While your organization should always strive to attract new members, member retention is what allows your organization to continually sustain and grow your base. High retention rates reduce churn and provide your organization with reliable membership dues from month to month, creating a steady income your team can use to make future projections about your finances.
Knowing that retention is key to your organization’s long-term success, the question, then, is how can you take actionable steps to boost your member retention rate? For most organizations and other member-based organizations, the answer is to focus on member engagement and encourage member participation in multiple aspects of your organization.
Associations, NGOs, zoos, and other organizations with high member engagement not only have increased membership retention, but they can also leverage their active members to attract even more new members to their organization. To help your organization increase your membership engagement, this guide will outline:
As you implement your membership engagement plan, keep in mind that while there are many steps your team can take now, member engagement is ultimately a continuous process that requires regular maintenance and innovation. Adapt the strategies in this guide to fit your members’ unique needs, and remember to always listen to your members’ feedback after each change.
Member engagement refers to the activities, processes, and messages that members and their organization’s team exchange over the course of the member’s membership plan. For example, a highly engaged member would participate in multiple activities, events, workshops, and other programs hosted by their organization.
Member engagement can take other forms, such as feedback and communication. For instance, a member who opens and responds to multiple emails from their organization would also be considered engaged. In both instances, physical participation and online communication, members are responding to the organization, creating a better experience for them and their other members who benefit from their contributions.
An organization without an engaged membership base will feel much smaller and less active than it actually is. Engaged members attend your events and make use of your unique services, which keeps your team busy by catering to its core audience. In addition to keeping your organization running, high member engagement comes with a variety of benefits, including:
Research has shown that most organizations’ leadership know member engagement is important, but only 35% of organizations nationally have staff dedicated to improving engagement. Of course, not every organization needs to create a position on their team to increase their member engagement rates, as there are many ways to improve engagement.
Each organizations’ membership engagement strategy will look different based on their services and membership base. However, many membership engagement plans have similar core game plans. To provide your organization with a launching off point for membership engagement, this section will walk through five core steps organizations can take to connect with their members.
Designing engagement strategies that will appeal to all of your members can be difficult, especially because your membership is likely made up of a diverse group of individuals with varying goals and preferences. Fortunately, by tracking your members’ interests, demographic data, and current engagement preferences, you can create personas of your members, giving your organization a few targeted individuals to appeal to rather than an entire base.
Personas are fictional representations of your members created using data from your real membership base. Imagining your organization’s members as a specific person makes it easier for you to envision targeted engagement activities and opportunities that meet your members’ goals.
To create useful personas, be sure to research your members and gather data by:
Many organizations create numerous personas to reflect their range of members. For example, you might notice a large portion of your members are young professionals with only a few years of experience in your industry. However, making all of your personas young professionals would neglect the rest of your members’ experiences and goals.
By creating multiple personas, you can see where your members’ interests and needs overlap and diverge, allowing you to plan your engagement incentives accordingly.
As mentioned, your organization can gain several benefits from higher member engagement, but what can your members gain? Identifying the value your organization offers members can help your organization create targeted engagement opportunities that provide that value.
Your value proposition should be a succinct statement that summarizes the benefits that potential members can earn by joining your organization. Clearly stating your value proposition will help you differentiate your organization from similar ones and can be used to market your organization to potential members.
For your current members, you should use your value proposition as a guide for your engagement opportunities. If your organization promises a benefit in your value proposition (which we’ll discuss more below), then you should have some activity or opportunity that is focused on providing that benefit. Keep in mind that your value proposition should always be focused on what your members can gain, not on what your organization gets.
Once you have identified your value proposition, you can begin outlining specific benefits that will meet your promised value and appeal to your members’ interests and goals. Your benefits will vary based on your organization’s industry and overall purpose, but many organizations have found success in offering members engagement incentives such as:
As the above list demonstrates, most of your organization’s benefits require active participation on your members’ part. Offering members a variety of ways to get involved increases the chance they will gain some benefit from joining your organization, but it’s also never bad to emphasize that the most value can be gained by members who are actively engaged.
