This blog comes with a helpful tool to help you get started: The Member-Centric Checklist and Worksheet.
Why Engage Members?
At the top of every earnest association’s mind is trying to increase member engagement.
Why should member engagement be a goal?
Member engagement is not a vanity metric. Member engagement is key to the success and growth of your association.
The member retention math is simple: Members who engage with their members-only resources, benefit from them professionally and personally. These benefit to the member creates value for your association’s membership.
When members see value in membership, they are much more likely to renew.
Associations want to see members participating and enjoying their member benefits. Your team created events, opportunities and resources to be of benefit to members, and it’s a shame to watch them lie unused. We want to see our members intrigued and excited about the work we are doing for them.
Here are 5 proven ways to increase your membership engagement!
1. Solve Problems Members Have
All associations want to become the go-to resource within their niche for their members.
To become this authority, your association needs to provide perks and opportunities to members that are helpful and relevant to them.
Your association may have a library of content available to members that has been developed and accumulated over the years. Other associations may just be starting to build out their members-only value proposition. Whichever end of the spectrum you are on, we encourage your association to perform a quick review of your member benefits and ask the following question: does each member benefit solve real-world problems that your members have?
When your member benefits align with their professional and personal goals and offer real-world solutions to their problems, they will use them and see value in their membership!
Member Benefits Audit
Reviewing past member benefits is a big project. It takes time. Even when you aren’t tossing out irrelevant or outdated benefits, just the process of updating them is an undertaking in itself.
Like any important project that doesn't have the urgency to trump and park all your other work, we have to create a plan to work on updating them systematically over time. To help you highlight the value of your benefits, check out our blog about The Top 5 Member Management Tools for Associations.
Find a time to ask members which benefits they like, which benefits they don’t like, and where they see a gap that the association can address.
You can ask as part of an annual survey. You can set up member feedback sessions. You can invite some members for one-on-one calls or Zoom with you to ask them about their experience with your member benefits.
The feedback from members is the single most valuable information you will get to improve the experience for your members.
Listen to our It's Not About Price, It's About Value: Making Membership the Obvious Choice podcast episode, where you can learn about the value of talking to members and getting feedback from them.
Member Benefits Should Benefit Members
In short, take stock of which of your member benefits are really benefiting members.
Creating member benefits that connect with members can only happen when the culture of your association is member-centric. Meet with your association's team — the marketing team, the membership team, even the finance team! — and establish that the mission of your association is to serve your members and solve their problems.
Most associations are resource-poor. Parking tired and under-used benefits can seem scary, but eliminating clutter that depreciates the value of your membership will only benefit you.
When it comes to deciding how to invest your time and resources into resources that will really benefit members, we recommend the following formula:
Don’t Recreate the Wheel:
Take stock of the external resources that are already available (eg. from Google, or another association serving the same or similar membership). We don’t need to duplicate what is readily available for free.
Be realistic about the resources you can offer to enhance your member benefits (i.e. time, money, staffing).
What Members Want:
Offer members what they want and need.
Having gathered this information, your association is well-positioned to identify the problems your members have that you can readily solve and become the go-to authority for.
Check out our Know Your Membership Guide & Worksheet.
2. Benefits Should Be Easy To Use
How do members interact with your member benefits? What does that user journey look like? Have you mapped out your member journey to use each benefit and troubleshoot the process?
Suggestion #1, above, asked whether your current catalogue of member benefits is properly aligned with the goals of your members. This second key ingredient assumes your association offers high-value member benefits, and yet your members are not connecting with and using those valuable member benefits.
This happens when there is a breakdown in the accessibility of the benefits or the marketing messaging around the benefits.
Easy-to-Find Member Benefits
How do your members practically take advantage of your benefits? Where does your association have information about your member benefits? Where is your library of member benefits housed? What is the user journey — or experience — for members when they participate in a benefit?
When the process of using a member benefit is confusing, arduous, time-consuming or unpleasant, members disengage real fast. We don’t get many opportunities to make a first impression. Members come to an association in good faith that we will give them a professional user experience. If an association is cavalier with that responsibility, too often members don’t come back to try a second time.
Many associations see a high member churn, and the culprit is likely a poor user experience for members.
Showcase the Value of the Member Benefits
When associations come to us reporting low rates of member benefits use, it is common that we see member benefits set up in internal association-centric language rather than engaging member-centric language.
