Association memberships are unique in the way that they provide ongoing, rewarding experiences in exchange for the dues members pay to continue to be a part of the organization. That’s why it’s important that your association actively works to keep members coming back year after year, offering unique value through engaging opportunities and events.
Whether your association is made up of professionals in the same field or alumni who attended the same university, strengthening member engagement should always be one of your top priorities. Engagement secures your association’s relevance and fuels healthy member retention.
It’s likely that you’ve developed a set member engagement strategy over the years. However, with advancements in technology and an online world saturated with virtual experiences, it’s always a good idea to review the basics and look for opportunities to improve. Using your association management software (AMS) system, you can leverage your tools to further engage your members, encourage member-to-member networking and community-building, and enhance your overall approach to member outreach.
In this guide, we’ll be reviewing some member engagement basics and walking you through a couple of key questions. Follow along from the top, or skip to the section that interests you most using the following table of contents:
- What is member engagement?
- Why is member engagement important?
- Top Association Member Engagement Strategies
- Fonteva: Our Member Engagement Software Solution
Don’t wait for your engagement strategies to become obsolete. Use these lessons, tips, and software recommendations to brainstorm new ways to not only keep members renewing each year, but attract new ones as well. Let’s dive in!
What is member engagement?
Member engagement is the ongoing outreach and interactions between associations and their members to keep constituents informed, educated, and motivated to continue their memberships.
By extension, a member engagement strategy is the different messaging, content, and opportunities that associations share with their members to ensure that they remain engaged.
Essentially, once a member joins your association, you need to actively work to nurture member relationships. You’ll know when member engagement is successful when the value associated with the actions you take and the experiences you offer outweigh the expense of membership dues.
However, not every association will measure engagement in the exact same way. Member engagement varies based on the type of association and your member’s preferences.
Defining & measuring member engagement
The way that a university association measures member engagement will look noticeably different than how a professional association will measure engagement. The former will typically look at event attendance, while the latter might refer to their learning management system (LMS) to gauge how often members take advantage of further education opportunities.
Since no two associations are the same, the way your association measures member engagement will also be unique. To begin setting your own benchmarks for member engagement, think about what your long-term goals are, whether it’s to increase member retention or encourage community-building.
As you review what member engagement means to your association, take the time to gain insight into where your members are already active. In other words, consider the various experiences and engagement opportunities that your association offers and the platforms where your members already are. Using a data-driven approach, observe how your members engage with those experiences, including:
- Social media platforms.
- Email marketing.
- Live events.
- Learning opportunities.
Once you get a clear sense of what member engagement means to your association, you can then turn these engagements into measurable numbers. This can be done by setting, tracking, and analyzing key performance indicators (KPIs).
Setting KPIs for member engagement
Key performance indicators (KPIs) are strategic business metrics that your association can set to measure your progress towards specific, quantifiable goals.
KPIs will help you and your staff measure the performance of your association based on key objectives. After defining what member engagement means to your association, you can then set KPIs to evaluate your success at reaching specific engagement targets.
Here are some examples of KPIs based on where your members may be currently active:
- Social media platforms. Consider measuring how often you gain and lose followers, level of post engagement, the number of profile tags or references, and which of your posts get the most attention.
- Email marketing. Consider measuring your email open and click-through rates, which members opted to receive your newsletter, and how often members respond to your correspondences.
- Live events. Consider measuring how many people registered, total attendance, how people found out about your event, and the type of tickets people have bought.
- Learning opportunities. Consider measuring metrics from your association’s LMS system, such as which classes are most popular, how many members received accreditations, and how often members start courses but do not finish.
Determining effective KPIs is an important part of measuring the success of your member engagement strategy. Seeing actual data metrics will help you make the best future decisions. For more examples of KPIs, this article on data analytics offers detailed information about essential metrics to look out for.
Why is member engagement important?
When most organizations think about member engagement, it’s easy to go straight to data and measure specific transactions. However, you have to look beyond the numbers and understand the meaningful experiences your association offers its members and the mutually beneficial value they provide.
Increased member retention
From a management point of view, prioritizing member engagement is crucial to promoting member retention. The more you engage your members, the more likely they will renew their memberships.
Focusing on member retention is generally more cost-effective than member acquisition, so building up a loyal member base will better support your organization’s stability in the long run.
Consider what your association can offer to boost the value delivered to members in exchange for membership dues. No one will pay to be a part of your organization without gaining something meaningful in return.
Provide your members with opportunities and experiences that they will actually appreciate and motivate them to keep coming back. Keep in mind that positive member engagement results in a positive member relationship.
Member engagement and community-building
Member engagement doesn’t just help you develop better relationships with your members. It can also encourage members to interact and engage with each other.
