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Your Complete Guide To Increase Member Engagement

Author: Sonia Urlando
March 28, 2023
🕑 18 min read

If you run a membership organization, you already know the key to attracting and retaining members is strong member engagement. That’s why it’s important to think about how your nonprofit, association, or club creates engagement through every step of the membership journey!

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In this article, we’ll explore engagement strategies your organization can implement to keep members engaged for years to come. These tips are practical for most membership organizations, no matter the size. 

Let’s get started!

Why Member Engagement Matters

What Is Member Engagement, Anyway?

Member engagement refers to online activity like forum communications, emails (opens and sends), and social media engagement. It can also refer to how your members are engaging in person: at meetings, at events, and in their communities. 

Since member engagement looks like a lot of things, a smart membership engagement strategy tackles it from multiple angles. You want to reach your members no matter their preferences—to catch those at in-person events and the ones frequenting your membership website!

Engaging Members = Growing Your Membership!

When it comes to growing your membership, recruitment is only half the battle. After all, acquiring a new customer is anywhere from five to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one.

Once a member has signed up, they bring tons of value to your association. You can collect membership dues without investing the time and money into re-capturing their interest. That’s why it’s important to keep up the effort to engage your members once they’ve joined. 

Investing resources in your current members does more than build community. It’s just good money sense!

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How to Engage (and Understand!) Your Members

Conduct Member Surveys

One easy way to engage your membership is… to learn what they want, and give it to them!

Sure. Easy, right? 

With member satisfaction surveys, it can be. Surveys ask your membership directly what they’d like to see from your organization. This enables you to provide tailored perks and programming guaranteed to appeal to them.

Learning more about your membership is useful for more than just member retention. It can improve networking, increase referrals, and render your programming more successful, too!

5 Types of Members—and How To Engage Them

Check out five different types of members below and think about how your organization can target each of these different kinds of members in your engagement plan.

1. Shy Members

These members come to all of your nonprofit’s events, but it’s hard to get them to engage with other members. They may not participate in Q&As or share their opinions in a group setting, but they obviously support your organization’s mission—they keep attending your events!

How to Engage Shy Members

Shy people might be introverted… or they might be waiting for the right time to jump in! Small, low-key introductions might help break the ice and encourage more vocal participation:

  • Kick off events with networking ice-breakers. Consider starting before meeting time—fewer people in attendance could help your more reserved members open up.
  • If you are hosting a discussion, break people into smaller groups to encourage more casual conversation.
  • Consider offering the shy member a one-on-one, informal meeting to discuss an area of their interest in more depth. At worst, you’ll learn a bit more about one of your members!

2. Remote Members

These members, for one reason or another, can’t attend events or meetings in person. You may never have met them face-to-face; it might feel like you barely know them at all. 

Odds are—if you feel disconnected from them, they feel disconnected from you.

How to Engage Remote Members

The most important way to connect with remote members is to keep the lines of communication strong. Here are a few ways to foster closer bonds from a distance:

  • Acknowledge your remote members in your organization’s communications! Include info about them in your online newsletter, or include photos from far-flung meetups.
  • Offer an online member directory so members know how to reach out to each other directly.
  • Customize your website and social media strategy to involve remote and hybrid members. Some ideas include asking members to write blog posts or lead the association’s Facebook page for a week.
  • Create a specialized online forum or community where members can connect with each other on a casual basis. Facebook Groups is one great option.
  • Host an online event like a webinar or virtual conference so remote members can connect over focused topics.
  • Ask for input! This can come in the form of member satisfaction surveys, email feedback forms, or even questions posed via social media.

3. Younger Members

Mature members may lend stability to the operations of nonprofits and associations, but younger members offer key energy and innovation to an organization’s operation. They shouldn’t be overlooked!

How to Engage Younger Members

  • Stay active on social media — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even TikTok. Use pictures in your posts, tell real stories from your members, and share live videos from events to convey your organization’s impact to this demographic.
  • Create a special group specifically for younger members. This can be in-person or online. Helping younger members meet their peers might be a great way to consolidate and implement younger members’ energy! 
  • Consider the feasibility of a mentorship program to help bridge any knowledge gap that might exist between older and younger members.

