For many nonprofits, member engagement can take many forms and may involve a variety of functions within the organization. In this post, I’ll discuss some underlying strategies for guiding and supporting member engagement.
Among your most important value propositions to members are the multiple ways that you help them engage with others in their industry. Effective engagement addresses multiple needs for the member — fostering their growth and professional development, building their professional networks, and gaining greater visibility for themselves in the industry. When you succeed at fostering engagement, you not only meet the member’s immediate needs, but you also strengthen your organization’s brand as a critical resource in the industry.
By adopting the following industry best practices, you can encourage and reward engagement, and make it a vital part of your organization’s culture.
1. Create an engagement ecosystem
One way to increase member engagement is to treat it as an ecosystem — an interconnected array of opportunities, programs and services that offer value to members no matter where they are in their career. Just as in an ecosystem in nature, the various elements connect with and support each other.
For example, to serve members who have just started in their careers, your engagement ecosystem might include a peer mentorship program, in which more senior members volunteer to talk one-on-one with the younger members, answering questions and providing advice. As members grow more experienced, you can offer them additional opportunities, such as joining a task force, committee, or even a board. Later still, they might even be encouraged to mentor a younger member themselves, bringing their engagement journey full cycle.
2. Keep the communication flowing
Use communication to drive engagement, by creating relevant messaging everywhere that members could possibly go to get started. This means your website needs to clearly direct and provide paths for members to follow if they want to engage more with their community peers. It also means having supporting messages clearly articulated on your LinkedIn and Facebook pages and any other social media platforms where your members are active.
Another strategy to increase member engagement is to put the word out that you want to help members celebrate successes in their careers. Beyond straightforward recognition in a newsletter or discussion list, some associations have had success creating targeted awards or recognition programs. For example, one of our clients established an annual safety recognition program for companies that had met safety regulations for the previous year. Members complete a brief survey on a multipurpose portal where they can also access other membership resources. Each recognition program will look a little different, based on the particular industry and the needs of your members. It usually doesn’t take a lot of resources or staff time to support such a program, but it can mean a great deal to members to be recognized among their peers.
3. Use member personas to improve engagement
Your organization is in a unique position to offer opportunities for members to share information and build business connections and peer networks. The key is understanding your audience’s needs and personas, and making sure that you offer something for all the major personas that collectively define your membership.
To cite just one example, it’s a smart idea to promote engagement connections and options that appeal to all the different age bands within your membership. Gen Xers, Millennials and Gen Zers have all embraced social media, but differ widely in their choices of platforms and the extent to which they use them. Your membership, communication, and marketing staff should be on the lookout for emerging trends in communication preferences, and ensure that you’re highlighting engagement opportunities on each, with links back to relevant resources.
4. Offer discussion lists or bulletin boards
Another popular way to increase member engagement is to host and promote a discussion forum or bulletin board as a member benefit. Offering such a venue can take relatively little effort on the part of staff, yet by allowing members to both ask and answer questions, it can significantly increase the value of membership.
You can make the discussion forum more effective by establishing and enforcing clear rules. For example, many associations prohibit certain types of announcements, such as members trying to promote their own company’s services or upcoming events. Ideally, the discussion among members will create its own buzz and energy. If you notice that activity has slowed down, it may help to throw out a provocative idea from time to time and ask members to share their opinions about it. Examples include new programming that members would like to see the association offer, questions they have about the association, and others. This type of insight can also help generate ideas for future programming or member resources.
Often, engagement does not generate a lot of direct revenue. But that doesn’t mean that it is without value.
Members who are engaged are more connected to their community, and more likely to see their membership as intricately linked with their place in the community. The greater a member’s level of engagement, the more likely they are to renew, speak well of the organization to peers, and even encourage others to join.
By following these suggestions, you can increase the energy around member engagement — and even move it toward becoming a self-sustaining part of your association’s culture.
For more information and insight increasing member engagement, feel free to contact Vault Consulting.