity for several years. I think it would be of value to the organization to identify and contact these people by phone and invite them to SOMETHING...find out what they like and maybe sponsor them? Active members are more likely to renew and get value from their membership.