Association software | Strategic assessment | Membership engagement
April 7, 2020|
Member engagement is essential for the growth of any organization or nonprofit. Engaged members keep renewing, and they can increase membership via word of mouth; the better your program, the more excited your members stay and that excitement can be contagious.
Everyone talks about engagement, but what is it? In simple terms, member engagement is the ongoing interaction between a member and an organization in exchange for meaningful value.
This means keeping in touch with your membership, posting often on social media, creating meaningful content, and inviting their participation, among other approaches.
It means getting their attention and reminding them of how you add value to their lives. It means building relationships with members to keep them happy.
Don’t confuse member engagement with customer service. While customer service is extremely important, especially for member retention, engagement employs completely different tactics.
Customer Service is passive contact with members. It’s reactive. They come to you with a need, you help them, and the connection you make is on an informational, instructional level. Your organization probably has a customer service handbook that tells staff how to respond to particular questions, and it’s rare to deviate from this.
Your only channel for customer service is current members.
Engagement, on the other hand is active member contact. It’s proactive, meaning you’re anticipating client needs, and you connect on an emotional level to make members feel something positive about your organization.
Customer engagement is a communication connection between a member or potential member through various channels such as emails, social media, newsletters and other marketing techniques. It’s the way you create a relationship with your members.
Members are looking for value, and member engagement provides that. This means keeping in touch with your membership, posting often on social media, creating meaningful content, and inviting their participation, among other tactics. The more you can personalize their experience, the better.
The goal is to get their attention and remind them of how you add value to their lives, and building relationships with members that keep them happy. Engaged, happy members can often be turned into perpetual members, and perpetual membership is the holy grail of any membership organization.
A membership engagement funnel is an important part of your engagement strategy. The stages within the funnel let you create content and offers based on the stage your members are in, hopefully increasing their engagement.
The member engagement funnel includes:
Successful member engagement leads to increased retention and renewal rates, and if you don’t have a plan to engage early, you risk losing both new and established members.
A study conducted by Dynamic Benchmarking and Kaiser Insights in 2017 reported that 6 percent more members renewed their membership once an organization implemented a member engagement plan.
If you have a small organization, you’ll be encouraged to know that the study also showed that things like budget, organization size, staff size, location, type of organization, etc., aren’t connected to renewal rates.
Keeping members costs your organization much less than finding new ones, so be sure you’re taking the right steps to ensure their loyalty.
Loyal members mean happy members who can provide word of mouth referrals.
A 2017 study by the American Association for Science and Technology found that making the extra effort to improve service quality, perceived enjoyment, trust, perceived value, technological perceptions and customer satisfaction, increased the perceived value level for a higher level of member loyalty.
Loyalty and engagement are important for the health of an association. Loyalty encourages engagement and can bring in new members through referrals. Your association should encourage deeper engagement, by building emotional loyalty.
It’s important to be there with the right message at the right time for your members. By designing hyper-personalized experiences based on deep behavioral and intent data, you can proactively reach targeted members and deliver relevant content to address specific pain points and needs. This makes incorporating member feedback especially important.
The result? A win-win. You’ll have more informed members who are confident they joined the right organization, and sustainable relationships with your members. Your future members also will benefit significantly if you teach them about possible solutions for their problems through a hyper-personalized and relevant experience.
If you want to boost member engagement, you must commit to a great member engagement strategy. The first step, of course, is to define your goals, but then how do you reach them?
There’s no one-size-fits-all, but all successful member engagement strategies include these essential components:
It all starts here. Personas are fictional, generalized representations of your ideal members. They help you understand your members (and prospective members better, and make it easier to tailor content to the specific needs, behaviors, and concerns of different groups.
The strongest member personas are based on market research as well as insights you gather from your member base (through surveys, interviews, etc.). Depending on your organization, you could have as few as one or two personas, or as many as 10 or 20. If you’re new to personas, start small! You can always develop more personas later if needed.
To help you create your own unique member personas, we’ve developed a guide to creating member personas to get you started.
Identifying your touchpoints is the first step to make sure your members are satisfied every step of the way. Your key starting point is to understand what those interactions are and where they take place. Without that, it’s impossible to measure any improvements or to see if changes made to those interactions are having a positive, rather than negative effect.
Member touchpoints are your organization’s points of member contact from start to finish, and are informed by the steps in your member engagement funnel. Use those member personas you had so much fun developing.
It’s important to take some time to evaluate your existing membership engagement tactics. Schedule a meeting with your staff and bring in lunch–staff needs engagement incentives, too!
Your value proposition is the value you promise to deliver to your members after they join your organization. It’s ultimately what makes your product attractive to your ideal member.
There are three important criteria for developing your value proposition:
Your value proposition should focus on what potential customers get, not your organization. Concentrate on the way your organization fixes a meaningful pain point, improves the lives of your members, and the way it makes them feel.
Whether it’s through quality content, connections with experts, webinar series, or networking opportunities, the value of your organization and online community will give your members a reason to stay engaged.
Your member benefits are a big part of the foundation of your organization, because they're the reason members join, as well as stay with you. This means your benefits need to be relevant and valuable.
When it comes to incentives, no matter what they are, the idea is the same: offer something useful and/or interesting on your website that the member can access immediately after they join, renew or refer.
Information, tools, and networking have become easy to find and use online. To be effective, you can't just create any benefit you think will work. You have to follow a process that ensures your benefits are backed up by data and fit a benefit profile that ensures relevancy now and in the future.
A recent study of benefits that matter most to members broke things down by age bracket, but Millennials (1981-1998), Gen Xers (1965-1980), Boomers (1946-1964) and Matures (1945 or earlier), while of different generations, have much in common.
Gen Xers and Boomers want industry info.; it ranks number one and two, respectively. Boomers and Matures also are interested in raising awareness, and Matures are interested in the social aspects of membership.
An interesting takeaway from this study is that these desired benefits don’t exactly match what organizations think matter most to their members. While organizations think meetings and conferences matter, they don’t rank and neither does advocacy. Socializing is only important to the oldest members.
As you can see, one size does not fit all, but there’s a commonality that you can tap into when developing your benefits plan.
Finding the right incentive for your potential or current members can be difficult, because what works for one organization doesn’t work for the next. So, when creating your incentive, consider your members needs, wishes, desires, and problems. Ask yourself what you can create that members will be excited to receive.
You want them to look at your incentive offer and feel that they absolutely need or want it. It should be so appealing that potential members sign up right away, current members not only renew, but decide to become perpetual members, and provide plenty of referrals.
The best way to come up with a great incentive idea is to generate a large list of potential options. Again, schedule a meeting, bring in lunch or snacks and get creative!
The best way to come up with a great incentive idea is to generate a large list of potential options.
To know if your strategy is working, you need to begin with clearly developed and easily measurable goals.
Most important? Make sure your strategy goals are aligned with the goals of your organization. Engagement, at its core, will benefit all aspects of your association – retention, event registrations, member satisfaction – but it’s up to you to clearly define those connections.
Robust engagement strategies start with specific goals, and the SMART method can help. The components of this method are:
An example? I want to boost member engagement is a general goal. A specific goal is, “I want to achieve a 15% increase in member engagement with the online forums by the end of the year so we can use this as a benefit of joining for members who want networking.”
Building on the specific goal example, you would add something like, “Every week I want to add X new registrations on the online forums.”
Do your research. Look for organizations that either share or have a mission close to yours. How are they doing and what’s worked for them?
A SMART goal is probably realistic if you can answer yes to all the questions above.
Using the same example, “I want to achieve a 15% increase in member engagement with the online forums by the end of the year so we can use this as a benefit of joining for members who want networking. Every week I want to add X new registrations on the online forums. This means we start this project on June 1 to reach this goal by December 31”
Set your goals at a high level – retention numbers, new memberships, donor retention, pledge fulfillment, average gift size growth, donor growth and donation growth.
Your key performance indicators (KPIs) are measures that help you understand if you’re achieving one or more of your strategic goals. KPIs should be watched for the smaller touchpoints such as email open rates, click-through rates, events attended; the “micro-moments.”
Set goals for these smaller touchpoints:
Happy members in our social-media-driven world can make the world of a difference by encouraging others to join your organization by sharing their experiences. Setting up your organization to foster positive member experiences on your website, the phone, in person, and through other channels will help you establish a solid foundation with plenty of room for growth.
To foster engagement, you need a communication strategy. This is a customized plan to connect with your organization’s stakeholders through multiple channels. Some of these interactions will be personalized, and others will be with your entire audience.
You probably already have a master mailing list, including names, email addresses and physical addresses, but if you don’t, develop one. Make sure your list is segmented by key groups such as members, volunteers and donors.
Communicate with your entire list about things like:
Other communication requires personalization, such as:
But how do you make all of this happen?
An Association Management System (AMS) like AutomationSYNC streamlines repetitive tasks and frees up your staff to do more important work. And automation isn’t just about sending out emails. It can be used to set up tasks for your team to follow a cadence for outbound calls and even when to send a thank-you card.
With AutomationSYNC, you can:
Think of automation software as membership management software. You can plan events, launch fundraising campaigns, recruit, measure, engage and grow.
Think of automation software as membership management software. You can plan events, launch fundraising campaigns, recruit, measure, engage and grow.
Tracking and measuring member engagement is an important part of strategy development. You need to know what’s working and what’s not, as well as track your ROI for things like marketing, content creation and IT infrastructure investment.
Measuring engagement is all about data, and you get that data with every member interaction, from tracking website visits to phone calls to face-to-face meetings.
Here’s where automation software becomes member engagement software. At this point, it really pays for itself.
The most common engagement metrics you’ll use are:
Reports and analytics from your AMS give an overview based on certain parameters such as sorting by members, donors and volunteers. Dashboards provide information in real-time.
DataSYNC dashboards provide quick and easy access to information on key metrics, keeping your staff well-informed so you can improve engagement.
Using an engagement dashboard gives you the following information:
Another useful dashboard to inform your engagement strategy is the membership dashboard, which tells you:
You can tailor DataSYNC dashboards to your particular organization’s needs.
Your member engagement strategy is not set in stone. Nor should it be. You organization and your members are continually evolving and your strategy needs to evolve with it. New technology, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) bring new opportunities to boost member engagement.
To that end, you should hold monthly meetings with your staff. Bring all the data, but remember that data is just part of the equation.
Your members are human beings, and engagement is about emotion. Have staff talk about their member interactions, how they went and how they can be improved.
By combining data with the human experience, you’re well on your way to honing a successful member engagement strategy.
As Vice President she manages partner relationships, strategic direction and business growth.
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