The Who, What, When, Where and Why of Member Engagement


This tool will help you take stock of what is working, where there is room for improvement and plan your next steps for your membership onboarding

The Principles of Member Engagement

Even with all the time, money, and staff resources in the world, there is no magic formula to get all our association’s members at maximum association member engagement at all times. For most associations, working with finite resources and staff time, a good place to start increasing member engagement and member retention is to understand the principles of member engagement.

  • Principle #1: Engaged members are happy members. 
  • Principle #2: Happy members are more likely to renew.
  • Principle #3: Happy members are more likely to recruit friends and peers to purchase a membership.

So engagement is key! How do we get the engagement? Let’s ask ourselves how members can engage, where they can engage, and with what they engage with.

Who: Members First

Your association has a website with information and content for the public. While educating the public and sharing resources openly is admirable and even part of your mission, we have to be mindful that our members are paying for a service. They are paying for membership. It’s important to create a second space for members — separate from your public-facing website — with members-only content and opportunities. Without keeping some of your benefits gated and reserved for members, there isn’t much to incentivize membership and certainly not membership renewals.

What: The Good Stuff

What does your association member engagement offer your members? Do you have benefits that are valuable to members? Do your member benefits bring value to your members above and beyond the cost of membership? A good place to start is to pull the figures on what percentage of your members are using your benefits. From here, we need to tease apart whether low benefit engagement is due to its positioning, messaging, and use, or if perhaps it’s time to retire the unpopular benefit.

Where: Location, Location, Location

Where do members go to engage with your association?

There should be a designated place for listing, explaining, and browsing your catalog of member benefits. In our interconnected world, the most effective way to engage members is through an online platform. A membership website with gated members-only content behind a login works perfectly.

In the global village we live in, our main point of connection is online via our website and member portal.

When: On-Demand

People have busy lives, run on different schedules, and have their own communication preferences and your members are no different. Without a member portal that houses all of your member benefits.

How: Enjoy the Journey

Once we sell an association membership, what’s on the other side? How does the process unfold for members who want to engage with their association member engagement benefits? Is it straightforward, easy to understand, and predictable? Is it hard to connect with member benefits and opportunities? It’s worth taking the time to test out the experience your prospects go through to become a member to troubleshoot your onboarding process and how easily they can engage with their association membership benefits.

The Solution: A Member Portal

One of the biggest lessons of marketing is that it takes ten times the effort to attract a new member than to hold on to an existing member. To this end, we want to make sure that our association member engagement benefits are clearly understood and accessible. Without on-demand access to member benefits, it’s hard to catch members when they are interested or curious to use their member benefits.

Members who don’t see value in their membership are unlikely to renew. The key to connecting with your members in a satisfying way is to keep members engaged with the member benefits and content in your member portal.

Since all associations offer such varied benefits, the gold standard is to create a customized member portal that is built around the needs and goals of your membership and makes administrative tasks a breeze.

This article will touch upon the importance of your member portal to your association and open-source solutions such as CiviCRM and Drupal 8.

Strategy First, Development Second

The first step is to start with the strategy phase of development. We start with the end in mind by laying out the functions you want on your website and member portal that are appropriate for their separate audiences. Think about the end goal, and what steps will be needed to get there.

Be mindful to invest in features that will bring back your return on investment. Divide up your wishlist into high impact, high return versus low impact, low return.

Lastly, and most importantly, talk to your members. Getting member feedback is integral and will allow you to build in phases while knowing they will each make an impact. As an association, you will need to start from the bottom up and build the basics first. This includes revamping member renewals, profile updates, certification updates, and adding newsletter subscriptions.

Once your strategy is laid out and you are already envisioning the masterpiece that will be your member portal, please know that this will not happen overnight. You will need to divide up your vision into implementation phrases. It will take a few months to create a member portal that can go live. Once you have that phrase complete, you can add more features and expand.

As your members take advantage of the membership portal you will experience growth as an association, which will help your members grow individually and through their profession. This focuses on sharing services that help your members grow such as training, webinars, podcasts, and publications. It is essential that they are easily accessible for members so that growth can take place. With the right foundation, comes growth and lastly, self-actualization. This is where the magic happens, members help each other grow through engagement in your association.  Members volunteer in programs, participate in your community, and contribute to creating value for your association. This is the time for you as an association to create a community for your members to communicate with each other and initiate programs- the dream! 

Looking for More Opportunities to Learn about Increasing Membership?

Check out our amazing member-focused and engagement-focused events calendar! Webinars and interview-with-the-expert webcasts are hosted live several times a month! Bring your questions and let’s start growing your association’s membership!


Farhad Khan, CEO

A tech entrepreneur specialized in creating membership websites for professional associations to increase member engagement. My background is as an engineer for Nortel and Ericsson. I started my own tech company in 2009 to help associations and nonprofits solve their challenges with my digital technology skills.