Defining Member Engagement

For every organization, member engagement looks a little different. Some see it as a greater number of members taking on leadership roles. Others simply care about attendance. There is no perfect definition of member engagement. And it is for this reason that each individual organization needs to define it for themselves. Having a clear definition of member engagement will allow the organization to set clearer and more attainable goals. The tricky part is knowing where to start with developing this definition. The following takes professional associations through the steps of defining member engagement in a way that will encourage growth, stability, and organizational strength.

1. Understand That Member Engagement Has Little Meaning

Member engagement is a buzzword. It refers to the concept of association members’ relationship to the organization. Beyond that, though, it has little meaning. When organizational leadership have conversations about member engagement, they are often on different pages. One board member may see it in one way and, more than likely, other board members will view it in a number of very different ways.

It is important for leadership to understand this. They need to know that member engagement is like other facets of the organization, whether that be the governing documents, the organization’s mission, or the annual budget. It needs to be clearly defined.

2. Dive Into The Facets Of Member Engagement

While the term member engagement has no clear, precise definition, it does have aspects to it that every organization’s individualized definition of it should contain. These include:

Participation: Associations need to decide what participation looks like for an engaged member. In terms of an organization, participation generally refers to the number of products or services that a member uses. In other words, how much a member pays to the organization above and beyond their annual dues. They might purchase association t-shirts, books, or a service that the association provides. The measurement of participation could be done in dollars spent, number of products or services bought, or the frequency of purchases.

Volunteering: When members volunteer with the association, it shows that they are involved and engaged. Oftentimes, different members will volunteer in different ways. Some will offer up their skills to a new committee that has been formed. Others will volunteer to help set up at meetings. All types of volunteering should be recognized and measured. However, volunteering that is more leadership oriented should be categorized differently. All types of volunteering, though, can be measured in hours spent, skill level, or frequency.

Online Engagement: Not all members will want to attend events. Instead, they will be active from the comfort of their own home or office. This is still engagement and it needs to be measured and defined. There are different levels of online engagement, though. The most basic form is opening emailed newsletters. Above this is clicking on links that the newsletter contains. If there is an online forum available, online engagement could be measured by how often users login or make posts. If there is content that is offered online, it is good to measure how often this is downloaded or attended when live.

Attendance: This is one of the most basic ways to define and measure member engagement—but it works. Good events will lead to members becoming more involved in an association. This aspect could be tied to the last point. If the association hosts webinars, attendance should be measured. The organization should also check to see how long each webinar attendee was present. If most members were only online for five minutes of a 30 minute webinar, this indicates something, either about the topic or the speaker. But attendance at live events should also be collected.

Referrals: Member engagement can not be any stronger than when current members are making referrals to non-members. This indicates that they believe in the association and want those around them to be involved. Referrals need to be measured. Organizations should make an effort to find out who new members were referred by. And, if there are periods of referral incentivization, the association should differentiate between referrals made during these phases and those made when there is no incentive.

Shared Vision: This is one of the more difficult aspects of member engagement to measure. However, it is essential to identify the members who most steadfastly stand behind the association and its vision and mission. This can most easily be measured by combining many of the other metrics, as well as looking at member survey responses and general feedback.

Satisfaction: A good way to estimate where member engagement is headed is by effectively tracking member satisfaction—satisfied members will only become more engaged. Unfortunately, this can be another facet of member engagement that can be difficult to precisely measure. The most straightforward method to get metrics is through a satisfaction survey.

Membership Renewal: Similar to attendance, membership renewals or retention are a very concrete process for understanding member engagement. However, it is essential to differentiate between members who simply renew to have it on their resume and members who renew and actively participate in the organization.

All of these aspects of member engagement can help association leadership to create a comprehensive definition. Each aspect should be individually reviewed and activities that show membership strength in each area should be determined and quantified. They can each then be divided into levels of engagement. For example, under the attendance aspect of member engagement, when a member attends 75% of all events, they could be labeled as highly engaged. Those who attend between 25% and 75% could be labeled as moderately engaged. And members who attend less than 25% of events could be labeled as minimally engaged. This system could be refined to address the specific types of events that are attended, how long a member stays at events, and much more.

In short, every organization needs to break down what member engagement looks like for their members. It will end up being a combination of various factors, but it will enable the organization to gauge whether they are effectively providing the products and services that their vision promises.

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