Member Engagement

If you followed me when I blogged at The Hourglass Blog, you know that I previously chaired the Innovation Task Force of the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives (WSAE), and was the lead author on the White Paper on Innovation for Associations that the Task Force published.

Building on that foundation, WSAE launched something called Innovation Circles: informal professional networks where people interested in exploring innovative approaches to specific issues do so and share their experiences with the broader community.

I led one on Member Engagement. It was a focus that arose directly from the challenges facing my own association. When I came into the President/CEO position, I inherited an association that was already benefiting from high levels of engagement among a group of leaders on our Board of Directors and our key committees. And much of the success we experienced was a direct result of their dedication to our mission and their involvement in our activities. However, we came to realize that we were not building an appropriate pipeline of engaged members who were ready to step into the leadership positions of the future. As a result, our momentum slowed, and we started looking for ways to engage a broader pool of our members in our activities and the strategic and operational mechanisms that determine and create them.

The Innovation Circle was an opportunity to share ideas with peers who were facing some of the same challenges. We met roughly every other month by conference call to share war stories and help each other brainstorm possible solutions to specific challenges. For me, the result was ten member engagement solutions I was able to blog about (see index below) and apply in varying capacities to my organization. I also had an opportunity to share some of my ideas and lessons learned in a couple of webinars--the first archived here, the second recorded specifically for this blog here.

I think it's safe to say that given the generational, technological and economic changes that are actively reshaping our environment, the question of keeping members engaged in building productive leadership capacity for our organizations is one of the central challenges most of us are facing. As I continue to tackle this issue for my own association, I'll use this blog as an opportunity to share information and add even more voices into the conversation.

Here's an index of the related posts appearing on this blog:

Associations Learning From Each Other

09/09/13 - Member Engagement? It's...Well, It's Complicated.
I'd like to think that innovation and learning can come from exposing oneself to even radically different organizations and their ways of doing things. But too often in this member engagement discussion I've seen one professional shut down when they realize the colleague they're talking to represents a dramatically different type of association than the one they work for.

Being Member Driven

06/06/16 - Does Your Association Put Up Signs?
What kind of association do you work for? The kind that gets frustrated when its members don't use the perfectly good services that have been created for them. Or the kind that sees the opportunities present in the behavior of its members. That builds services where the members want them, not where the association staff people think they need to be.

05/13/13 - Getting Used to the Dark
Like many of the politicians in Washington, who appear to the voters to be more concerned with winning elections than enacting good legislation, these associations appear to their members to be more concerned with their own objectives--growing membership, increasing meeting attendance, maximizing non-dues revenue--than they are with helping them solve their problems.

04/23/12 - Who Revolves Around Who?
I am a member of several associations. I get value out of my membership in each of them. I wouldn't belong to them if I didn't. But, emphatically, I am NOT a satellite that revolves around any of them. Quite the reverse, in fact. In my solar system, they are satellites that revolve around me.

Committee Structure

09/12/16 - Your Approach to Working Committees Reveals Your Organizational Culture
We brought a new staff person into our organization this week. Her last position was with an association management company, so, she has some real association experience to draw on as she acclimates to our organization and its culture. As we were discussing her work with committees in her old position and her anticipated work with our committees in her new position, a difference in style and culture became readily apparent.

08/12/13 - The Mission Driven Volunteer
When it was time for me to create an organizational chart of our committees and task forces, I really rebelled against the traditional chart with committees reporting up to the Board like employees reporting up to their boss. That seemed too "command and control" to me, and, importantly, inaccurate when it came to describing how my association functioned and how I wanted it to continue functioning.

Communication with Members

06/05/17 - Go Visit Your Members
Every time I visit a member I learn something important about them, their business, or our industry -- and usually all three. If you are an association CEO and you don't regularly visit your members, you really need to start asking yourself why.

04/10/17 - Changing Strategy and Member Engagement
Changing your strategy can sometimes be a challenging time. But the opportunity it presents for member engagement is not to be missed.