4. Older Members

Like younger members, older members might benefit from targeted outreach. This might be especially true if your organization is trending toward online or hybrid operations—older members might feel disconnected by technological changes. 

This age group is likely to be your most prominent financial backers, so don’t let them slip through the cracks! 

How to Engage Older Members

  • Explain the reasons behind operational changes. Does your new online membership system save your organization money? Open those lines of communication!
  • Take note of the concerns brought up by older members and discuss them at your next meeting. Not only does this foster transparency in your operations, but it makes members feel heard.
  • Offer live events—at least some of the time. The flip side of the trend toward virtual events is that it may isolate as many people as it brings in. Some members may prefer to get involved by volunteering for in-person events, for example. 
  • Create a VIP membership level and award it to members who’ve supported your organization for five years, ten years, or whatever value feels right. This recognizes member loyalty and shows your appreciation for their long-term involvement.

5. Already Super-Engaged Members

This member shows up to events, responds to messages, volunteers when they can, engages with other members, and advocates for the organization. You don’t need to do anything extra to engage these members, but they’re great sources of help and information. Draw them in!

How to Engage the Already-Engaged

  • Find out what made them super-engaged. If you can create the same results with others, you might be able to make more of your current members super-engaged.
  • Use them to build your ‘ideal member’ profile. What traits do your super-engaged members have, and how can you use this information to foster engagement elsewhere?
  • Pair these members with volunteer opportunities they are excited about. Check in regularly about role evolution to keep them enthused.
  • Consider whether there’s a spot on your board for someone this super committed to your mission.
  • Offer member/volunteer awards. These can be purely ceremonial or take the form of gifts. This is a great way to show your appreciation and acknowledge these members’ hard work!

Engaging Members Based On Demographics and Interests

No matter your organization’s mission, odds are your membership comes from diverse backgrounds and has diverse interests. Implementing programming for targeted groups can be one way to develop engagement from particular segments of your membership.

Here are a few examples of targeted engagement strategies:

Age and milestone related events

  • Host a networking event for young professionals in your association’s field, or in the nonprofit sector
  • Set up an appreciation picnic on National Seniors Day
  • Hold a virtual student Q&A for each year’s graduating class
  • Hold a dinner for supporters of your organization for more than ten years

Local events

  • Host meetings in different neighborhoods of the city to rotate geographical access
  • Hold your annual conference in different cities each year to promote your organization in new communities
  • Attend college job fairs to promote not only your organization, but your sector as a whole

Interests based on surveys

  • Create classes or workshops for a particular skill. If the membership for your disability advocacy association voiced a desire for widespread knowledge of braille within the organization, why not offer the classes yourself?
  • Invite a speaker on a particular topic of interest to your membership.
  • If your membership satisfaction survey reported a frequent desire for a round-robin bocce tournament, host a round-robin bocce tournament! Remember—if your members express a demand for it, you know engagement will be high no matter the request!

Creating a Member Engagement Strategy

What Is A Member Engagement Strategy?

Once your organization has identified the need to engage membership and brainstormed outreach ideas, your next step is to create a membership engagement strategy. This strategy might have three main components:

  • Goals for engagement
  • Activities to promote engagement
  • An engagement plan schedule

Substantiate your goals with metrics. A goal to “increase email opens by 20%” or “hold membership numbers steady” is much easier to achieve than “improve membership engagement”! 

Activities are events or campaigns to help your organization achieve those goals, and the schedule is when those activities happen. 

Here are some ideas to help you craft your engagement strategy:

Strategies for Engaging Members

1. Create valuable content

Think about how a fresh new social media campaign might be launched with the specific aim of engaging new members:

  • Prompt your members to submit their own content. You could run an Instagram series featuring members of the organization, or repost Facebook events about members’ personal interests related to your organization’s mission.
  • Post interactive content like polls on social media or in newsletters. Another good idea is questions that encourage members to respond.
  • Use personal, true stories to offer a sense of shared connection in your newsletters. Bonus if they include members of your organization, individually or in small groups!

