Engagement can be defined in a number of ways. We can be engaged to be married or we can commit to attending an event or a meeting (an engagement). We can even engage by participating in a disagreement or a battle (engaging the enemy). The common thread is that each type of engagement involves a relationship or a connection, combined with a commitment to perform or produce results toward a stated goal.
Organizational member engagement is also relationship and commitment based. It is a by-product of the relationship between an organization and its members. An engaged member is one who is absorbed by and enthusiastic about her membership. She takes positive action to further both her own and the organization’s reputation and interests.
Low member engagement is a common problem for many organizations. Engaged couples break up because one side or the other isn’t delivering on his/her promise to the other person. Similarly, vulnerable organizations fail when they forget to prioritize engagement practices and programming that nurtures and grows the relationship between the mission and the member.
Even the most loyal members will be reluctant to give their free time to the organization unless they feel a connection. The return on their time and effort needs to be significant and meaningful for the relationship to continue. If there is no return to the member, a “break up” will occur so the member can find another organization which meets her needs.
How can we work toward increasing member engagement that is sustainable? Consider a few of these ideas as you develop your organization’s recruiting and retention strategies.
Reinforce Your Value Proposition Your most important brand attributes should always show through in every communication. Do you know the most important attributes of your brand? What do you say about yourself? What do others say about you? How do these attributes align with who you really are? Membership in the organization should provide benefits that are larger than each member can achieve on her own.
Assess your Baseline Levels of Member Engagement Measure the levels of involvement (committees and attendance at events), interaction (mentor or network), intimacy (connections to other members), and influence (other memberships and groups – not your own) a member(s) has with your association over time. It’s important to understand why your members join and why they stay members.
Deliver Exclusive Members-only Content Create and deliver the content that is promised in your mission and value proposition. Design meaningful and targeted programming and content that is exclusively available to your members. A few well-designed programs will communicate your vision more effectively than a slew of events that are ill-defined or have low attendance. The quality of your programming will promote the organization as one of value to both prospective and current members.
Refine Your Approach A regular strategy meeting with leaders and members where everything is on the table can ensure that the organization does not become fixed and immovable. Recruitment and retention practices should be reviewed on a scheduled basis so that leaders the impact of their management and programming decisions.
Leaders need to remember that a membership organization without members is powerless. The best and most well intentioned organizational ideals fail without strong member support. Members need to feel that they belong to a community that shares their values and understands their professional needs. If they feel valued in the relationship, they will become advocates for the organization.