I want to share a couple of stories about my personal engagement with some organizations.
I am a member of La Barra Brava, which is the supporter’s group for the MLS soccer (football) team DC United. We are the ones you see on TV chanting, banging drums and waving flags. Our common purpose is to be the “12th man”, to keep the team’s spirits up whether we’re winning or not winning. If we score a goal, we chant. If we concede a goal, we chant louder. If the players are getting tired, we chant loudest. I pay membership dues every year, I buy products (you should see my T-shirt and bumper sticker collections), I attend events (soccer games), I bring other friends to the games, I evangelize the group and my team, I post about it all over social media, I feel deeply passionate about it.
I am a board member at NTEN, an awesome association that helps nonprofits achieve their missions through technology. I have invested many years and a lot of time and work (volunteering, speaking, helping to start their Online Nonprofit Technology Conference back in the day) and attention to this important organization. I’m deeply part of the NTEN community, but as a board member, I actually am probably less connected to the daily work and activities of the average NTEN member than I ever was before I became a board member.
I spend a lot of time in Fitocracy, which is a fitness community where I track my daily swimming and weekly belly dancing (yes really!). I participate in groups, I pay for coaching on occasion, I read feeds, and I consider myself “a Fitocrat” – it feels like part of my identity. But I don’t post anything on social media about it and don’t evangelize it to anyone – it’s a much more private affiliation.
I am connected in LinkedIn to my alumni association from the University of St Andrews where I did my undergrad, and also to my alumni association from Sotheby’s in London where I did my masters degree. I don’t ever look at the first. I look at the second periodically because I’m trying to find a long-lost friend from that time who is not anywhere on the internet (Jane Taylor if you’re reading this, I miss you!…) and I’ve even connected directly to the admins for that reason.
I also speak at the annual conference every year for an association that I used to be a member of and did a lot of volunteering with, until I grew out of it and realized its low-level education was no longer right for me.
So what do all of these stories have in common? I didn’t spell this out directly in each example above, but my level of engagement for each one is more nuanced and may be very different from what I look like as a set of data points on paper. For the Barra Brava, I’m just a subscriber that gets the emails. I assume they don’t actually know how deeply I care about it or that I show up in the way that I do. For NTEN, I’m at the highest level of engagement in the traditional volunteer ladder sense – but I don’t currently feel that engaged from a deep identity perspective (though I used to). For Fito, I’m engaged internally but not externally. For my alumni associations, I sometimes click, so they probably consider me somewhat engaged, in equal measure, but my reasons for clicking are quite different. And for the association, until my membership lapsed I was probably in the top category of engaged just because I showed up to speak at the annual meeting every year and was pretty well known in the community – but that doesn’t reflect my complete disconnection from it.
So what does this say about engagement scoring? I’m not saying you need to throw out all of your data points and metrics. What I am saying is that you need to be VERY CLEAR about which ones matter the most and why, and you need to know that they never tell the full story. The full story ALWAYS involves a personal connection and story of some kind, a relationship between the organization and the member – that is DEFINED BY THE MEMBER, not by you.
And how do you better understand that relationship? It’s actually pretty easy. You just have to ask people and they will tell you why they care – or don’t care. But if you focus too hard on your data points only, you’ll miss that bigger picture.