Imagine you decided to join a professional association for the first time. You were ready to meet other professionals, learn and boost your career.
Only there’s just one problem: As the weeks and months have gone by and you’ve attended association events or checked out their online program, you haven’t really interacted much with other members.
Now, imagine that this is what your members are experiencing. Do you think they’d be likely to renew their membership with your association? Probably not.
But we get it. Networking is hard and it doesn’t come naturally to everyone. It involves taking chances and putting yourself out there. That’s not something everyone feels naturally comfortable doing. The good news it’s a skill anyone can learn. As an association, it falls to you to facilitate these connections and help your members network like a pro.
The Value of Networking
There are lots of reasons why people join associations. Maybe it’s because they offer great professional development courses or have a great mentorship program. But one of the top reasons to join an association is for professional networking.
Why? For a few reasons:
- Finding informal mentors
- Expanding their professional network to prepare for a job search
- Finding new clients
- To friends with people who are in the same profession
4 tips to help your members network
Encouraging and facilitating connections between your members helps them build relationships and foster a sense of loyalty to your association. Be sure to educate your members into how to meet other members and make the most of their membership. Here are some association networking tips that will help.
These tips are also great for you as an association professional too!! It’s never too late to enhance your networking skills.
1. Encourage members to really dive into the resources your association offers
Associations often have association networking tips and resources on their site that could help them with their networking goals. Provide many different opportunities for members to familiarize themselves better with your association’s programs to help provide a bit of an ice-breaker between members.
- Promote or build a mentorship program and encourage members to sign up to be either a mentor or a mentee.
- Form special groups or events for people from different demographics. For example, some associations will have groups and events for younger professionals, women professionals and professionals of color.
- Host training sessions both in person or online. That can be a great way to meet new people who are also learning.
2. Share your association’s member directory and forum
Your association’s membership directory and forum are a gold mine for potential connections. They’re also a great place for members to start developing connections if they’re shy in person.
Encourage your members to look through your association’s directory to see if there is anyone they would like to connect with. Make sure you educate them on WHERE your directory is and HOW to use it. This could be included in your new member onboarding process. Facilitate a way for members to connect with each other
Creating a space for members to connect depends both on hosting event and networking events, and making sure your members are aware of what they are and when they happen. Use your association’s email newsletter to share any events and encourage members to subscribe to your newsletter list. You can also post event announcements on your members-only pages or space.
Encourage your staff to talk about these events in their member interactions. Hosting events for new members only is another great way to encourage connections and help members feel welcomed.
3. Give members a palace to communicate directly with each other
Whether in person or online, directly reaching out to others is a great way to build connections. Rather than waiting around for someone to talk to you at the next event or commenting on the forum hoping that people will reply, connect directly.
Some examples of direct connection you can encourage your members to take include:
- Walking up to people and introducing yourself. This step is so easy and so hard at the same time. It is outside a lot of peoples comfort zones but is the easiest way to build new connections. Give your members examples of ice breakers to get the conversation started. These questions could include how long have they been a member, where do they work, what events have they attended in the past, etc. You can always resort to talking about the food. (NOTE: Make sure your networking events have snacks for this exact purpose. The tastier the snacks, the better.)
- Private message people of interest in your online community. This is a great way to build a conversation off of a forum conversation, a topic of interest or to break the ice in a professional and controlled space. (Another reason we LOVE online communities.)
- Emails!! Email is definitely not dead. Many association member profiles have emails listed. Encourage your members to reach out, share that they’re in the same organization and ask questions.
4. Make it easy for members to feel comfortable at events
It’s much easier to start conversations and network when you feel comfortable. Help your members feel prepped for any event by:
- Being clear on what the event is
- Sharing any schedules or timelines
- Announcing speakers and providing links to their bio for research
- Build a separate forum in your online community for people attending to “meet” before
All of these will make members feel comfortable to engage in casual chit chat at your event and build connections.