2. Personalize everything!

It’s no secret that targeting communications to your audience increases engagement. That truism applies even when your target audience is an individual! Here are a couple of ways to personalize your communications to make your members feel seen:

  • Use their names! Many email newsletter services now offer this automated capability, but it applies in personal communications, too. Nothing leaves members feeling disconnected like a generic email that doesn’t seem to have them in mind.
  • Personalize based on what you know. With longer-term members, you can add relevant information that you’ve gathered over time. This acknowledges the longevity of your relationship together, and forms the kind of tailored membership experience that can make leaving seem unfathomable!

3. Build a sense of community

Building community can be as simple as starting meetings with a fun icebreaker or simply opening a Facebook Group where your members can connect. Here are a few other ideas to get you started:

  • Invite members for a weekend picnic. This is a great way for members to bond in a relaxed environment. Extend the invite to their families and friends—you never know who might join up with your organization!
  • Create a member website. This is an online “gated community” where your membership can access special content, perks, or discussion forums oriented around your organization’s mission.
  • Make a thank-you video. This is a great way to show members their impact in working together toward a common goal.

4. Encourage member feedback

Conducting member satisfaction surveys is a sure way to get feedback on your membership experience, but submitting feedback doesn’t need to be such a formal process. Here are some ways to open the door to regular input from members:

  • Set aside time in meeting agendas to address member concerns. This can be conducted several ways—town hall style, or where members submit their feedback before the meeting.
  • Implement an anonymous member feedback form online. This could be a good way to hear from members uncomfortable giving feedback—or about uncomfortable areas where your organization could grow.
  • Invite feedback on social media! Be wary—not all feedback will be useful feedback. But it’s a casual way to invite dialogue with your members without necessitating anything so formal as a form.

How to Build Member Engagement Across Your Channels

1. Website

Your website is a hub for your nonprofit or association. It’s the place where members participate in your online community, register for events, manage their membership profile, and submit their yearly renewal.

You want your website to build relationships and encourage engagement with every visit. Here are some suggestions to help you achieve those goals:

  • Create a free membership website. This is an add-on to your organization’s website that gives members special access to “gated” content and a place to interact. Perks might include tiered membership benefits and member forums.
  • Host—and post a calendar for—regular events. Members will return to the website to consult the calendar, and in the process may just stumble across the next event they didn’t even know was happening.
  • Start a blog. Not only does this offer a more casual style of communication, but it gives members insight into the organization’s operations. The less formal tone can go a long way to fostering a sense of community.

2. Social Media

Running social media for nonprofits and organizations is no easy feat. Fortunately, there’s also no shortage of things to try to increase engagement! 

Bear in mind that the key with social media is to transform interactions from monologue to dialogue. In other words, your goal is to turn members from readers into engagers. Here are some tips to get you there:

  • Respond to comments! This one seems simple, but it’s a prime way to develop dialogue with your members—and add some quick and easy personalization to your communications, too.
  • Consider hosting livestreams. Not only is this a prime way to make the jump from monologue to dialogue, since your members can chat with each other during a stream, but it’s also a great way to build a sense of community and connection—even remotely!
  • Focus your strategy on the social media outlets your members actually use. If your professional association has a high rate of use on LinkedIn, target your engagement strategy for LinkedIn!

3. Emails

These days, email is likely the number one way your organization connects with its membership. From onboarding to membership renewals to announcements of new features, email can be a powerful communication tool—perfect for keeping your members engaged.

Here are some tips for making the most of email as part of your engagement plan:

  • Personalize correspondence. This can be as simple as calling your member by name, or as complex as referencing survey responses and intake information from their member profile in your membership database. Generic emails don’t forge connections!
  • Send targeted campaigns to win disengaged members back. If a member doesn’t open an email for several months, create a plan to recapture their attention: remind them of benefits, or invite them to give feedback on why they might be drifting—directly.
  • Automate onboarding and other informational distribution. Give new members all the information they need to know the second they join! Same goes for new materials your organization develops—send them out swiftly and with celebration!
  • Good news lands directly in their inbox! Success stories, personal achievements from other members, organizational milestones, new membership benefits—when you have a bit of joy to share, share it! Those warm fuzzies might compel someone to get more involved.

4. Offline Community

Virtual community is a fantastic way to draw member engagement, but there’s nothing quite like face-to-face engagement. Whether at meetings, conferences, or just over coffee, here are a handful of in-person strategies to facilitate member engagement:

  • Invite individual members to casual one-on-one chats with other members. They may feel more engaged with a buddy in the organization, and may even wind up forging relationships they don’t expect!
  • Create a mentoring program within the organization. Is there a skill one member wants to learn that another is willing to teach? Become the facilitator!
  • Share volunteer opportunities and other events shared by another member in the community. Giving members the opportunity to bond and get involved outside the organization can have positive benefits that leak back toward your club.
  • Host a casual social event like a picnic to encourage members to get to know each other. Make it a friends-and-family-welcome event—you may wind up recruiting new members before the day’s through!

5. Events

Events are a great way to provide additional value to members by tapping into what motivated them to join your organization: to contribute and to connect! Events are fantastic places to network and to learn skills and information your members might not find elsewhere.

Here are some things to consider for your event, no matter the mission of your organization:

  • Is the event in-person, virtual, or hybrid? How will members register and check-in? What barriers exist for members between wanting to attend and attending the event?
  • What kinds of events add value for your members? What can you offer them to incentivize attendance—refreshments, thank-you gifts, designated networking spaces?
  • How could the event’s structure encourage connections between members? Can you encourage them to wear name tags with a fact about themselves relevant to the organization to facilitate conversation?

For more tips on planning events, check out this complete guide. And don’t forget to send out a post-event survey afterwards for ideas on where to improve for next time.

6. Member Management Software

Track member journeys and keep them engaged from the moment your members join all the way to renewal time and beyond. Member management software can help you do that! 

  • Manage and update a contact database including members, donors, and sponsors
  • Create online event registration and payments
  • Accept and manage online donations
  • Easily communicate with your members (includes automations!)
  • Provides you with professionally designed newsletter templates
  • Allow new members to join your organization through your website
  • Automatically create financial reports
  • and more!

Less time manually tracking member data means more time creatively engaging members! And that’s the fun part of running a member organization, right? WildApricot can help you save time—and it’s one of the top member management software picks according to Capterra. 

WildApricot offers a FREE 60-day trial to anyone looking to test out its features. Check out everything it has to offer here.

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11 More Ways to Approach Member Engagement

1. Discover why your members joined (and do more of it!)

Maybe your members joined your association for professional networking; or maybe they joined your nonprofit to support a good cause. Whatever their reasons, you’d better know what they are! Knowing members’ motives for joining is the first step to retaining members. 

To make sure your organization is delivering the value members want and expect, consider adding a field on your new member form asking why they joined. Don’t forget the all-important member satisfaction survey for your existing members, either. 

Once you start gathering this data, you can focus on providing the benefits your new and current members want. Keep in mind that your members’ interests may change over the years, so consider surveying them on an ongoing basis.

2. Remind members about your benefits—often!

Does your organization have a dedicated onboarding process or informational materials to let members know about their benefits? What communication system do you have in place when you add or change benefits? Make sure you’re getting the word out quickly and often!

Send marketing emails whenever you launch a new initiative. Refer to ongoing benefits and programs in your newsletter. It can also help to include detailed information about your benefits on your website. Reminding members about benefits can also be a helpful tool for retaining members in danger of lapsing.

3. Create a memorable member onboarding experience

Onboarding your members is a proactive way to keep them informed and engaged from the word go. To help new members find the activities and resources they joined your association for, your onboarding process should:

  • Welcome them. Your onboarding email is your new members’ first impression of what it’s like to be a member at your association. Personalize each message, and welcome them by name. 
  • Show them how to find content on your website. Your website should be intuitive for all of your members, but it never hurts to help direct new members to your members-only resources.
  • Share onboarding materials and documents. If your association has any documents to share with new members, attach them to your onboarding email so they have full, immediate, and easy access to all the information they’ll need.

4. Win back unengaged members (before they leave!)

If you can identify members at risk of lapsing before it happens, you can take action to win them back. Use your member database to keep an eye on engagement rates and look for the signs of a member at risk of lapsing.