I’ll share an example: Offering a video recording of a webinar that says “Watch the January webinar.” This reflects the goal of the association: to offer a video recording for members to watch. The disconnect is that the members don’t have a goal of watching the January webinar. Their goal is to solve their problems, find resources, network, etc.
We suggest putting your member benefits marketing through a “language audit.” Touch of the value proposition of each benefit. “Watching” is rarely a goal. If this video was promoted by saying “Learn about the latest opportunities, technology, advocacy — insert value proposition here!” will sell your benefits and peak the curiosity of members.
3. Members-Only Area
Location, location, location! It’s the golden rule of property and true for digital content as well!
Does your association have a member portal, also called a membership site? Do you have a website where members can log in to browse and engage with member content?
An association has to provide a digital storefront experience exclusively for members. Allowing members to engage with content and benefits that are curated for them is of top importance to justify the cost of membership. To understand the difference between your public-facing website and your membership site, read our blog A Tale of Two Entities: The Benefit of Keeping Your Member Portal and Website Separate.
The waters can feel murky for associations that have as a part of their mandate to also serve the public. With a core part of their mission being the public, the association has valuable content publicly available. There are times when this is appropriate, but when there isn’t anything left exclusively for members, it’s hard to pitch the value of membership.
Having gated members-only content all in one place where members can go when they want to engage is key to member retention.
The alternative of having no designated member portal — where you are sending emails to members with announcements and links to events is a recipe for disengaged members. Emails are often left unopened. When they are opened, they are scanned.
Even with content that piques curiosity, the member is looking at their email when they do not have time to explore links, watch videos or register for events. They will make a mental note to come back which is likely to be forgotten on the back-burner of their endless to-do lists.
4. Empower Your Members
This important suggestion asks the following question: what is the culture of communication in your association? What does the feedback loop between members, benefits and your association look like?
Do your members have a voice in your association?
Can members make requests for new content?
Can members share their own resources with the member community?
Can they get feedback and advice, or give it to other members?
Can they create opportunities and perks for other members, positioning themselves as respected authorities in the member community ecosystem?
Creating a designated virtual place within your membership site where members can build a presence and reputation is a powerful member benefit. Suggestion #3, above, is about having a membership site to highlight the value proposition of your benefits, this suggestion is to allow your members to contribute to your benefits library.
Allowing members to become empowered and involved has so many benefits.
- Having expert voices in your community adds value to all of your members, who have access to experts
- It helps the individual members feel a sense of charitable satisfaction in giving back to the community.
- It also helps the individual member to position themselves favourably in their profession among their peers.
5. Celebrate the Success of your Members
Members are people, and people are social beings. We all want our contributions, efforts and expertise to be recognized, admired and celebrated.
Does your association have a mechanism to celebrate your members’ achievements?
Awards and Accolades
We suggest your association acknowledge the thought leaders within your membership community. Your association can consider implementing a system to honour highly-engaged members with titles, badges or awards.
The member can use their recognitions on their resume, website or member profile with pride. These opportunities for recognition are not to be underestimated and will fuel the desire among members to renew their membership.
The Member-Focused AGM
One strategy on how to do this is to make your association’s AGM member-focused.
It is common for associations to make their AGMs about their board members, their donors, their volunteers — in short, it’s about everyone other than their members. In doing so, your members don’t have a place at the AGM. And the association is left wondering why attendance to their AMG is low.
The solution: Shift the focus of your AGM’s agenda away from your staff, board members, volunteers and sponsors. Create an event that celebrates your members. Create some superlatives that are relevant to your niche. Create an awards ceremony that celebrates the achievements of the members.
As an example, let’s take an association for home builders. Present an award for best home built within various price brackets, or best kitchen renovation in various price brackets, or best bathroom renovation in various price brackets.
Structure the voting for the awards any way you want. Members could self-nominate, or key stakeholders could make nominations. Members can vote for the winners, or members of the public could vote as well. There is no right or wrong, and the members always win!
The gains of a member-centric approach are many and obvious. More people are exposed to your members’ work, drumming up potential clients or partnerships. The member feels “seen” and valued by their association. The member sees how their membership helps them professionally.
We encourage you to look at your association’s culture and systems to reflect on how they can be tailored to be more member-centric.
Check out our Member-Centric Checklist and Worksheet.
Looking to Ramp Up Member Engagement?
Join us for a member-engagement webinar to learn how to improve your member experience!