According to the 2021 Association Trends Study: Building the Next Normal, member engagement, time, and money were the biggest challenges for association professionals last year. Although 78 percent of respondents say they are working harder than ever before, they are struggling to engage their members, especially those at smaller associations.
While not new, this challenge is increasingly important in today’s workplace and when looking ahead to an uncertain economic climate. All association leaders understand that strong member satisfaction equals member retention, and loyal members provide the resources needed to accomplish their mission. And for members to be satisfied, they must engage with their association’s products and services.
A framework for member engagement
For these reasons, Brighter Strategies has developed a model to help its clients increase member engagement. This framework adapts Salvatore Falletta’s Organizational Intelligence Model, applying these principles to the association membership context. The same broader environmental inputs and organizational capability and execution indices largely drive member engagement—and subsequently, association performance.
In this article, we’ll focus on why the environmental inputs of strategy, culture, and leadership are key components impacting your organization’s ability to engage its members. We’ll then consider the organizational factors that can move the needle on member engagement.
Strategy for member engagement
Strategic planning helps you build a stronger, more sustainable organization aligned with your values and mission. A well-designed strategic plan is a blueprint for action and answers the questions: “Who are we? Where are we going? How do we get there?”
Likewise, a strong member engagement strategy guides you from where you are to where you want to go. Member strategy is grounded in organizational strategy, considering the broader strengths, problems, opportunities, and threats identified by the association. Additionally, it must be:
- Member-centric, meaning it considers members’ current behaviors, needs, and interests when considering how to better engage them
- Personalized yet flexible, with the ability to adapt as environmental factors change and members’ needs evolve
- Driven by data—both as inputs and metrics for success.
Culture is your organization’s system of values, beliefs, and behaviors that shapes how work gets done.
You must intentionally cultivate a healthy culture; it cannot be left up to chance or perception. Much like the strategic planning process, you can define the culture you want, assess whether it is your current reality, and then create a plan to get where you want to go. Culture that drives member engagement must both align with your organization’s mission and vision and support your members’ values.
Beyond their internal organizational culture, associations have a distinct membership culture that can also be changed and influenced. You can identify this culture by asking the following questions:
- How do members currently engage with products and services?
- How do members like to engage with each other?
- What are members’ greatest values, as evidenced by their interactions with the organization’s resources, mission, and volunteer opportunities?
If strategy is the ship and culture the engine that moves an organization toward greater member engagement, then leadership is the captain. For your member engagement strategy to be successful, your organization’s leadership must support it. This means they help to inform strategy, they talk about it to all stakeholders, and they are accountable to its outcomes. Most importantly, leadership must embody the values of its members.
Key organizational drivers of member engagement
The second phase of the membership engagement model depicts operational levers an organization can pull to drive member engagement. These five components adapt Falletta’s Organizational Capability and Execution Key Indices for the context of an association’s member engagement strategy.
- Membership structure: This looks at the model an association uses to manage its members. It includes the scope of resources and benefits members receive, what these services cost, and how members access them. Creatively revising membership structure is one way to ensure individuals receive the utmost value for their investment.
- Member communication: Perhaps one of the most important factors for engaging members, communication is a balancing act. Send too much communication and members will unsubscribe but send too little and they’ll forget why they joined. Understanding the appropriate communication messages, channels, and cadence is critical.
- Volunteer leadership: These leaders are essential to the success of any association by ensuring volunteer programs run smoothly and effectively accomplish the organization’s mission. Focus on supporting volunteer leaders as they work hard to coordinate schedules, manage programs, and train other volunteers.
- Membership Rewards: This component encompasses the kinds of rewards members and member units receive. Measure what mix of rewards—and for what members receive these rewards—to reinforce engagement.
- Growth and Development: Finally, this driver includes the ways in which individuals are growing and advancing because of their professional membership. Consider what the association offers to members and how they are benefiting from development opportunities.
Next steps for member engagement
Brighter Strategies is passionate about helping organizations improve the environmental inputs and operational drivers of engagement through a systems approach. We believe our model for member engagement is a unique and powerful tool to help associations increase member loyalty and retention. Partner with us to improve your people, planning, process, and performance, and watch your member engagement grow. Learn more by contacting us here.
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