Diversity and Inclusion

06/12/17 - Don't Be Misled By the Concentric Circles of Diversity
It's right to start in the center of the target with yourself and your workplace, but it's wrong, as implied by the picture, to then start working your way out in concentric rings, working next to reform your volunteer leaders, then your membership, and finally, if you have the courage, the very profession or industry your association represents.

Exceeding Member Expectations

07/02/12 - The Chairman's Gift
What is important is the look on our chair's face was the gift was presented to him. He was surprised. He was delighted. He was, I think, more than anything else, touched that we had taken the time to get him something unique, to think of him as an individual and not just as another in a long line of association chairs.

06/25/12 -
Trust and Association Nextpeditions
But the association I'm speaking of has something many organizations don't. They have the trust of their members, and it isn't a trust that's blindly given. It's a trust that's been built up slowly over time, by consistently and reliably exceeding people's expectations for fun and delight.

Keeping Past Leaders Engaged

08/26/13 - In Praise of Past Presidents
What if each took responsibility for being a "watchdog" over one of the association's programs or services? Not the chair of a committee, but more of a confidential informant? Someone clearly on the side of the association and the CEO, who can provide honest and well-grounded feedback on how a particular program or service is being received by the membership at-large.

Member Engagement in Programs

03/27/17 - The Best One Ever?
Every year someone tells me that our Annual Conference was the best one ever. Someone also always tells me that the same conference was the worst one ever. What does one do with such cognitive dissonance? Split the difference? Some love it, some hate it, so the truth must lie somewhere in between?

09/05/16 - The Limited Power of the Ask
It has revealed a whole new level of challenge when it comes to keeping our members engaged in the activities of our association. The power of the "ask" is undeniable. But asking indiscriminately reveals how limited that power may actually be.

12/15/14 - They'll Remember That You Let Them Down
A quality product, fairly-priced, will attract a loyal user base. And once established, on-going communication with that user base, describing the things you're doing to add even more value to the product they like will prepare them for whatever price increases are necessary for delivering the higher quality.

Member Engagement Presentations

10/30/17 - The Joy of Membership Interview
My interview, along with many others that Joy is collecting for the event, is on the often thorny problem of member engagement. In it, I elaborate on some of the related themes that I've explored on this blog: The importance of defining the rules of engagement, the value of interpersonal connections, and the fear that many associations have of trying something new.

02/11/13 - Recorded Webinar: What Does Member Engagement Mean to You?
This is a recording of the webinar I gave on November 2, 2012, to kick off The New World of Member Engagement webinar series sponsored by Young Association Professionals, Aggregage, Association Universe and Infinite Conferencing.

11/05/12 - A Member Engagement Experiment
I gave a webinar on "What Does Member Engagement Mean To You?" Unfortunately, I was not able to complete the presentation, and so I promised to record and post to my blog some supplementary material about a member engagement experiment that’s going on in my own organization.

10/22/12 - What Does Member Engagement Mean to You?
My own presentation will be titled, "What Does Member Engagement Mean to You?" In it, I'll talk about the work I've been doing with the WSAE Innovation Circle on Member Engagement, especially some of the challenges and solutions that we've identified and discovered through our process.

Member Engagement Tracking

11/13/17 - Automation Is Not Always the Answer
Too often, I've found, a desire for automated processes stops important work from getting done inside an association, and this struck me as one of those cases. An automated process can return tremendous economies of scale once the investment has been made to create it, but just because that initial investment is too much for an association to contemplate does not mean that the process can't be conducted via other means.

Member Recruitment

04/30/12 - Everyone Is Responsible for Member Recruitment
"Everyone," he said, "is responsible for member recruitment." When he said it, I have to admit, it sounded like another platitude to me, like something you might read in a consultant's book. But he was serious, and he has given this platitude real teeth within his organization. Everyone there is responsible for recruiting 2-3 new members per year. Not just the membership manager, but everyone. It's part of their yearly goals. It's discussed as part of their performance evaluations. Compensation decisions are based on it.