For members looking to take their networking skills to the next level, some ideas you can promote are to:
- Check to see who is sponsoring the event. Any members from those organizations and companies are likely to be there. If it’s an organization of interest, they can look them up in the directory and do a bit of research to know who they might want to connect with when they’re at the event.
- Set up carpool connections for local events. Coming with someone else will make it easier to meet people.
- Connect new members with someone who has been a member for a longer time. Networking buddies is a great way to help new members feel comfortable.
Networking Best Practices for Associations
Creating a culture with lots of networking opportunities where everyone feels safe and supported is critical to your association’s health. It ensures every member gets the maximum value out of their memberships and is excited to renew every year.
Here are some association networking tips for your organization:
Think about what your members want and need when planning networking events
Put yourself in your new members’ shoes. They come to your first event and there are a bunch of people who seem to know each other but they know no one. While some people are skilled at networking, not everyone is.
Your goal is to create programs and member onboarding processes that are designed for the member who is the most uncomfortable and bad at networking. Your programs should be designed to ensure that there are no new members left behind. Come up with a list of resources and supports that will help everyone network.
Create a stellar member onboarding process
Starting somewhere is hard. That’s why universities have Welcome Weekends and employers have onboarding processes. Your onboarding process should be focused on making sure every member is successful at your organization. And onboarding is a GREAT way to kick off any networking opportunities, too.
- Send them easy-to-read onboarding materials. Maybe it’s a written guide with a video from your board chair or maybe it’s a two-pager that communicates your programs, events, services and how to get the most from your membership.
- Introduce new members at their next event or meeting. Make sure everyone knows their name and something about them to encourage people to go introduce themselves to your new members.
- Give your new members a buddy. Assign a board member or volunteer to each of your new members. At their first event, have them sit next to the new member. Their buddy can help introduce them to other members who they might be interested in meeting.
Equip your members with the right networking tools
There are many ways to network. Creating a connection rich website where members have directories, forums and other features in order to find, research and connect with other members is a great strategy. You want your website to be a place that members can connect between events and figure out who else is a member and how to connect with them.
Don’t have that functionality on your website? No worries! MemberClicks can give you all those features and more. Find the perfect membership website provider for your membership association and you can sit back and watch members connect.
Curate a diverse calendar of in-person and virtual networking opportunities
Not everyone can come to your in-person events and not everyone likes virtual events. By creating a diverse calendar, you can provide your members with a number of opportunities to connect in different ways.
- Have a virtual speed-networking event where everyone goes into breakout rooms and then switches to another breakout room.
- Have a number of different types of in-person events with different kinds of networking events at them.
- Host a weekly Ask Me Anything with experts in your industry in your forum.
Actively encourage members to interact online and in person
Some people can feel shy or intrusive connecting with other members online or in-person. Make sure everyone knows that’s actively encouraged.
- Highlight stories about how members connected and boosted their careers in your newsletter, on your forum or at events. Everyone loves a good success story.
- Make sure it’s clear in your Directory that people can email other members.
- Create breakout rooms during online events with ice breakers that will allow people to connect and talk.
- Have a formal networking period at your events. Better yet, use ice breaker games that require members to talk to multiple people during those periods.
Regularly ask members for their feedback on your offerings
You might have the absolute best programs that members leave raving about but I can bet that even you could do better. Maybe there isn’t enough time to Q&As or members actually want more networking time and less formal programming at your events.
Getting feedback is critical to continuing to provide your membership with the networking opportunities and that is perfect for their needs.
Networking: A skill and practise not to be overlooked
Networking is great for members and associations. After all, member connections are the things that hold membership organizations together – and improve membership renewal rates! Who wouldn’t want to renew their membership to an organization that helped them meet professional goals and get new opportunities?
MemberClicks is a leading choice for membership management software for association networking features that make it easy for associations to truly support their members, deliver maximum value and increase retention and acquisition over time.
Curious about how other ways to make members successful? Here are some other articles to read: