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Member Engagement: Are You Doing All That You Can? (And Should?)

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Every association executive is constantly on the lookout for new, improved ways to build and sustain member engagement. (If they aren’t, they should be.) But the results of Greenfield Services’ 2012 Pulse Report show that only a few organizations are making best use of their most powerful engagement tools.

There’s no shortage of good intentions. Nearly two-thirds of associations (63.2%) cited member engagement as one of their top three priorities for the next year. But the research revealed that associations face a tough road if they hope to build a strong, enduring connection with a large share of their membership base.  The report shows low levels of volunteer commitment, along with low participation from members on social media networks and small levels of non-dues purchases.

The Pulse Report held a glimmer of good news for one type of association: About a quarter of organizations reported that at least three-quarters of their members were involved with certification programs, roughly the same proportion of respondents—27.2%—who said affiliation was mandatory for some or all of their members. That means mandatory certification is a good enough lifeline for associations that offer it, even though one-fifth of survey respondents said members joined their associations because they had to, not because they wanted to.

In an uncertain economy, nobody should second-guess a reliable source of membership and revenue, and there are very good reasons for the mandatory certifications that many professions require. But we’re only doing part of our job if people affiliate with their associations because they have no choice, not because it’s where they want to be. And that goes back to the community-building tools that most associations are still learning how to use.

  • With the right engagement and outreach strategy, members build their own networks and find their own ways to maximize the value they get back for their annual dues.
  • An effective social media program creates a steady flow of valuable news, information, and education, while creating pathways for members to pick the content that is most useful to them.
  • Associations already know that volunteering is a virtuous circle—the more actively members engage, the more likely they are to stay involved. By placing members themselves at the centre of your membership strategy, you can give them many more reasons to volunteer.

The 2012 Pulse Report showed that there’s a lot of work ahead for associations that want to re-envision and recreate their member relationships. But unless you’re delighted with your member engagement and revenue, this might be the right time to get started.