Today’s blog is the third in the collaborative blogging MemberViews series, “The Secret to Member Engagement is…” This week’s blog is written by Sarah Hill, the MemberClicks blogger, but some weeks you’ll see MemberViews posts from other association professionals and knowledgeable movers and shakers in the association industry. Enjoy, and tune in next Monday for another take on the secret to member engagement!

The only constant I’ve learned about associations is that there are no two that are identical. Every organization has a distinct profile of members, events, and objectives. This is true of associations of all size, even chapter-to-chapter of a larger national organization.

So when the question is posed, “What is the secret to member engagement?” My answer always tends to be, “Well that depends on the members.” So how do you learn about your members and engage them in a way that will be on target every time? Be nosy!

I’m not saying you should Facebook stalk them or find out where their kids go to school, but you should definitely start talking. Ask questions! Be genuinely curious about your members! Use the cocktail party rule: listen 70% of the time, share 30% of the time. This is tough because as an association leader you know you have a lot of valuable information to share and you know they need it. But to figure out the best way to get your members that information, you need to talk to them first.


So what do you need to find out in these cocktail party-esque conversations?

1)   Who they are

Find out a little about your members’ lives and priorities. If your members tend to have young children that can drastically change your optimal times for meeting. If your members are mostly nearing retirement age, think about how your programming can adjust to meet those changing needs. If your members are younger professionals just starting out, they’ll require a different kind of networking. A simple bio of your members will go a long way!


2)   Why they joined your association

You could probably guess this, and you’ll probably be pretty close, but ask anyway. You may be surprised, for example, how many people say, “to make friends because I Just moved here” or “to improve my networking skills.” If you find that there is a common thread that doesn’t necessarily have to do with professional development in the traditional sense, that’s a great opportunity to hit the nail on the head with engagement.


3)   What they think about your association so far

Now that you know what they want out of your association, how are those needs being met? Ask specific questions about events, programs, or initiatives that you’ve recently run. Were they on target? Even close? Encourage your members to be candid, even if the feedback is negative. Assure them this isn’t about you as an association pro, but about the betterment of the association as a whole.


So when will you get the opportunity to collect all of this valuable feedback? Start with the members who are already engaged. Even if every answer is “peachy keen, jelly bean!” it’s still good feedback to have.

Once you have your already-engaged members’ feedback, start doing a little networking on your own. You probably already use post-event surveys, so start following up on those responses. If you have a great conversation with a member at a meeting or event, take a business card and reach out to him or her later. You may have a few people too busy to respond or who aren’t interested. However even the feedback you do get from the handful of people who want to participate is valuable!

And make sure your members know you are open and willing to talk. Whether you have an “actual” office door or not (association pros work from all kinds of places!) assure your members that it’s always open and you’re always there for feedback, new ideas, and constructive criticism. 

Now that you have all of this fabulous information, adjust your efforts, programming, and meetings! You won’t be able to please everyone, but you can make a lot of people happy and engaged with your association. And isn’t that the goal, after all?

Happy engaging!