From time to time, I am asked to consult for organizations that are seeking to increase the level of member participation, membership renewal or attraction. It is not unusual to find the occasional group that is looking for the quick kill, magic phrase or the request to “just tell me what to say.”
Oh, if it were only that simple. . .
I will not say that these elements provide the only answer(s) to the question of how to get and keep members engaged, involved and renewed. That would imply that all communities and the issues facing each are the same. I will tell you, when I have worked with Chambers and other organizations whose first year member retention rate is 90% or higher, these critical components are always front and center.
Let us recognize that, clearly, there are benefits and services offered by local non-profits, unique to their respective community. Whether it is the Christmas parade or the annual golf outing, these activities can be valid, but should not be the only, reasons for member participation and engagement.
The critical question most asked by members is: “Will my personal time and membership investment improve my life and business?” When answering that question, consider these four elements, and how you should approach them:
- Program Whatever program you have in place, or plan to implement, it must be relevant in both concept and fact. That means that the organization’s programs and activities must clearly reflect the needs of the members. The professional staff, as well as the Board of Directors, must actively advance it. If non-profit organizations were a for-profit company, “Program” is the product that is made and sold. Activities, events, actions, that are relevant to the membership, will facilitate engagement and participation. Those that aren’t relevant are simply consuming staff and valuable financial resources few organizations can afford.
- Action Talking about issues and taking no action to support, oppose or recommend solutions, undermines the credibility and viability of an organization. A local non-profit, by itself, will probably not be able to change a national policy. However, being part of the effort that drives change is a clear win. Organizations are clear leaders when they take action to improve the business climate and generate jobs, driving a better quality of life for the community. Without action, nothing happens, and your “stock” becomes less valuable.
- Membership Intelligence Current membership management software has the capacity to store, retrieve and thin slice information about members, their activities, participation, etc. Not having the ability to access relevant information is not the issue. The primary concern is getting and keeping the information current. The secondary matter is using the information to better know and understand your individual member. All too often, the membership database is updated infrequently. When asked about the frequency of updates, the response is generally a batch of excuses, how there is not time nor staff to do the task. That is not an effective way of maintaining a relationship with the persons paying the bills.
- Communication Communication needs to be timely, and volume is not a substitute for relevance. With email, text, Twitter, Facebook, all linked through organizational management software and the internet, an association has the ability to communicate with its membership and the world with the click of the mouse. While some activities are important, stopping a punitive local business tax, or giving member referrals that result in thousands of dollars in sales, is memorable. This is not a question of choosing one and not the other; it is simply a question of balance, recognizing member priorities. The “Communication” component also includes shouting your organization’s wins from the rooftops, roundly celebrating the victories–all of them–big and small.
In summary, membership development, retention and engagement are not difficult concepts. It does require commitment and diligence in execution. Member engagement begins with the Board retreat and program of work. Implementation is through programs, committee agendas, events, activities and the organization’s professional staff. The effectiveness of the programming, volunteer and staff action are measured by membership growth, participation, and retention.