Member Retention

01/22/18 - Run Your Next Dues Renewal Effort Like a Fundraising Campaign
If I were to bring just three innovations to my association's next dues renewal effort, I would focus on: (1) The communications tell stories, in which the prospective donor has the opportunity to be the hero and make a difference to something he cares deeply about; (2) Different audiences receive appeals on different communications platforms; and (3) Donor thanks come quickly, personally, and sincerely, by multiple methods, and often with the opportunity to share information about the campaign with friends via social platforms or email.

02/13/17 - Be Sure to Thank Your Power Members
I recently drove 350 miles, one way, to visit a member of my association. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

08/24/15 - You've Got to Meet the Decision Maker
The decision-maker invariably wants something else from the association than the loyal contact does. Perhaps it is information. Perhaps it is prestige. Perhaps it is just the knowledge that the association to which he is sending his money knows the contours of his world and is working to make it better.

Members Defining Their Own Value

07/20/15 - Getting Members Engaged Is Like Running a Maker Lab
What if, instead of viewing members as passive consumers of our benefits and programs, we worked with them as codevelopers of the value our associations provide?

06/24/13 - Member Engagement Starts at Home
Who in your organization has the authority to accept such a proposal from a random member and commit association resources towards it? The CEO? Department heads? Program managers? Front-line staff? Every situation is probably different, but I would suggest that the farther down the organizational chart you can drive this decision-making, the more likely you are to be able to actually enter into these partnership activities with your own members.

06/17/13 - It Doesn't Scale
We can't do what you suggest. It doesn't scale. Engaging that one individual member in the manner you advocate may be a good thing, but how are we supposed to do the same thing with the next one, ten, or hundred members who call? We can't open ourselves up like that.

06/10/13 - Member Engagement and Association Building Blocks
What can your association do to make it easier for your members to use your association’s resources to define and create their own value?

Networking

02/19/18 - Run Your Next Welcome Reception Like an Apple Store
We talk about the value of networking in our associations -- indeed, we pitch it as one of our most valuable member benefits -- but our approach to facilitating it is frequently haphazard at best.

Online Communities

01/05/15 - When Old Dogs Have to Learn New Tricks
Interacting online with our members is going to change the way we do business. It's going to change the way we think, the way we learn, the way we develop products, and the way we design business models. And these are not the sort of things that we should be outsourcing. If we’re going to create the future, we need to be thinking in the language the future uses, not asking someone smarter, younger, etc. than us to interpret it for us.

Trade Shows

04/17/17 - The Psychology of Trade Shows
Let me go out on a limb in make a prediction about the trade show you are familiar with. It's too long. The last day, or the last afternoon, or the last few hours are absolutely dead. Every attendee who is looking to do business has already been through the hall, and all that are left are a tiny handful of the people who have come to grab souvenirs.

Volunteer Participation and Recruitment

07/24/17 - Getting New Voices Heard at the Board Table
And that made me realize that inviting fresh voices into Board discussions like we do with our Strategic Task Forces is still something relatively rare in the association community. Lots of associations still view Board access as something to be earned, not to be given away so cavalierly.

12/12/16 - The Busy Time of Year
We all know the reasons for the accelerating pace of business and life, and it's generally better to "surf" on the crest of those trends than try to swim against them. But one of the painful realities of losing the slow time of year for associations is the negative impact it has on its ability to engage productively with its members.

10/27/14 - Yes. Really. Nights and Weekends.
Do you ever hear people talking about how little their volunteers do? The volunteers come to Board or committee meetings unprepared, you might hear these people complain, or they miss conference calls entirely, and of course they don't read any of the emails we send them. It's like they don't take their volunteer responsibilities seriously. I mean, how are we going to get all this work done if our volunteers are only phoning it in? Sound familiar? Well, let me tell you a story.

05/26/14 - Should You Break Your Own Rules?
Yes, absolutely you should. Not only does it acknowledge that your volunteers are human, and that your association thinks of them as such, it can be one of the best ways to build better engagement with them.

05/14/12 - I Don't Want to Serve on Your Committee
This may come as a shock, I know, but I don't view it as an honor. I view it as a timesuck, and it's not clear to me what kind of value (if any) I'm going to get out of the experience. I barely even know who you are, and the blanket way you approached me tells me you barely know who I am either. Do you want me to volunteer? Do you want me to get engaged with your organization? Here are some quick DOs and DON'Ts for your consideration.

04/09/12 - Bucking the Trend
For every issue, the overall trend is down. After peaking in 2009 or 2010, every issue shows fewer and fewer people expressing concern. Except one. There's only one issue that bucks that trend, where association professionals are growing more concerned as the economy recovers. Volunteer participation.

WSAE Innovation Circle on Member Engagement

11/26/12 - Member Engagement Solution #10: Member Engagement Is About Much More Than Just Volunteering
There are many forms of engagement, and volunteering is only one of them. Joining, participating, advocating are all forms of engagement, and none of them should be neglected when it comes to thinking about increasing membership engagement in your association.

11/12/12 - Member Engagement Solution #9: Discourage Non-Performance by Rewarding Performance
Many associations struggle with volunteers or volunteer committees that don’t perform useful functions for their associations. And yet many provide recognition and rewards for all volunteer positions, even those that have not contributed. Although it may be difficult, it is essential to publicly reward only those behaviors that provide positive contributions to what the association is trying to achieve.

10/29/12 - 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.

10/15/12 - Member Engagement Solution #7: Advisory Groups Can Be Tremendous Win-Wins
One zero-commitment engagement opportunity that appeals to many members is to serve on an advisory group for a particular association program or function. These are not committees with decision-making authority, but a group of talented and interested volunteers who are willing to respond to questions and provide feedback on possible new directions.

10/01/12 - Member Engagement Solution #6: Provide Structure, But Not Too Much
Increasingly, associations are finding that members want to direct their own volunteer efforts. They want to engage, they want to develop their own skills, they want to help the association advance. What they don’t want is to be micromanaged with a lot of association-specific rules and regulations.

09/17/12 - Member Engagement Solution #5: Don't Waste a Volunteer's Time
Association members are under increasing time crunches like everyone else. Since less time is available for association work, it is essential for the association to make the volunteer interaction as productive and as valuable as possible.

09/03/12 - Member Engagement Solution #4: Manage Volunteer Transitions
Don't lose the talent and enthusiasm of a long-serving volunteer just because their term of service comes to an end. Work to find new ways to engage them in the organization. Their understanding of the association's history and strategy is invaluable. They can often achieve far more than any newly-recruited volunteer because of it.

08/20/12 - Member Engagement Solution #3: Recognize Volunteer Contributions
It is critical to find the time and appropriate mechanisms for recognizing the work of association volunteers. They are not paid for their contributions, and can easily fall away if they perceive that their efforts and are not valued and appreciated.

08/06/12 - Member Engagement Solution #2: Recruit with a One-to-One Philosophy
A personal approach is best when it comes to connecting interested volunteers with the tasks the association needs them to perform. A blanket call for volunteers may play a role in identifying interest, but connections should be personal and tailored to the motivations, expertise and time availability of each person.

07/23/12 - Member Engagement Solution #1: Don't Forget the Fun
To be truly engaging, association activities and volunteer tasks must include an element of fun. Volunteers and members are people. By making the tasks you want them to perform fun, you have a better chance to engage their innovation and creativity.

06/18/12 - Issues with Member Engagement
Since I'll be out all this week at my association's strategic board retreat, I thought it would be a good time to post some of the notes I've been taking during the Circle's on-going series of conference calls. These notes are from our first call a few months back, when we were just trying to identify some of the questions and challenges we'd like to tackle as part of this effort.

03/19/12 - Innovation Circle on Member Engagement
I'm leading another innovation effort for WSAE. They are launching something called Innovation Circles: informal professional networks where people interested in exploring innovative approaches to specific issues do so and share their experiences with the broader community. I'm leading one on Member Engagement. As I tackle this issue for my own association and hear what other folks in the Circle are doing, I'll use this blog as an opportunity to share information and add even more voices into the conversation.


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