Here are some examples of specific tells of members at risk of lapsing:

  • Any member who hasn’t attended the last three events
  • Any member who hasn’t updated their profile in the last year
  • Any member who hasn’t opened any of your emails in the last three months

When one of these triggers occurs, make a note of the member’s profile in your database. Then create an action plan to win them back—be it a “win-back” email including a special offer, an invitation to a special event, or simply a request to chat.

5. Conduct exit interviews

Businesses use exit interviews to learn how they can improve their management and reduce employee turnover. The same goes for exit interviews with lapsed members! These meetings provide you with insight into how your organization may need to change to retain members.

Every time a member lapses, ask them to take 15 minutes to speak with you on the phone about their experience with your organization. Then use that feedback to assess how your organization operates, and see if there are any changes to be made.

6. Signal boost your benefits with clear value propositions

When creating your organization’s membership program, it’s important to ask: what makes your organization’s benefits more attractive than others’?

Whenever you launch a new program, be sure it has a compelling value proposition. A value proposition is essentially your association’s sales pitch. What benefits will your members receive, and why is your organization unique?

Now put those incredible communications avenues to work. Advertise it loud and wide.

7. Engage members everywhere with online events

Events are one of the best ways to engage your members! They offer members the opportunity to network, learn, and access specialized information. 

But not everyone will be able to easily (or comfortably) gather in person. Remote members or those with barriers to attendance will appreciate being offered online opportunities to engage in these benefits.

Examples of dynamic, beneficial online events include webinars, panel discussions, workshops, and courses. Equip your website to handle online communication, events and other virtual interactions.

8. Make getting involved easy

Your organization puts a lot of effort into developing its mission. Make sure supporting the mission doesn’t come with cumbersome barriers to overcome!

Here are a few ways your organization can make it easy for members to get involved:

  • Fast registration. Members are less likely to complete long, complicated registration forms. Event management software can help you filter and organize information and significantly speed up the process.
  • Accessible sign-up forms. Make sure your forms follow accessibility best practices, such as using text instruction for each information field and signifying required fields with an asterisk.
  • Buddy system. Encourage your members to connect by sparking communication on your website, forums, social media or elsewhere around the events. If members can attend with a friendly companion, they may be more likely to sign up!

9. Diversify your events

Keep your event calendar full with a diverse selection of events. These can include virtual, hybrid and in-person events, as well as different types of opportunities, like galas, workshops, or volunteer days.

Event diversification may require familiarization with diverse tools, such as chat software and streaming services. If this feels out of your wheelhouse, here’s a great opportunity for member engagement: reach out to your member base and ask for help!

10. Automate member renewals!

Sometimes members lapse not because they aren’t interested in your association anymore, but because they forgot to pay their membership dues. From onboarding onwards, encourage members to enroll in your automatic renewal program. 

An automatic renewal option benefits you and your members: not only do you retain membership numbers and membership dues are paid on time, but members get the perk of uninterrupted service and access to their membership benefits.

11. Sweeten the deal and scale up your incentives

What is your membership pricing model? Is it built for growth? Flexibility? High-value incentives offered at different membership levels will not only help boost your member retention, but also encourage members to upgrade.

Regpack’s guide to selling online courses outlines a few ways organizations can grow their programs like online courses:

  • Offer discounts to repeat customers. Reward your members for participating in your programs by offering discounts to long-term members or members who have already made a previous purchase.
  • Collect feedback. After a member participates in an activity such as a course, webinar, or event, send them a survey to learn about their experience. This not only engages them, but also provides opportunities for your organization to improve in the future.
  • Use smart reporting tools. As you collect data on your members and activities, add it to your membership database. Then, use your reporting tools to identify trends and analyze data to ensure you are making data-driven decisions.

Keep Members Coming Back Again And Again

The key to member engagement is to create and maintain diverse paths of communication to your membership. Make sure you know:

  • Your membership’s wants and needs
  • How your membership feels about your organization—open dialogue when possible!
  • How (and where!) to reach out to your membership to communicate new and relevant information—not only about their membership, but about the importance of their role in your organization.

Engaging and retaining members is never a one-and-done process. To keep your membership engaged, be sure to regularly assess their needs; offer a variety of opportunities to get involved; solicit their feedback; and be ready to make changes to keep them invested.

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