In a perfect world new members join your organization with an understanding of your purpose and your value to them.
They renew forever and ever and refer their friends who become loyal members themselves. Everyone's happy and dancing and singing and sharing candy and life is just awesome.
The real world obviously works a bit differently.
In the real world there are dozens of reasons why someone might join your organization. Once they've joined, each member has dozens of reasons why they might or might not retain their membership.
In the real world they often whine, complain, bicker and most definitely do not share their candy.
This is reality, where membership organizations fight a constant battle to keep members engaged and focused amidst a million other priorities and distractions.
Member engagement is how you're going to earn the loyalty you need to thrive and grow.
What you're looking to do is build avenues for engagement that any member can connect with.
Not all of them will attend live events.
Not all of them will network with fellow members.
Not all of them will ever visit your website even once.
None of those mean they're not engaged and active. None of those mean they won't renew their membership or tell their peers to join.
You can still build excitement and action with every member.
It just takes energy, a lot of effort, and some creativity.
We're here to help.
With nearly 35 years helping membership organizations build engagement through member benefits, we've picked up on some smart tactics.
Some are super simple, like writing a personal letter to one member a day.
Others are downright diabolical, such as creating a "contract" of promises during onboarding.
Engagement is a constant need throughout the member lifecycle, so we're dividing the ideas into five categories:
Wait - What is Member Engagement, Exactly?
These ideas are all about engagement. What is engagement, exactly? We have a definition we can offer, but really it all boils down to attention. How much of a role does your organization play in the lives of your members? And what role do you want them to play in the life of your organization?
Are you essential?
Are you something they think about often?
When renewal time comes, are they wondering what they received in exchange for their dollars?
Do they understand your larger goals and how they can help?
Engagement is the answer to all of those. It's building relationships with your members, adding value to their lives and capturing their attention just often enough to remind them of the role you play in it so there's never a doubt.
The routes to building member engagement are are varied as your imagination. Hopefully these ideas serve as inspiration.
Member Engagement in Onboarding
People make a series of snap judgments after making a purchase. Their decision to buy (or join) is either going to be validated or discredited, in their minds, within their first few interactions.
Set up your onboarding process to put your best foot forward and validate a new member's decision to join.
But also, cement a few essential elements of ongoing engagement while they're still malleable to your ideas and suggestions.
- Create a Sweet Welcome Kit
Make new member signups and event. A simple email confirmation won't suffice to validate the new member's decision to join.
A gift of some sort, with a branded t-shirt and some other freebies with a personal welcome letter? Now that'll make a member feel good.
- Introduce a Personal Point of Contact
In a world where everything is moving digital, personal touches are now rare and valued. Introduce a single point of contact for the new members, an actual, live person.
Then, run most organizational communication through that member - it's their number the member calls with questions, and their email address member communications are sent out from.
55% of association members felt a connection with their professional organization, despite overall satisfaction rates of 84% (Community Brands)
- State an Agreement
Ask members clearly what they want to get out of their membership. Write it down, and put the member on a path to achieve whatever it is they're looking for.
This gives you something to bring up at the next renewal, as well as a way to frame your organizational efforts and goals.
It's not an enforceable contract by any means; the member still may not renew. The odds are they will, however, when they know their membership met (and hopefully surpassed) their expectations.
18% of U.S. consumers confirm that their expectations around brand loyalty have completely changed (Accenture)
- Push Member Benefits Usage
Some of your members join for your cause and their sense of belonging and that will be sufficient to keep them engaged and renewing. Most others will need a reason to engage regularly. This is where member benefits can make all the difference.
Introduce them early and encourage initial usage, especially your everyday benefits like discount programs.
- Build Social Connections
Your chances of maintaining ongoing engagement are only as good as your lines of communication. Email is valuable but it just isn't enough. You must have multiple connections with members. Encourage them to follow you on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, Reddit, or anywhere else you have a presence.
Just 16% of associations are using social media to target members for renewal (MemberZone)
- Enable Push Notifications
Obviously downloading your mobile app is step #1 of this idea, but the odds of ongoing usage and avoiding deletion increase dramatically when push notifications are activated.
30% of new mobile apps are deleted within a day of download
Don't stand over their shoulders when they open your app or anything creepy like that. Create a tutorial for first-time users that walks them through the app and explains why they need notifications on. Or, incentivize it with a gift or points.
- Enroll Them in the Online Community
Online communities are critical to the lifeblood of a membership organization. They're the convergence of several important factors that go into member engagement - digital communication, personal interaction, peer connections, and so on.
Member Engagement at Renewal Time
Ideally, renewal periods are like college finals - if you put in the work throughout the year, they're a mere formality. Regular member engagement, if you hadn't noticed, makes renewals a snap.
That being said, renewal is still important for proving your value to unconvinced members, solidifying relationships with established members, and extracting a little bit of value from churning members.
- Call Cancellations
Members will churn. Try to contact as many of them as possible and find out why. You can try to win them back, but at least hear their reason for leaving.
Talk to enough of them and you'll find holes and weaknesses in the organization. If nothing else, you'll part ways on a positive note - the member will know you cared about them enough to hear them out, which makes them a target for a return membership down the road.
Or possibly a referral source (see below).
- Report Back
Show your members what they did this year, either individually or as a whole. Your organization is probably doing a ton with and for members - they just may not know exactly how much it is or why it's valuable. Tell the story for them.
Don't just settle for a boring PDF or a sure-to-be-missed email. Get creative - see the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association's interactive member data dashboard as inspiration.
- Offer a Free Membership
An organizational advocate may not be a member. Some of them love you, they just can't pay, or they're in a position where active membership isn't an option (someone leaving an industry, for example).
Create a free tier of membership to keep them on. Maybe they don't get all the member benefits, and they have to pay full price to come to your events. No matter - they're valuable enough to keep in the fold, interacting in the community, and sharing their love of your organization even if they're not a full member.
Think of it a little bit like auditing a course in college. The free member isn't going to get the full benefit, but they'll still have a quality, valuable experience.
- Scholarship Program
An educational scholarship is a cool engagement tool to offer members, but that's not what we're talking about. We're talking about a way to keep members who cite money as a reason for not renewing.
Keep them on by offering a scholarship of sorts. Perhaps they can pay 50% of the rate for the next year in exchange for completing certain tasks, like writing a blog post about their membership experience or volunteering.
This obviously isn't scalable for every member, but it could greatly benefit the organization when offered to the right members.
- Early Renewal Discounts
If you have an organization-wide renewal period, or just a bunch of members on a similar schedule, renewal can be hectic. Why not reach out to members a a month or two ahead of time with an offer for a slightly discounted membership if they sign back on early?
48% of individual membership organizations increased dues over the past year (Membership Marketing)
Another variation of this plan is to have members lock in their current annual rates for as long as they extend their membership.
- Create a Referral Program
Members who are referred by a friend or colleague are highly likely to become as engaged as their peer as well stick around longer.
55% of U.S. consumers express loyalty by recommending the brands and companies they love to family friends (Accenture)
A referral program may be as simple as identifying your most engaged members and asking them who else they think should join. Add incentives if you like, or even go so far as to have a competition.
And here's a little secret: even churning members may sometimes offer a referral. Ask them if they know someone who would benefit from being a member as they walk out the door. It's surprisingly effective.
Online Member Engagement
This is where the majority of your everyday efforts will land, as more of our interactions move online and on our phones.
This is the fun stuff. You can show the nature of your organization and tell the stories of your members online, in ways that wouldn't really work in a printed piece or brochure. Social media, online forums, blogs, even email all enable instant direct connection and authentic expression.
Be unique, be personal, have fun with your online tactics - just be ready to interact and respond at all times.
- Create an Online Community
Quite simply, this is your online coffee shop, or whatever your preferred community gathering place is.
Whether it's an online forum, Slack group, or Facebook group is up to you.
What matters more is you put in the work to direct members to it, then give them content and interaction opportunities to participate in when they're there.
Community consultancy FeverBee has a great article on launching (and/or reviving) an online community that has a ton of good tips.
- Show and Tell
Your members are your greatest source of content. Open dialog with them to find out who's doing amazing things related to your organization, or just in their personal lives. Make a video or write a blog, then share it out with your membership.
- Tell Member Stories
It doesn't have to be an exceptional story like the Show and Tell idea above. Just pick out members and share their stories - how they came to your organization and who they are.
These stories don't have to be testimonials, just members sharing their own journeys, which creates instant empathy among fellow members and humanizes the organization.
- Ask Me Anythings
Bring in an expert or celebrity and let members pepper them with questions for an hour or so. Broadcast it out on Facebook Live or just host it on your forum.
Find a common interest among your members, then find an expert that can help with those interests, and enjoy as your members learn on your dime.
- Job Board
This is an essential tool if you're a professional association, but it might also work for other membership groups as well.
As a bonus, this can also be a source of non-due revenue as well.
- Personal Invitations
When trying to boost engagement online, it helps to reach out to members personally and give them specific tasks. For example, if someone is asking the community questions about your annual event, members who have been to previous events can add a lot of value to the conversation.
As cited in the FeverBee article mentioned above, reach out to 5-10 people per day and ask them to chime in on specific topics or to just stop by and visit your community.
- Gamify Interaction
You may need a technology partner like Influitive to help, but you can create a gamification system that rewards members who are active online. Maybe they get a point for asking a question or five for responding to one. They can cash in points for organizational swag or gift cards.
It doesn't have to be points - maybe they earn a badge in your forum or a title that shows the rest of the community they're an expert.
75% of consumers want to be rewarded for engagement beyond purchase (HelloWorld)
- Member-Focused Social Media
Most of your social media outlets are probably serving a hybrid audience of members and non-members. You can't get too "inside baseball" on these channels because they still need to speak to the larger audience. Which is fine, for the most part.
You might want to consider some profiles that are geared 100% to member needs, news, events, stories, and other content.
It doesn't try to be promotional to the outside world by any stretch, and is all about members in the way it speaks, the content it shares, and even whom it follows.
- Member Takeover of Social Media Accounts
This is probably best geared for the member-specific social media accounts mentioned above, but every once in a while let an engaged member take it over. Find an engaged, highly-networked member, then give them the power to share what they want. The more personality, the better it'll be for your followers.
This could be especially beneficial for in-person events. Give your member prizes to hand out, cameras to follow them around, and anything else that's helpful to draw a crowd and make them feel like a rockstar.
Bonus content can be created by compiling this member's posts into a blog post recapping the event for members who didn't attend.
- Book of the Month Club
The online conversation topic isn't as important as the simple fact that it's happening, and it's on your turf. We're suggesting a book club (set a monthly assignment, then discuss at the end of the month or on a chapter-by-chapter basis), but it can literally be anything of value.
You want to have formal discussions about TV shows, go ahead. Sporting events, music, industry trends, local news - whatever generates discussion and inspires your members.
They'll build relationships with each other under your umbrella, which makes your organization very hard to walk away from.
- Contests and Giveaways
This is the old standard, tried and true. Sometimes drawing a crowd means giving something away, even if it costs you. You can have giveaways that reward interaction and engagement, like a branded sweatshirt randomly given away to a member each month or a big ticket item for your most active member at the end of the year.
Another note: it doesn't have to come out of your pocket. Talk to related vendors who want exposure to your member demographic. They may be happy to donate items.
Personal Member Engagement
It bears repeating: it's easy for people to walk away from an organization or a business; it's hard to walk away from a person.
The more personal interaction the members of an organization have with each other and its leaders, the harder it's going to be for them to disengage.
