Member Engagement and Retention

17 Aug
I’ve been involved as a volunteer in a few different associations of varying sizes. Membership growth seems to be a fairly universal concern — which is not surprising since an organization whose membership is in decline is facing extinction at some point in time. I’ve also noticed that many associations have a fair degree of churn in membership; they gain quite a few members each year, but they also lose quite a few. Interestingly, when they want to address membership growth, there is sometimes a tendency to focus on how to get more members, rather than on how to keep the members that they have.

But given the high level of churn, there is a significant potential for membership growth by increasing renewal rates. One technique that associations have reported good results with is contacting members over the phone, often to welcome them to the organization. This onboarding process creates a sense of engagement for the new member.

But how can we retain and build on that sense of engagement? We need something that is ongoing and it would be ideal if it were also self-sustaining. I think an obvious candidate is a private online community for the association and its members. Such a community affords opportunities for interactions between members and association staff, as well as between members themselves. Both types of interactions help build a feeling not just of engagement, but also of belonging.

There are several aspects of private online communities that are particularly well-suited to building engagement levels. I’ll talk about just one today: using the community as a platform for the association to solicit feedback from its members. Many associations already survey their members periodically to help assess the state of the association. But an online community provides much richer opportunities for feedback.

The reason for this is twofold. First, the feedback process can be much more fine grain. For example, every document document that the association produces can survey as the locus for discussions, questions, polls, etc. And since the community is private, these interactions can be far more candid than if they were conducted in a more public forum. Second, the feedback process can ongoing. Rather than collecting data once or twice a year, you can respond flexibly to the need for more information as it arises. In fact, with an active community, you will find members giving you feedback without having to be explicitly asked for it. Ideally, the community will provide you with an up to date and accurate sense of your members needs and aspirations.

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