Everyone in the association world cares about member engagement (or should, anyway). And a lot of people in the association world are actively trying to measure engagement and improve engagement. Which is fine, except for one problem: Very few people have actually defined engagement.
Maddie and I have done some long-term work with a couple of large associations specifically on member and stakeholder engagement. In both cases, we started with defining engagement, and in both cases it was a critical first step. Interestingly, each definition was quite different.
Member engagement is fundamentally about an exchange of value — value for the member and for the association. That’s going to look different depending on the goals and strategy of the association, and it’s going to look different depending on the needs and interests of the membership base. The truth is, you don’t get to define engagement all by yourself as an association (I’ve been saying this for years, but no, you are not the center of the universe!). Engagement is a two-way street.
Recognizing this, we came up with the following structure for a definition. Engagement is:
- The people who matter (stakeholders) …
- Interacting in measurable ways, within the context of our organization …
- Which is valuable and advances stakeholders’ interests and needs ….
- And which is valuable and advances the interests and needs of the organization (including mission alignment).
You’ll have to define all the details. One of the clients we worked with was looking exclusively at existing members, so they limited their stakeholder group in that way. When they got into the value exchange, they ended up focusing on building meaningful, long-term relationships. The other association, on the other hand, was focused specifically on attracting non-members and building the base of people interested in what the association was doing. Their focus was on activity and mission alignment.
Those differences mean each association should be tracking and measuring engagement in different ways. Not all engagement is the same, so don’t weight it in your measurement scheme based on “best practices” or the way your members have always engaged.
So how do you define engagement and what are you measuring?
Here’s a free resource that describes different approaches to engagement that are out there in the association community.