Defining the Goal of Member Engagement

Written by Maddie Grant on October 10, 2017

What does member engagement mean to you? Sure, it’s the hot topic that much of our work as association professionals revolves around, but the goal can be obscured by indirect efforts and lack of focus.

As a Culture Consultant, my area of expertise is the internal and external cultures of employees, customers, and members. When it comes to member engagement, I believe that engagement is the outcome of a strong culture. To foster a strong, healthy culture, the component groups who make up your association must share a vision. First you must decide what engagement means for your association. Then you are equipped with a set of questions to ask people when researching what members want and what will help them to engage as they wish.

Association membership evolves over a life cycle. At different points in a career, members have different needs. Accept that certain groups will be more active than others and respond to their desired level of engagement. When people take time out of their career to start families, naturally they will take a step back. But can the association continue to reach out to them with a light touch to keep them in the loop for whenever they want to restart activity as a member?

Defining engagement involves deciding what high and low engagement looks like. Low engagement members are still important to the functioning of the association, so respect these members’ boundaries while ensuring that this type of member experience has a wide reach. High engagement members will be fewer in number, with a lower reach, but play an equally important role in contributing and striking this balance of member experiences.

For instance, at the American Nurses Association, those focused on defining member engagement decided to consciously create a two-way, give and take relationship between the association and the member that would last a whole life cycle. Instead of using a generic template for the expectations of members based on demographics such as age group, they looked closely at the specifics and found nuances in their industry that would impact the way engagement played out.

Many mid-career nurses were going back to school for further study, and needed tailored resources separate from those provided to fresh-faced undergraduates. They also found that retired nurses continued to actively participate in the field as volunteers, regarding nursing as part of their identity. The association could support retirees in their voluntary work and learn from the wide-ranging experiences they brought to the association. Thoughtful awareness of these various member experiences led to the development of long-term relationships with the association.

In contrast, a scientific association I worked with went through a similar process of defining engagement. Their perspective centered on the mission: the ability of the association to provide a platform to support science. Whether or not a person engaged in this mission was a member did not matter to this definition. With this example in mind, consider how you might engage people before they even join, through your online presence and other services. This can be a novel way to test what will be useful and needed by people in the community before they commit to their journey as a member of the association.

Take on the critical work of defining engagement, and remember that external culture reflects what’s going on internally. Connect the dots beyond products and services to build relationships between the members and their association, and watch long-term engagement flourish.

Does this topic intrigue you? Maddie spoke on this subject at SURGE 2017, a free virtual summit we hosted November 7-9th. Click here to access the replay of the session.