Do members feel they belong to the association? Does their feeling of belonging equal the sense of belonging they feel when they go to a book club meeting? Is it like getting together with coworkers after work for a round of beers? Or do your members have a more transactional feeling about their membership? One that is more akin to being a member of Amazon Prime? There is probably a range of emotion in your association. Long-time board members are more likely to have a strong sense of belonging while mailbox members are much more likely to equate their association membership to Amazon Prime.
Research says a strong sense of belonging is good. It’s not just good for our association’s bank account; belonging is good for our members too. Eric Barker (a writer who pieces together research about how to be awesome at life) reported on a few interesting studies that make a case for belonging. “We need a community to feel good. And community is something we sorely lack in the modern world,” he says. Community involvement links to happier, more empathetic, healthier, and more resilient people.
Associations can be professional communities. You might be thinking, “of course we are professional communities”. I argue that some associations are and some are not. Associations are true professional communities when most members feel a strong sense of belonging.
We have a real opportunity on our hands. Not only can we help our members succeed professionally, our membership could also be good for our member’s health and well-being. Most members feel a strong sense of belonging during their board experience or at high-performing chapters, so how do we replicate this across the whole membership?
From the research, Eric gives us three strategies that can help us:
- Meet Regularly – A once a year conference is not enough to generate feelings of belonging, but regular monthly meetings probably will. The problem is many associations don’t have chapters or the chapters do not reach members in rural areas. Further, members say they don’t want to travel, so what do we do? New advances in technology have the answer. Now new video platforms like Zoom allow people to connect in groups virtually. Many communities have grown a following and tight-knit community by using this strategy, including one right in our very own industry, Association Chat (every Tuesday at 2 PM ET).
- Foster Friendships – The workplace can be competitive in a very unhealthy way. There’s no reason for this mindset to follow us into associations. Some associations set the tone for an open, helpful, and friendly member culture with each new member and with each contact with members. And some associations foster friendships by connecting members one to one through mentor programs, buddy systems, and new member orientations.
- Work Together – Teams that work together bond more, says the research. Much of what associations deliver is very passive learning. We read what an author writes or listen to what an expert says. However, there is a lot of work to be done in every industry and profession. Members need to test ideas in a risk-free way. Members want to spot trends. Industries and organizations need to attract young professionals. Tackling these issues as a team can bring our members together.
Sure, members belong in name, but do they really feel like they belong? Help them gain that strong feeling of belonging and they will be happier members and maybe happier people too!