Members join your association for all sorts of reasons. Many want to increase their impact in their industry or continue learning new skills, while others want to connect and network with the rest of your members. While joining reasons vary, it’s up to your association’s staff and leadership to keep members engaged long-term.
Effective engagement varies for different associations based on their overall purpose. For example, advocacy-focused associations would engage members through new campaigns, whereas professional associations might focus on seminars and workshops. Despite these differences, there are some general practices that most associations can use to effectively engage their members.
Our team of experts at Regpack have years of experience with membership software and building the tech tools that associations run on. This means we are well-versed in the ins-and-outs of successful association management and how these organizations can use the technology at their disposal to engage members long-term. From our experience, we’ve compiled five strategies that can positively impact your association’s membership engagement:
- Launch Advocacy Campaigns
- Create a Membership Directory
- Host Events
- Offer Multiple Membership Levels
- Gather Feedback
Consistent engagement is well worth the investment. Engaged members not only regularly pay their monthly membership fees, but also attract new members, attend your events frequently, and allow your organization to continue building a strong community in your association’s given field.
1. Launch Advocacy Campaigns
Many associations are interested in expanding their membership base to include newer, younger members. There are multiple ways to attract this audience, including continued educational opportunities and immersive online content. However, many young people often gravitate towards associations with strong philanthropic values, even if they are not a strictly advocacy-oriented organization.
Advocacy campaigns can take many forms and are an investment on the part of your association. However, your organization can still share your philanthropic values through advocacy work by:
- Partnering with local advocacy groups. Chances are there are already local advocacy groups in your area championing issues that your members care about. In fact, some of your members might also be members of these groups. Supporting these organizations through sponsorships or by spreading word about them to your members can help promote their cause.
- Participating in digital advocacy. Digital advocacy can take many forms and tends to be the preferred advocacy method for young, technology-savvy members of your organization. Your association can help support advocacy causes through email alerts and by boosting other organizations’ social media campaigns.
- Hosting advocacy-specific events. Sometimes news and world events occur that even non-political associations have a responsibility to speak up about. In these situations, your association can support the issues your members care about by drawing awareness to current events and advocating for positive change.
Don’t get too hung up on whether or not your organization is an advocacy association or not. Advocacy takes many forms and sometimes requires support from many different groups. Even your members who aren’t politically motivated will likely understand this. For those who are politically engaged, seeing your association work to make the world a better place can go a long way towards convincing them to get more involved in your organization.
2. Create a Membership Directory
Associations are social organizations, so ensure your members can reach out to one another, networking and creating a community within your industry. Morweb offers advice on association website design, explaining that a membership directory is a core feature of engaging association websites as it allows your organization to use your current member base as a method of attracting new members.
For your current members, a directory opens up a variety of social opportunities at your association, allowing them to become immersed in your community. Make sure your directory is interactive and allows members to:
- Edit their profiles. Let your members update their profiles with their profession, education, interests, and even a link to their LinkedIn. By doing so, they’ll be able to share information about themselves and find other members who they have something in common with. Some may bond over a shared interest in advocacy, while others might discover they attended the same undergraduate university.
- Message other members. Give your members communication tools to let them get to know one another. Private and direct messages are useful for one-on-one conversations and group messaging can help several members coordinate meet-ups or engage in group discussions.
- Create groups. After your members discover others they have things in common with, they might enjoy being able to form a community within your association. Exactly what groups can do is up to your association, but members often appreciate being able to display their group membership on their profiles and the ability to message all of their group members at once.
Your current membership base is one of your association’s most valuable assets for keeping members engaged long-term. After all, if a member makes several connections with other members, they’re more likely to get involved in your association’s community and engage with opportunities that allow them to interact with their new friends.
3. Host Events
In-person, virtual, and hybrid events all give members something new in their routine to look forward to. Pay attention to which events members attend, and extend invitations for similar events to them in the future.
While you can experiment with different kinds of events to see what most appeals to your members, many associations have found success with:
- Live webinars. Online courses and webinars provide an opportunity for members to learn something new. Teach members about your field or call in an outside expert to expand your repertoire of topics. Then, at the end of your webinar, answer any questions that came up during the webinar to answer your members directly. Webinars can also be recorded and shared later, making them useful evergreen content, as well.
- Professional conferences. Professional conferences give members an opportunity to further their own knowledge and hear from others in your association. Given that some members join associations specifically for other members, this gives them a chance to learn from professionals they admire.
- Galas. Galas are an opportunity for your members to dress up and enjoy a night dedicated to celebrating your association and raising money for a cause. You can host galas in recognition of specific events or days, such as an environmental-focused association hosting an earth day gala. Make sure to schedule speeches during your gala to explain and remind members what you have all assembled to celebrate.
Offering a mix of virtual and in-person events can also help drive engagement by enabling members to choose the option that is most convenient for them. In-person events let members make face-to-face connections, while hybrid and virtual events allow those who are out of town to participate.
4. Offer Multiple Membership Levels
While some associations find success with a single type of membership, you can also offer different benefits for different levels of members. Doing so can help expand your community by providing a variety of engagement levels and perks at different price points. For example, you might offer membership tracks that vary by your members’ goals, such as one membership level that includes more workshops and another that focuses on networking events.
Before investing in multiple membership levels, make sure you have a comprehensive recurring billing software solution in place that can account for various membership tier levels. Additionally, decide whether or not to allow members to change their level of membership themselves or if they’ll need to call your staff.
Giving members control over their membership tiers removes an administrative task your team would otherwise need to handle. By contrast, some associations appreciate having more insight into why and when members change engagement levels, which can be gained by having members contact your staff when they want to make a switch.
5. Gather Feedback
The most straightforward way to learn what activities engage your members is to ask them. Feedback surveys allow your members to directly explain what they do and don’t like about being part of your association. Plus, being able to share their thoughts lets members know you care about their opinions, which is an incentive to engage with your association in and of itself.
Many membership management tools already come with survey features. If yours doesn’t, consider using resources like this one to find a more comprehensive solution or look for add-ons that integrate with your current system. Connecting the data from surveys to other metrics can help your team draw connections between the quantitative data you’ve already collected and the qualitative feedback from your members.
Make sure to frame your questions in such a way that they reflect your members’ experiences but also answer key questions your association has about specific operating practices. For example, here are a few questions that invite members to discuss their personal concerns while providing feedback on overall engagement practices:
- What events have you attended in the past month? What interested you about these events?
- How often do you engage with website content such as webinars?
- Have you experienced any barriers towards participating in events or activities?
While there is no need to make every change your members suggest, identifying positives and negatives that several members mention can help put your association on the right track towards creating a better and more engaging experience overall.
Your association allows your members to grow and explore new opportunities. Understanding what engages your current members can help improve your overall retention and help attract new members by promising interactions with a thriving community of professionals.
Make sure your team has the proper resources to begin improving your association’s engagement rates, then host events, ask for feedback, and provide opportunities for each member to experience the perks of your association.