Five Ways to Keep Members Engaged
For associations, an active and focused membership is the greatest force available for lobbying and advocacy.
But keeping the members engaged on a regular basis is crucial – if everyone is not up to speed on the issues, rallying the membership can be a significant challenge.
Here are five key strategies to keep members ready and charged for grassroots activity.
Keep Their Attention
Communications outreach will be an exercise in futility if no one is paying attention. But how does one ensure that attention is being paid?
When Beverly Stotz became executive director of the New Mexico Wine Growers Association last August, she was bothered by the mediocre response to emails sent by her group. “I was making announcements, but I was not certain of the tracking,” she said. “Emails were just being sent out through Gmail.”
Simple email tracking solutions can determine how many people are opening messages. Stotz opted for the email tracking solution offered by Constant Contact, and while she is paying for this solution, she believed the ROI in terms of membership engagement is substantial.
“Before I used this, less than half of the emails that I sent out were opened,” she said. “Now, over 75 percent of members open the emails. And that percentage is blowing away the Constant Contact average for email openings.”
Avoid Message Overkill
While Stotz is satisfied that her association’s membership is paying more attention to her email, she is also careful not to overdo it.
“Nothing is that blasted important that you need to send an email every day,” she said.
E. Robert Levy, who serves as executive director and counsel for three real estate finance trade groups (the Mortgage Bankers Association of New Jersey, the New Jersey Association of Mortgage Brokers and the Pennsylvania Association of Mortgage Brokers) is also eager not to pollute his members’ email inboxes.
“You can send too many, too frequently,” he said. “We send so many emails – between promoting conferences, seminars and webinars, and sending out information bulletins and newsletters – and we have to be a little bit careful about overloading.”
Get Some Face Time
While email missives serve a purpose, Levy also uses every opportunity to turn face-to-face meetings into an issues update.
“During our conferences, we try to keep everyone informed as to critical areas of concern and update them as to what’s happening in areas they should know about,” he said.
Indeed, no meeting is too small for Levy’s goals. Even a gathering of his board of directors can further enhance member engagement. “The board consists of members of our association,” he said.
Jeff Shaw, director of public policy at the Connecticut Association of Nonprofits, is a strong believer in bringing association members together in person.
“We engage in a number of monthly meetings,” he said. “We feel it is important to have members meet with their peers in certain service areas, in order to engage with each other so they can solve common problems that prevent them from fulfilling their missions.”
Stay Focused, But Friendly
However, Shaw warned against membership engagement that feels self-serving. Instead, he said, get-togethers should be beneficial to members.
“We have a continuing education element,” he said. “This makes it an ongoing conversation, rather than a summary of everything that happened in the state legislature.”
But not every association is able to gather its members on a regular basis.
“I wish we had some kind of an annual dinner where everyone can come,” said Cole Smithey, a member of the governing committee of the Online Film Critics Society, an international association of cinema writers that spans five continents.
Smithey noted that the Society tried to engage its membership to participate in forum discussions on the group’s website, but input in that setting was limited. To better engage membership, Smithey has been promoting ongoing conversations via the group’s page on Facebook.
“It is hard to engage people in a private forum,” he said. “Our Facebook page seems like a more festive atmosphere – people can feel a little more engaged because it is Facebook.”
But this type of online engagement is not a slam-dunk. “Our private Facebook group consists of 132 of our roughly 270 members,” Smithey said. “We are trying to get everyone on the Facebook page.”
Think Outside the Association
While member engagement is important, it is also important to remember that those outside the association might also be eager to lend a hand and a voice.
“Our members consists of 27 hospitals,” said Michele Sharp, director of communications and public affairs at the Connecticut Hospital Association. “While we engage our members to be ready to become advocates, we also engage people across our state. It is important for everyone to be active in advocacy and to engage members of the public who are interested in improving healthcare.”
To achieve this goal, the Connecticut Hospital Association created the CareWeCanCountOn.org website to disseminate editorial content and to advise people on how to reach legislators. The association also seeks out public input via social media and provides free car clings to people who ask questions online.
“We are trying to engage a broad public in our campaigns because we share the same goals,” Sharp said.