Oftentimes, individuals join associations to meet and network with others with similar interests or professionals in the same field. This way, they can learn and grow with other like-minded people, or even advance their careers.
This is what makes it so important for members to feel like they’re a part of a growing community. So consider basing your member engagement strategy around encouraging member networking and interaction. In particular, you might:
- Host live events. Events are the best way to engage your members and encourage community-building. This is because they provide a space for members to interact face-to-face. For example, a conference allows members in the same industries or sectors to come together and talk about new innovations or improvements in their field.
- Provide an online member portal. While your association may have recurring in-person meetings and annual events, a growing membership requires an intuitive online member portal. This way, members can communicate with each other through forums and browse other profiles to get a better sense of their community.
- Organize a member directory. Member directories provide your members with an important networking resource to explore your association’s member base and reach out to their peers. Additionally, they act as a great form of marketing for your organization, allowing you to show off to the public the size and professionalism of your membership program.
Member engagement and non-dues revenue
Many associations prioritize raising funds outside of their regular membership dues to continue funding and enhancing their services. The key to unlocking these non-dues revenue streams is to offer additional, paid engagement opportunities for members to further enhance their membership experiences.
Of course, asking members to pay fees on top of their regular dues might sound challenging, but it is entirely possible as long as these paid opportunities are valuable, unique, and worthwhile.
For example, event ticket sales are a great way to increase non-dues revenue. While tickets are an extra cost, events offer a rewarding experience that justifies the member’s purchase.
Other engaging ways to increase non-dues revenue include running fundraising campaigns and offering branded merchandise through an online store.
Top Association Member Engagement Strategies
Since every association is different, it’s difficult to definitively say exactly which association member engagement strategy you should follow. Depending on your ultimate goal and members’ preferences, your member engagement strategy will be built around your specific KPIs and data metrics.
However, there are a couple of common strategic moves that can help to strengthen any member engagement strategy.
1. Send out member engagement surveys.
Always establish a direct line between you and your members. This way, you have a reliable communication channel and platform to gauge how your members are feeling.
Whether it’s delivered through a social media platform, mobile events app, or email marketing tool, regularly send surveys and polls to your members. This way, you can gain a more direct understanding of your members’ needs and preferences.
When is the best time to send out surveys and polls? Consider these approaches:
- After events. This is when the event is most prominent in your members’ eyes, so it’s a great time to get feedback on how your event went and what can be improved.
- With membership renewal reminders. As members are deciding whether or not to renew, it makes sense to also get some feedback from them. If members decide to leave the association, ask them to reveal why!
- At the end of the year. When the holidays begin to wrap up, this is a great time to get members to reflect on the year and what your association has offered them.
2. Segment your members by interests.
To better engage your members, segment them based on their interests. This way, you gain a better understanding of which members respond best to different member engagement tactics.
For example, you can start customizing content to resonate with certain segments of your members. Younger members may be more receptive to one type of message, while another version appeals to older members.
3. Use advertising to promote engagement opportunities.
Chances are, you’ve spent time crafting meaningful member engagement opportunities like members-only events and learning opportunities. Now, you need to make sure your members know about these opportunities. Paid advertising can be a fantastic way to amplify member perks and inspire people to engage.
Here are a few paid advertising strategies for nonprofits to promote member engagement:
- Google Ads: Use Google Ads to promote your website and encourage members to explore online resources like webinars, educational materials, and discussion forums. You can also promote your events. Best of all, eligible 501(c)(3) organizations can leverage this paid advertising channel for free through the Google Ad Grant program.
- Social media ads: Show up in members’ news feeds by running ads for upcoming events, membership drives, and other initiatives to encourage participation. By using targeting features, you can reach current and potential members alike.
- Retargeted ads: Reconnect with users who have previously engaged with your website or social media content. Whether they abandoned your membership form or an event registration form, you can inspire them to complete specific actions personalized to their interests.
Paid ads can be immensely helpful in engaging current members and inspiring new prospects to sign up. With thoughtful strategies, you can increase visibility for your initiatives, deliver ads to the right audiences, and drive more traffic to your site and social media.
4. Improve your communication strategies.
People get bombarded with emails and messages every day, so don’t bog down their inboxes with unnecessary content. As you’re developing your member engagement strategies, consider ways that you can improve your communication strategies.
For starters, consider letting members choose their preferred mode of communication and deliver messages in a way that they’re most likely to respond to. To do so, you can take a proactive approach by asking members for their preferences. Alternatively, you can also explore previous engagement data to determine which channels a particular member responds best to.
For example, one group of members might indicate that they like to be contacted through direct mail, while others tend to favor digital channels. When you communicate with each individual in the way they prefer, they’re more likely to respond positively.
Additionally, segment your members and tailor each message based on their particular preferences and engagement histories. This can be done by customizing existing templates within your AMS platform to more personally address each recipient.
5. Host engaging events.
One of the most appealing factors of joining an association is the events. In-person meetings provide significant value, as they reinforce to members that they’re a part of a real community. There’s little loyalty or emotion involved when all of the other members you “meet” are just photos on a screen.
In addition to serving as a strategy for boosting member engagement, events offer learning and networking opportunities that might not be found elsewhere. Remember that what your association offers should outweigh the costs of the membership dues, so actively consider ways to make your event stand out.
6. Make new members feel welcome, and existing members feel valued.
Your member engagement strategy should start on day one. As soon as a member joins your association, focus on engaging with them. Send a welcome packet containing relevant association information, as well as instructions to access the online portal and information on any upcoming events. It’s important to immediately communicate the value of engaging with your robust member community.
However, don’t forget about those who have stayed loyal to you over the years. Tenured members should still feel valued, as their retained contribution and engagement are still vital to your association. Maintain positive member engagement by continuously communicating your appreciation for their membership.
7. Offer many ways to engage.
Avoid focusing on only one method of member engagement. While it’s wise to have a goal for your association to work toward, don’t let other engagement opportunities fall to the wayside. We’ll be discussing both digital and in-person member engagement strategies.
Here are some digital member engagement opportunities:
- Online member portal. Provide a space for members to connect with others in their community.
- Community message board. Members can actively engage with each other through forums, collaborate on files, and comment on each other’s ideas.
- Learning management system. With an effective LMS, you can offer online courses and classes for members to further their education and gain certifications.
However, don’t forget about the value of face-to-face engagements. Consider these in-person member engagement opportunities:
- Events. Host conferences, presentations, and more to engage your members in-person. This way, they can actively interact with each other throughout the event.
- Learning opportunities. Offer in-person classes and learning events for members to further their education.
Meetings. Oftentimes, your association will have committees and subsections. Encourage them to meet in person on a daily basis so that they can accomplish objectives in an efficient manner.
8. Make it easier with an association management system.
To compete with other organizations vying for your members’ time, money, and attention, relying on software solutions has become more of a necessity than a suggestion. This is especially true as your association continues to grow.
After all, as more members flock to your association, you want to ensure that each individual continues to get the same level of attention and keep closely engaging and participating with your organization. And how can you effectively engage your members when you and your staff are bogged down by daily internal processes like manually sending dues reminder emails?
By investing in the right association management software solution, you can automate the upkeep of daily tasks, streamline communications, and closely monitor and analyze your various engagement activities.
Fonteva: Our Member Engagement Software Solution
If you’re on the hunt for an effective and reliable association management solution, then look no further. Fonteva has worked with associations for over a decade, and through our powerful Salesforce-native association software, we strive to reduce the burden of association management and member engagement.
With more powerful and comprehensive tools than a simple association management system, Fonteva provides an all-in-one association management platform that gives you and your team access to:
- Online member profiles. Engage your constituents online by providing a public member directory. This gives members a chance to get to know each other and even interact on an online message board. Members can also edit their own profiles and update any inaccuracies.
- An intuitive member database. An intuitive CRM system makes it easy to personalize member communication. Fonteva is also 100% native to Salesforce, which means that your member profiles will be fully fleshed out and regularly updated with engagement metrics from event attendance, payment preference, and more!
- Event planning and management software. Fonteva’s association management platform includes event management tools, so there is no need to look for a third-party solution. You can easily host an event microsite, create a mobile event app, and manage all of your key event personnel on one streamlined platform!
- Continuing education opportunities. People join associations to stay up-to-date on best practices and innovations in their field. With Fonteva, you can offer certifications, learning events, online courses, and more.
Fonteva’s comprehensive association management platform also helps your association to visualize past data to improve your member engagement and retention strategies for the future. With flexible reporting tools, you can easily see which communications, events, and other forms of outreach are working and which need to be tweaked.
Actively engaging your members is an ongoing journey, but certain strategies can simplify the process. For example, consider your association’s overarching goals and areas where your members are already actively engaging. Additionally, by investing in reliable association management software, you can easily compile reports to understand these goals and form measurable KPIs to take appropriate action.
Eager to learn more about strategies and tools that you can use to elevate your association and engage your members? Check out these additional resources:
- Membership Directories | Complete Guide & Best Practices. Member directories can be powerful tools to leverage more effective engagement strategies to support community-building. Explore how you can take advantage of this software’s benefits.
- Association Management Systems: 7 Tips for Strong Community. Learn how to amplify your member community with these top tips.
- Using Salesforce for Associations | 5 Strategies for Success. Does your association depend on Salesforce? Check out our top tips and software solutions for your organization to make the most of this powerful CRM.