Strengthening Member Engagement: Tips From an HR Consultant

As an association leader, you work hard to provide opportunities for your organization’s members to learn and grow professionally, connect with each other, and contribute to their communities. This wealth of opportunities is exactly why your members join your association in the first place, and why they keep renewing their memberships year after year. 

But despite your best efforts as a leader, much of the success of your association depends on the dedication and action of your members. Your team can set up a mentoring event, plan a conference, or create a job board on your website. But without buy-in and participation from your members, opportunities and resources like these will be of little value to anyone. 

That’s why it’s important to monitor and work to improve member engagement within your association. While having an insider’s perspective can be useful, it also poses challenges. Sometimes it’s beneficial to get a fresh perspective from experts outside of the realm of association leadership. Doing so can invite you to consider new strategies and best practices that will bolster your members’ enthusiasm and breathe new life into your association’s management strategy. 

In this guide, you’ll get tips on strengthening member engagement from an HR consultant. In the world of HR, one of our most important focus areas is employee engagement, which impacts job satisfaction and retention. These same principles that apply to the internal staff experience can and should teach you a thing or two about boosting external engagement with your members.  

In particular, we’ll cover these six tips:

  1. Invest in a comprehensive management solution. 
  2. Define the value you provide to your members. 
  3. Maintain transparency. 
  4. Communicate consistently. 
  5. Offer ample learning opportunities. 
  6. Provide tools and opportunities for members to engage with each other. 

Even if your association currently has high levels of member engagement, taking a proactive approach to sustain (and improve) engagement levels can only lead to a brighter future for your organization and its current and future members. 

Let’s dive in!

1. Invest in a comprehensive management solution. 

Investing in a management solution for your association will make your efforts to strengthen engagement much easier, especially if you want to empower your members with the tools they need to engage with your offerings and each other. It’s also incredibly useful to track all of those key engagements, which your software can do. 

The solution internal HR leaders turn to is talent or performance management software. For associations, membership management tools will be your best bet. Depending on the opportunities your association offers, try to look for membership solutions that can integrate with or also have event management capabilities.

Here are some of the top features your own solution should have:

  • Member database. Every piece of data and information you have on your members should live in your member database, also known as a constituent relationship management (CRM) system. Not only does this help keep your association organized, but you can use these data points to personalize member communication and build more meaningful relationships. Make sure to actively track engagement, as you can use information like event attendance and online activity to tailor association offerings to your members’ interests. 
  • Online member profiles. Encourage users to add profile photos so that your members can get familiar with one another, even if they can only do so virtually. Members should also be able to update their profiles through self-service capabilities.
  • Email marketing and communication. In order to actively engage your members, you need a way to communicate effectively with them. Especially for large associations that rely on the majority of interactions taking place in the digital space, a management system with highly capable email and communication tools is key. We’ll touch on this more in the next section. 
  • Event planning and management. As mentioned previously, finding an association management solution with event planning capabilities is key. For one thing, your association is already likely hosting a number of events, whether they’re smaller meetings, larger conferences, or virtual experiences. With event tools integrated into your core management system, you have the ability to easily create event pages and streamline the registration process. Then, all of that data can be centralized in your member database to further help you engage your members. 

It’s worth it to invest in a comprehensive association management system whenever possible, instead of piecing together separate tools as your organization grows. With an integrated solution, you can pull all of your data together to create in-depth and meaningful reports. These help you and your team understand past data, ensuring you have the resources needed to make informed decisions and move forward.

2. Define the value you provide to your members. 

In order to encourage higher levels of member engagement, you have to consistently remind your members of the value they’re getting out of interacting with your organization and with fellow members. Doing so will remind members that full participation is necessary for reaping all of the benefits their membership offers. 

Here are a few suggestions for making the value of your membership program clear: 

  • Define your membership model on your website. According to Morweb’s guide to building a membership website, you should showcase your membership model on your website and explain what benefits your members receive for joining your organization. Some associations use a tiered structure for their membership model, where lower-level members receive only basic benefits and higher-level members gain access to more exclusive resources and opportunities. 
  • Highlight the element of exclusivity. Letting members (and potential members) know that their membership gets them access to exclusive opportunities can illustrate the need for deeper engagement and continued membership. For example, perhaps you have a job board you reserve for members only, or perhaps you host a members-only retreat each year. 
  • Share success stories. Reporting on how other members have benefited from engaging with your association can also encourage better participation. For example, you might report on how a CSR course helped one member to improve his company’s volunteering days program or how a recent college graduate benefited from your mentorship program. You can even have members write “review-style” success stories themselves. These are great for sharing on your website or in your newsletter. 

Communicating the value add of your association is similar to an organization communicating its benefits and perks for employees. Doing so won’t just motivate current members to more fully engage with your programs and opportunities. It’s also useful for marketing your association to new members! 

3. Maintain transparency. 

Loyalty to your association can be a big factor in how motivated a member feels to interact with your organization online or register for an upcoming event. HR professionals know the value of loyalty when it comes to employee engagement and retention. And, according to Astron Solutions’ guide to employee loyalty, one of the best ways to cultivate loyalty with employees is to prioritize transparency in all of your operations. 

