Monday, October 29, 2012

Member Engagement Solution #8: Effective Orientation and Interaction Is Key

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I've mentioned previously that I'm leading another innovation effort for WSAE, something we're calling an Innovation Circle. Ours is focused on member engagement, and you can get an overview of what it is and what we're trying to achieve with it here.

I've previously posted on some of the member engagement issues people in the Circle are wrestling with. Now, I'm sharing a some of the solutions the group is coming forward with--strategies that have been demonstrated to work in at least one association environment. This is the eighth post in that series. Previous posts include:

#1: Don't Forget the Fun
#2: Recruit with a One-to-One Philosophy
#3: Recognize Volunteer Contributions
#4: Manage Volunteer Transitions
#5: Don't Waste a Volunteer's Time
#6: Provide Structure, But Not Too Much
#7: Advisory Groups Can Be Tremendous Win-Wins

As always, I encourage you to add your thoughts and comments as we go along.

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Member Engagement Solution #8: Effective Orientation and Interaction is Key

Most new association members (and some old ones) have no idea what their association does and how to get engaged with it. On-going and individual orientations are important, not just to educate members on what is meant to be accomplished and how, but to learn more about the members with an interest in participating and what their individual motivations are. Being upfront about why members want to get engaged (i.e., to advance themselves professionally, to network with colleagues and competitors) and designing opportunities to satisfy those needs while getting the work of the association done can pay tremendous dividends.

I've been doing a lot of this this past summer and fall. My Board chairman and I have been going on in-person visits to some of the members of our association. We've been focusing on those that have been big contributors in the past and, for one reason or another, have fallen away, or those that have been "checkbook members" that we'd like to see get more engaged.

As part of these visits we've offered a short presentation on our association's overall mission, strategy and key objectives. In doing so, I've been surprised by two things.

1. How interested the members are in this information. Sure, they want to know what the association can do for them--what programs and services we offer and what the value of those services are compared to the dues dollars they spend. But they also want to know why we do the things that we do. What's our mission? What are we trying to achieve big picture? And why do we think those strategies are important for the future of our industry? They are, I realize in speaking with them, strategic thinkers, too. They and their companies are trying to achieve big things in difficult circumstances, and validating that the association that represents their industry conducts itself in the same manner is important to them.

2. How much there is to learn from talking to members. Without exception, I learn something every time I talk to a member. And when I sit across the table from one, in their own place a business, and engage them in a discussion about what our association does and why, I learn a ton. Not the least of which better ways to think and frame and talk about the things that we do. It's one thing to put together a Powerpoint presentation is your office and make sure the animations coincide with all the talking points. It's quite another to make the presentation to an interested listener and watch them respond and listen to their feedback. When you hit something that resonates, it's like finding gold. And when you stumble into something that falls flat, the new perspective you gain is worth all the time and expense of being out of the office.

Talking to members is something every association staff person should do more of. And to the degree you can, strip away all the marketing speak about how wonderful your association is. Just talk plainly. Here's how we see things and here's what we're trying to address it. If you haven't done anything like that before, I think you'll be surprised by how much there is to learn.

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