There aren't as many ideas in this section as the others. That's mostly because we're talking about human courtesy here, doing things that you would do for your close friends and family. Shaking hands, saying hello, touching base to see how things are going.
Recognizing your closest friends and holding them dear works in real life, and surprisingly, it works in the world of memberships as well.
- Create an Advocacy Program
You have members, engaged members, and highly engaged members. Then, you have champions.
These are the people who buy in to your organization and become defenders of the brand. They act like paid employees and will offer valuable actions at no cost - things like defending the organization against online detractors and offering candid feedback.
85% of consumers say companies could have recognized & rewarded them for doing business with them (Accenture)
Author Robbie Kellman Baxter refers to these folks as Superusers. These are, perhaps, your most prized asset. Treat them as such by giving them regular gifts, face time with leadership, platforms to share their insights, and more.
- Surprise and Delight
Pick one member a day and make their day. Send a care package or a treat with one of those personal letters from the previous section.
It's a small investment that instills pride and appreciation for the organization. Check out our example from one of our VPs here.
- Handwritten Letters or Personal Calls
Someone from the 1800s would scoff at this, but handwritten items are rare and treasured these days. Same thing with phone calls that don't have a sales pitch attached to them. People will be surprised someone thought of them and reached out with no ulterior motive other than to say thanks for being a member, and to see if there's anything else the organization can do for them.
86% of consumers say loyalty is primarily driven by likability; 83% say trust (Rare)
- Remember Names
"Well it's impossible for me to know all our members, we have thousands."
Well, start remembering as many as you can. It takes practice, and you're going to find yourself calling people the wrong names, but the overall effort is well worth it. Like Dale Carnegie said, a person's name is the sweetest sound.
65% of Millennials appreciate staff armed with personalization info (InMoment)
- Volunteer Opportunities
Few things bring people together like helping others as a group. Organize regular volunteer opportunities with related causes, like cleaning up a park or building a Habitat home.
The time members spend with each other doing good might just forge strong interpersonal relationships. Those friendships are a huge asset to an organization seeking engagement and meaning among members.
Member Engagement Ideas Good for Anytime, All the Time
- Add an Everyday Benefit
Professional learning opportunities, certifications, even perks like AD&D are valuable. But they don't do much to keep offer tangible value on a regular basis.
Look for something with more tangible value that can be accessed at any time.
Obviously, we recommend a turn-key discount program at local retailers and restaurants. People use these regularly, resulting in hundreds of dollars saved and daily positive experiences with the membership organization.
- Conduct Research Among Members
This is another important opportunity for professional associations, but it can probably be done among any group. Put together benchmarking surveys that reveal trends and best practices among an industry or a specific demographic, then promote it among your membership.
They'll get value from seeing where they stack up, and you'll gain positive notoriety as the given authority and thought leader in your space.
- Constant, Valuable Touchpoints
Frequency, like price, is only an issue in the absence of value. If your content is good and valuable to members, you can send thirty emails a day if you so choose (please don't). If all you're doing is upselling or asking for more money, then you're going to see members churn or at least unsubscribe from your communications.
Don't be shy about sending regular content if it has value. Things like news and tips and member stories are all things people want to hear about from your organization. Be respectful and responsible with your communication, but also don't be shy to send more than one email a week if need be.
Small businesses that send loyalty members two to three communications per week see three times more customer visits than businesses that do not send any communications (SpotOn)
- Share Member Stories with Media
Telling your member stories isn't just good for other members; it's also a good way to communicate what you're doing with the public or your key demographic. Find extraordinary things your members are doing and contact relevant media outlets. Tell them why their readers/viewers would be interested in the story.
Heck, write the story for them.
Your organization gets some good PR, the member gets to pound their chest a bit, and members can feel a bit of pride at being part of the organization behind it all.
Key element: be sure to have member permission before you do this. As in, they're okay with you promoting them AND they're willing to talk publicly about whatever it is they're doing.