The same idea applies to association members. Transparency is key to building trust and ensuring that the expectations your members have for their experience with your association will be met—or better yet, exceeded! 

Of course, it’s easy to be transparent about the great things that your association is doing. It’s a little trickier when it comes to being transparent about the not-so-good things. For example, maybe your association loses a major source of funding or has a high-profile conference speaker cancel. Being transparent with your members, even during those difficult times, will pay off as they see your organization as authentic, genuine, and honest.

4. Communicate consistently. 

When a member joins your association, that doesn’t mean your communication with them should stop. In fact, as soon as they officially become a member, this should be the start to a long-lasting and two-way communication channel. 

As an association leader, your role is to offer exciting and valuable opportunities and content, while your members should engage, ask questions, or offer feedback when prompted.

However, it isn’t enough just to send a couple of emails per month. The average email open rate is only around 21.33%, so taking steps to optimize your communication strategy is worth it. One essential tactic that many growing organizations often neglect is email segmentation.

Segmentation involves sorting members into different groups based on shared characteristics, like how long members have been active, what skills or experience level they have, or what their preferred communication method is. This will be unique to your association and the data points you value. 

Then, you’ll create targeted content for each segment and use your membership management solution to send emails to relevant recipients. If you want to take this to the next level, consider data automation to personalize your email communications. 

In order to automate data personalization, it’s crucial that your membership database and email tool are integrated and work together seamlessly. Your tools should pull the relevant data points from your CRM and populate it into email communications. You might use these personal data points:

  • Name
  • Role
  • Membership length
  • Past accomplishments
  • Engagement history (or past event attendance)

These little tidbits of personal information ensure that members know that the email they get is made for them. After all, no one enjoys receiving and scrolling through hundreds of spam emails that don’t even pertain to them. Set the expectation early on that each email you send to members is valuable and tailored for them.

5. Offer ample learning opportunities. 

Many times, members join associations to further their career or expand certain skills. That’s why professional associations are so popular. This means that one of the most engaging ways you can continue building your relationships with members is to offer ample learning opportunities, which are much like professional development opportunities in the workplace. 

In particular, online learning opportunities have become extremely popular in recent years. And this form of learning also enables you to expand the number of people who can experience it. Members (or non-members) can sign up and participate in the course no matter where they are, and no matter what time it is.

To get a better sense of the types of learning opportunities your members would most likely be interested in, consider the following:

  • Take a look at your membership database and make note of common goals.
  • Review what other professional associations are teaching and offering to their members.
  • Research the industry and jot down different skills for different levels.
  • Take a look at available e-learning courses and select a few that you think might benefit your members.
  • Create and send a survey to your members asking them to rank their top choices for new educational content.

Partnering with an e-learning content development company is another option to explore, especially if you want to create your own courses, design a long-term learning experience, or even translate courses into other languages. 

6. Provide tools and opportunities for members to engage with each other. 

Along with the engagement opportunities you offer to your members, consider how you can encourage members to engage with each other. After all, a huge draw to becoming a part of an association is meeting others in your sector and taking advantage of networking opportunities.

Over the course of the pandemic (and beyond), virtual interactions have become particularly popular. Here are some tools and opportunities you can provide to maintain and grow virtual engagement among your members: 

  • Dedicated online member portal where members get familiar with the other members, access discussion boards, and more.
  • Virtual association events where members can take advantage of live streaming tools and other online solutions to engage with others.
  • A membership directory, which members can use to connect with each other, see the accomplishments of peers, and network for professional opportunities.  
  • Association member committees made up of some of your most active members. Invite prospects to be a part of the committee, let them know of the role requirements, and encourage them to chat and discuss topics via text, audio, or video.

Ensuring that your members are engaging with each other is crucial for your recruitment and retention strategies. The same goes for employers trying to increase employee productivity. Without the ability to talk and interact with other team members, it’s harder for employees to feel a sense of belonging and loyalty to the organization.

HR consultants are familiar with many of the challenges associations face when it comes to engagement. Like employee engagement, member engagement impacts every individual member’s experience and the long-term future of your organization. 

By implementing these tips, you’ll be able to improve how you engage your members as an association leader. As you do so, remember to rely on a comprehensive management solution as the foundation for all of your efforts. You’ve got this! 

About the Author

Jennifer C. Loftus, MBA, SPHR, PHRca, GPHR, SHRM-SCP, CCP, CBP, GRP

Jennifer C. Loftus is a Founding Partner of and National Director for Astron Solutions, a compensation consulting firm.  Jennifer has 23 years of experience garnered at organizations including the Hay Group, Parsons Brinckerhoff, Eagle Electric Manufacturing Company, and Harcourt General.  

Jennifer has held volunteer leadership roles with SHRM, New York City SHRM, and WorldatWork. She serves as a subject matter expert to the SHRM Learning System and as a SHRM instructor.  Jennifer is a sought-after speaker for local & national conferences and media outlets.

Jennifer has an MBA in Human Resource Management with highest honors from Pace University and a BS in Accounting summa cum laude from Rutgers University.  

Jennifer holds Adjunct Professor roles with Pace University, Long Island University, and LIM College.

Jennifer received the 2014 Gotham Comedy Foundation’s Lifetime Ambassador of Laughter Award.