Once you create your engagement activities, you’ll need a way to determine if they are successful. Doing so will allow your team to measure various programs’ success and identify opportunities for further improvement. When you establish a goal, make sure it follows the SMART method by being:
Once you have set a goal for your member engagement strategy, determine what key performance indicators you’ll need to measure to track your progress. Additionally, set up the right analytics tools ahead of time so you have a reliable way to collect data on your members’ engagement.
Your member engagement strategy isn’t set in stone after you make your initial plan. In fact, monitoring your progress will allow your team to make key adjustments to seize opportunities or respond to challenges that may arise in a timely manner.
Use your analytics tools to collect data on your member engagement and make regular check ups to see if you’re on track for meeting your goals. If you find your goals don’t align with your current progress, you can set stretch goals to account for greater success or lower your goals and discuss with your team why your initial objectives don’t match your current situation.
In addition to internal check-ins, make sure to stay up to date with your members through surveys and other requests for direct feedback. Doing so can provide insight into individual members’ experiences and help your organization gauge what is going well and what can be improved.
Once you have created a framework for your member engagement strategy, you’ll need to implement ideas dedicated to boosting engagement, then monitor their success. After all, you can only reach your membership engagement goals by launching new member engagement initiatives. To help inspire your team when getting started, here are five tested member engagement ideas:
First impressions matter, and your onboarding experience will set members’ expectations for their engagement with your organization. Here are a few ways your organization can welcome new members and encourage them to kick start their engagement:
As you design your onboarding experience, consider how you can provide your members with the confidence to begin engaging with your organization without active guidance. This might include putting new members in touch with your current members, helping them create their membership profiles, or providing them with tickets to an upcoming event.
As mentioned, your existing membership base is one of your association’s strongest tools for engaging members. Enabling your members to interact with one another and form a community strengthens their connection to your association. Plus, members are more likely to engage with your association and attend events and workshops if members they’ve connected with are also there.
Your membership website should give your members several options for how to reach out to each other. Find a membership website builder that allows you to build out your online member experience with the exact tools and opportunities you need.
For instance, search for a powerful content management system (CMS) that empowers organizations to add the following features:
Your online community will be highly shaped by the tools your website provides members, so be sure to review your options thoroughly. The right online membership tools will be straightforward and user-friendly without sacrificing functionality or reducing engagement features.
Your membership base will likely be made up of a diverse group of individuals with differing goals, time commitments, and budget restrictions. To meet these diverging needs, consider offering your members different membership levels with corresponding benefits.
Your base membership plan should provide members with a variety of options to engage with your association. Higher levels can offer additional perks such as reserved seating at events, priority attendance for events with limited space, and recognition at public events such as galas.
Find a membership software that allows members to view membership plans and compare the benefits. Some associations allow members to control their membership level and switch plans as they wish. Others prefer to require members to reach out to their team to change membership levels to keep billing consistent and have members fill out feedback surveys explaining why they changed their membership.
While your members will need to take some initiative to reach out and participate in your association, you should also establish a strong line of communication with your members. Doing so will allow you to highlight upcoming events and activities that might interest members and demonstrate that your association is active and ready to engage members.
You can stay in touch with your members across multiple channels and establish a communication cadence by reaching out with:
As you reach out to members across various communication channels, keep track of your response and engagement rates. You may discover that some communication methods are more effective than others. Or, you can outright ask your members what platforms they would prefer to be reached on and tailor your approach accordingly.
Make sure your association is equipped to engage with all of your members online. Follow web accessibility standards when setting up your website to maintain a strong digital presence and ensure you are accommodating your entire membership base.
In some cases, you might need to reach out to your web builder to improve your website’s accessibility. Fortunately, there are also many accessibility practices that your association can implement yourself, such as:
Following accessibility practices improves your website’s usability for all of your visitors and helps cultivate a more diverse, accepting culture at your organization. If you need assistance implementing specific accessibility guidelines, reach out to your web builder’s support team or a nonprofit website consultant for help.
Maintaining active member engagement is an ongoing process that requires a dedicated engagement strategy, continuous member opportunities, and a strong online presence that encourages further participation.
Whether your association has a dedicated member engagement plan in place or is just getting started, you can benefit from further research into how and why members engage with their associations. Your greatest asset is your members, and outright asking them what they want out of their experience with your association.
To get started, you can further improve your organization’s online engagement offerings by conducting further research with a few articles exploring other association and membership best practices: