Belonging to an Association is about so much more than a list of benefits. Yet conversations with members, potential members or other stakeholders can often stall at the transactional level if they start by focusing on ‘the package’ or ‘the cost’ of whatever is being discussed. Starting here can get in the way of a real conversation happening and block progress that could be beneficial to both parties. And it can stand in the way of real membership engagement.
Associations can avoid this moment by truly positioning themselves and their value as genuine communities. This involves:
•Drawing existing members into a deeper relationship,
•Understanding and bringing their stories out into the light
•Mobilising these stories to create shared understanding
•Using this to start fresh conversations about what really matters.
And it’s this process that reengages existing members and draws new members and other stakeholders to an Association, by using a pull rather than a push approach. I’ll be running an Engagement Masterclass in Brussels in October (details below) for Associations looking to work on their approach to engagement. In advance of this, I’d like to share some of my experiences when faced with a challenge around member engagement, what I did and what happened as a result.
The three Cs: Community, Content and Conversations
When my efforts to engage new members started to fail, I realised I had to change what I was doing. In fact, doing the opposite of what I had been doing in a number of areas, caused things to turn around. Here are the changes I made around the three cs:
•Community: Focus on existing members (not non-members). I’d been chasing new members to talk about membership. But it was too early for us to have this conversation and they didn’t want to speak. In contrast some of those people who were members were more than happy to speak. In fact they wanted to be more involved. It was a question of finding these members (my influencers) and speaking with them and getting their support to grow the Association.
•Content: Discover stories about and from members (not about the Association). I’d been talking about our benefits and the value of these to our members. But this was all about us. There was nothing that shared what our members were doing, nothing that showed what made our members unique, their values. And there was therefore less life and energy around the content. It wasn’t shared, it was ours. I needed to find what was important to our members and talk to them about this first. By doing so this would build empathy and discussion. And this would fuel conversations.
•Conversations: Be open to these being multiway (and not just between the Association and our members or non-members). I realised that conversations could be created by the Association to bring members together. The Association could be the catalyst through using their Community and Content and then get out of the way. By focussing on creating conversations, members and then non-members began to see the Association as understanding and being ‘for’ them. This was an important sign for them and helped them to feel engaged with.
This combination of actions turned around membership and stakeholder engagement. In turn this lead to significant growth in membership and sponsorship income and raised the profile of the Association as the home for businesses operating in the industry. The strategy was also shortlisted in the Best Growth Strategy category at the AoAE Awards.
Are you looking to change the way you engage with your members, non-members or other stakeholders? If so, join me in London for Masterclass: Raising Engagement with Community, Content and Conversations. We’ll talk and examine what real engagement is and what it could be. I’ll share some case studies that worked for me and together we’ll create an action plan for you to take away and implement in order to increase engagement for your Association.