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I’ve just returned from the 5th Annual MASAE Mid Year Meeting, and I’ve been thinking about some great ideas that were shared during the event. From Greg Melia’s Opening Keynote “The Rules of Engagement: Enhancing Membership in Your Association” to Shelly Alcorn’s “Buckle Up Kids: Behind the Wheel of the Disruptionmobile”, a somewhat disturbing look at the future and how it will impact many associations, there as a great deal of information to consider.

Like so many annual meetings the underlying theme was change – what has changed since we last met, what is about to change, and what are things that will be driving change as we move through the remainder of 2015 and beyond. It often comes down to what have we done, what are we currently doing, and where are we going?

Member engagement played a big role in the content that was presented in the meeting’s sessions. I focused on it in my presentation “How to Build an Online Community” and received a lot of interesting feedback from those association professionals attending. They were passionate in describing the challenges they are facing and also in their willingness to explore new ideas addressing member engagement. In the end, it ultimately boils down to building genuine connections with your members and delivering real value through the products, programs and services your offer them.

Being in Philadelphia I couldn’t help but think of the Liberty Bell as an analogy for the challenge of driving member engagement. That famous crack in the bell representing the divide between members and their associations in truly connecting with one another – the friction often created when associations define engagement by what they value, not by what members value. And that crack seems to be widening. Anna Caraveli, PhD. and Elizabeth Weaver Engel, MA, CAE, addressed this in their recently published whitepaper Leading Engagement from the Outside in: Become an Indispensable Partner in Your Members’ Success, which was the subject of our most recent Thought Leadership Series webinar and Ask the Thought Leader Episode.

During his presentation Greg Melia shared an interesting graphic of a pyramid breaking down the typical levels of involvement for members of an association.

  • 6.8% got involved at the governance level
  • 7.8% at the committee level
  • 15.5% represented ad hoc members
  • The most substantial percentage of membership were the 69.9% which he referred to as checkbook members

Checkbook members are those individuals who pay their dues annually and really do little more to engage with their association. While acknowledging that this group is absolutely vital to “keeping the lights on”, you cannot afford to take them for granted. Why? Well as Greg so correctly pointed out, checkbook members look a whole lot like former members.

So what do you do? Make engagement central to membership, starting by doing everything you can to involve new members immediately. Sell involvement before your sell anything else. Think about these three “C’s” when focusing on new members:

  1. Connecting – have a touch point plan in place
  2. Collaborating – put their talents to work
  3. Caring – if they don’t feel valued why would they stay a member?

Think about it. Your wins in your member engagement efforts can come from moving the needle on that 69.9% that never get involved with your association. What are some of the actions you can take?

  1. Know your members. If you’re using an AMS you already have access to an amazing amount to extremely valuable member data. Put it to work.
  2. Hit ‘em where it counts. Use member data from their activity and profile to provide quick and simple ways for members to get involved with opportunities that align with their passions and/or professional interests.
  3. Make word of mouth easy. Creating compelling, convenient volunteer opportunities will get them talking

Hopefully, you are ready to take a new look at your association’s member engagement efforts. To get you started, here are a few questions from Leading Engagement from the Outside in: Become an Indispensable Partner in Your Members’ Success to consider:

  • How do you currently measure engagement? Are you tracking and rewarding what the association values or what the 
members value?
  • How closely do your programs, products, and services align with the way members perceive value, learn, and interact with each other?
  • How do you currently learn about your audiences? How frequently do you have direct, unstructured interaction with them? What about your team or department? The rest of your association? How do you capture and share the insights you glean from those interactions? How do you apply those insights?

I would love to hear how you are tackling member engagement. If you have some ideas or strategies you would like to share, drop me a line.

We’re less than two weeks away from our June YM Though Leadership Webinar, 5 Ways to Ratchet Your Retention Rates through the Roof with Mary Byers, CAE, author of “Race for Relevance: 5 Radical Changes for Associations” and “Road to Relevance: 5 Strategies for Competitive Associations”. You’ll come away with practical ideas and a roadmap for reworking and re-invigorating your association’s retention efforts. I hope you can attend.