- Partner Discounts
In addition to your everyday association discount program, partner with vendors who serve your audience for special discounts.
Don't just turn your member list over to them, though. Craft something together that speaks your members' language and isn't disruptive to your regular communications.
- Partner Causes
More than ever, people care about doing business with good businesses. If you're not supporting causes your members care about, you're missing out.
If you're not sure what to support, focus on your members. Are they from a specific area? Are they predominantly one gender or from one profession? If that doesn't give you any ideas, call up your most engaged members and ask them point blank.
And if you are a non-profit already, it never hurts to partner up with another related group to cross-promote your efforts.
- Paid Targeting
Don't just assume members will see your content because you posted it and emailed it out. Important content is worth ensuring members see it, and that means targeting them online through paid channels. Use paid options on Google and Facebook to reach your membership for the most important messages.
- Say Happy Birthday
Scoff all you like, but it works.
How long does it take someone to write happy birthday on a Facebook wall? 10 seconds? And how many emails from brands do you get on your birthday? 10? They're low effort, and trite to the pessimist, but to most people, hearing happy birthday is meaningful.
Make collecting birthdays and emails part of your standard onboarding procedure.
- Allow for Preference Customization
Simply, let your members customize their membership as much as possible. Even if it's just how frequently they receive your emails or which channels they hear from you, giving them a bit of ownership in their membership helps ensure you're fitting in their lives the way they want to.
- Market to Your Members the Same Way You'd Market to Prospects
Chances are you have a pretty good marketing operation that focuses most of its energy on bringing in new members. But what if some of those cycles were devoted to member engagement?
Using Robbie Kellman Baxter's hourglass funnel as a guidepost, create a specific marketing track designed to turn a member into an advocate and referral machine. Divide your members into distinctive segments then personalize content to what matters most to each. Create content that educates and informs these segments and call them to specific actions - referring a friend, renewing a membership, volunteering, etc.
This is obviously a bit larger than a simple engagement tactic, and it can utilize many of the ideas we've mentioned here. The big difference is applying a funnel to it and taking the time to define what goals you want each of your membership segments to take.
- Respond to Everything
If there is low-hanging fruit on this list, this is it.
Every communication that comes from your HQ should have a response function. Read every email reply, follow up on every Instagram comment that contains a question or complaint. Treat every comment the same as if it were a member calling in directly.
Sounds like a lot of work, right? It's worth it. A customer complaint or comment is a chance to fix something and create an advocate.
79% of customers would take their business to a competitor within a week of experiencing poor customer service (24/7)
- Organize Competitions and Awards
Why not host your own awards?
If you've done most of the items in this article you'll be pretty familiar with what your members are up to. Find the exceptional ones and honor them. Name a member of the year, start a member hall of fame, retire their member number in the rafters of your office if you want.
The point, as it is with most of these, is finding and rewarding your ideal member, and setting them as an example of what other members should aspire to be.
Put Forth a Sustained Effort
These 40 ideas cover a lot of ground, but just about any organization can put them into action. Yes, they take effort and sometimes funds, but the end result is perhaps the most valuable asset a membership organization can have: an engaged, loyal advocate who cares as much about the organization as the Founder and President.
Whether you use these ideas or not, know that the effort is worth it. Better member relationships are always worth it.
We've said it many times before, and we'll say it again here: no organization has ever been worse off for trying to be more empathetic to their members' goals.
More than anything, be relentless. Momentum takes time and energy, and involvement requires passion.
Don't give up after a few Instagram posts, or even six months of blogging. Keep pushing and getting better. Over time your efforts will pay off.
Organizational involvement often starts small, and as a member recognizes personal value from the organization they begin to make more of a personal investment back into it.
Some of them will grow to become volunteers and board members. Some never will, but many of those will at least renew every year, and occasionally take a small step to help grow and strengthen the organization.
Every member has a role. It takes engagement to get them to step up and play that role. Good luck!