Beyond the Tactics: Elements of a Sustainable Membership Engagement Strategy

Membership is crucial to the success of any professional association. So it’s only natural that much of the advice for these types of organizations focuses around tactics designed to increase engagement.

Each of them makes perfect sense. From hosting events to offering professional development opportunities, they can be immensely effective in leveraging your resources to grow more engaged members.

And yet, none of them tends to work in isolation. They’re missing a larger framework, a strategy that ties together all of your efforts to improve membership engagement.

Building that strategy is no small feat. It requires careful thought, planning, and execution. Only continuous efforts over time guarantee success. To avoid getting caught up in the details, let’s break down the core elements that any association’s membership engagement strategy needs to possess.

1) Measurable, Time-Based Goals

You need to know what to work towards. That’s why successful associations set up very specific goals to help them track their engagement. Start with your current engagement level, then look for realistic increases such as:

  • 5% engagement increase within the next three months.
  • 30% total monthly engagement among tenured members a year from today.
  • 40% overall engagement.

Of course, these are just a few examples. The best goals have a specific number attached, along with a timeline on when you should achieve that number. The goal should also be realistic to avoid frustration with an objective for which you never had a chance.

2) A Core Understanding of Your Audience

Next, it’s time to gain a thorough understanding of your audience, comprised of your association’s members. You likely already have some idea about who pays your dues. Now is the perfect time to dig deeper in the name of improved member engagement.

Look for demographic characteristics like age, location, and gender. Supplement with career information like job title, years of tenure, education level, and income level. Finally, add some preferences and common personality traits as you know about them. For larger member bases, consider building several audience segments to better understand their needs and wants.

3) A Member-Based Value Statement for Your Association

With your audience in mind, it’s time to build your value statement. What, exactly, can your association provide for members?

It’s a deceptively simple question that can take a long time to answer. Don’t fall into the temptation of going with your assumptions. Instead, the answer should come from your members directly, curated by you into a concise statement.

It’s easy to start with a question: why did your members decide to become members and start paying dues? What keeps them in your association? Answer these questions, and you are well on your way to formulating a value statement for your engagement strategy.

4) Competitive Analysis of Alternative Resources

An association’s competitors are more complex than your average business. Unless you have other associations looking to accomplish the exact same goals in the exact same industry, chances are you are looking at more indirect competition. Still, it’s important to evaluate just what that competition might be.

Take another look at your value statement. Then, perform some research: what are some alternative means through which members could gain that same value? Where might they turn should they decide that you can’t hold your promise or someone else can do it better? Learn as much as you can about these alternative resources. They are your competition in improving member engagement.

5) The Tactics You Need to Drive Membership Engagement

Five steps in, it’s time to more closely consider just what you need to do to increase member engagement. This is when we get to all of those tactics that you might have read about:

  • Brand partnerships
  • Professional development opportunities
  • Events and conferences
  • Referral programs
  • Communication plans
  • And more.

Now, though, you don’t have to address these in isolation. Instead, you can build them into your audience and value framework to make sure they help you reach your goals and see a tangible improvement in engagement.

6) Regular Benchmarks and Evaluation Periods for Each Tactic

As you implement these tactics, be sure to build in periods in which you can evaluate their success. For a three-month goal, for instance, you might want to check in every month on your progress. That way, you can make sure that you’re still on track or make improvements where needed.

7) Feedback Mechanisms to Gain Insights From Your Members

As you evaluate your engagement tactics, never forget about the value of feedback mechanisms. It’s always best to hear directly from your members which of your tactics are working, where you might need help, and where some untapped opportunities may lie.

The most obvious mechanism here is a survey that asks members to rate your current efforts on their effectiveness. Message boards accomplish a similar goal. From informal to formal means, gathering feedback helps you not just evaluate current methods but unearth potential new ones.

8) A Continuous Improvement Mindset to Keep Optimizing the Strategy

Finally, it’s important to realize that when it comes to member engagement, the journey will never be complete. There is always a next goal, a next step, and a next milestone to reached. More engaged members, after all, grow the clout and awareness of your association, not to mention the additional revenues you can gain as a result.

That means your strategy is not complete once you reach the goals defined in the first step. Instead, you have to keep optimizing, keep finding new goals, and keep achieving those goals for true, long-term, sustainable success. A continuous improvement mindset is the final piece of the puzzle to move into that direction.

Are You Ready to Build a Better Membership Engagement Strategy?

To get started, you need to know about the right elements and work your way through them. At the same time, you also need to have the right tools at your disposal. A survey mechanism, for example, can help you gather that valuable insight. A reliable member database helps you build knowledge about your audience. Learn more about or software, and schedule a call to see how we can help you with the tools you need for better membership engagement.

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