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Member Engagement: The Full Guide + 8 Strategies to Inspire


Association memberships provide ongoing, rewarding experiences in exchange for the dues members pay to continue to be a part of the organization. That’s why it’s important that your association actively works to keep members coming back year after year by offering unique value through engaging opportunities and events.

Strengthening member engagement should always be one of your top priorities. Amid technology advancements and an online world saturated with virtual experiences, it’s always a good idea to review the basics of member engagement and look for opportunities to improve. 

Using your association management software (AMS) system, you can leverage your tools to further engage your members, encourage member-to-member networking and community-building, and enhance your overall approach to member outreach.

This guide will review some member engagement basics and walk you through a couple of key questions:

Don’t wait for your engagement strategies to become obsolete. Use these lessons, tips, and software recommendations to brainstorm new ways to not only encourage members to renew each year but attract new ones as well. Let’s dive in!

Contact Fonteva to see how tech can improve member engagement.

What is member engagement?

This is the definition of member engagement (explore in the text below).

Member engagement is the ongoing outreach and interactions between associations and their members to keep constituents informed, educated, and motivated to continue their memberships. 

By extension, a member engagement strategy is the messaging, content, and opportunities that associations share with their members to ensure that they remain engaged. Essentially, once a member joins your association, you need to actively work to nurture member relationships. You’ll know your member engagement efforts are successful when the value associated with the resources and experiences you offer outweighs the expense of membership dues.

However, not every association will measure engagement in the exact same way. Member engagement varies based on the type of association and your members’ preferences.

Defining and measuring member engagement

The way that a university association measures member engagement will look noticeably different than how a professional association will measure engagement. The former will typically look at event attendance, while the latter might refer to their learning management system (LMS) to gauge how often members take advantage of further education opportunities.

Since no two associations are the same, the way your association measures member engagement will also be unique. To begin setting your own benchmarks for member engagement, think about what your long-term goals are, whether it’s to increase member retention or encourage community-building.

As you review what member engagement means to your association, take the time to gain insight into where your members are already active. In other words, consider the various experiences and engagement opportunities that your association offers and the platforms your members already use. 

Using a data-driven approach, observe how your members engage with those experiences, including:

  • Social media platforms.
  • Email marketing.
  • Live events.
  • Learning opportunities.

Once you get a clear sense of what member engagement means to your association, you can then turn these interactions into measurable numbers. This can be done by setting, tracking, and analyzing key performance indicators (KPIs).

Setting KPIs for member engagement

Key performance indicators (KPIs) are strategic business metrics that your association can set to measure your progress toward specific, quantifiable goals.

KPIs will help you and your staff measure the performance of your association based on key objectives. After defining what member engagement means to your association, you can then set KPIs to evaluate your success at reaching specific engagement targets.

Here are some examples of KPIs based on where your members may be currently active:

These are important member engagement KPIs (explained in text below).
  • Social media platforms. Consider measuring how often you gain and lose followers, comments, likes, the number of profile tags or references, and which of your posts get the most attention.
  • Email marketing. Consider measuring your email open and click-through rates, how many members opted to receive your newsletter, and how often members respond to your correspondences.
  • Live events. Consider measuring how many people registered, total attendance, how people found out about your event, and the type of tickets people have bought.
  • Learning opportunities. Consider measuring metrics from your association’s LMS system, such as which classes are most popular, how many members received accreditations, and how often members start courses but do not finish.

Determining effective KPIs is an important part of measuring the success of your member engagement strategy. Seeing actual data metrics will help you make the best future decisions. For more examples of KPIs, this article on data analytics offers detailed information about essential metrics to look out for.

Why is member engagement important?

When most organizations think about member engagement, it’s easy to go straight to data and measure specific transactions. However, you have to look beyond the numbers and understand the meaningful experiences your association offers its members and the mutually beneficial value they provide.

Increased member retention

From a management point of view, prioritizing member engagement is crucial to promoting member retention. The more you engage your members, the more likely they will renew their memberships.

Focusing on member retention is generally more cost-effective than member acquisition, so building up a loyal member base will better support your organization’s stability in the long run. Consider what your association can offer to boost the value delivered to members in exchange for membership dues. No one will pay to be a part of your organization without gaining something meaningful in return.

Provide your members with opportunities and experiences that they will actually appreciate and motivate them to keep coming back. Keep in mind that positive member engagement results in a positive member relationship.

Member engagement and community-building

Member engagement doesn’t just help you develop better relationships with your members. It can also encourage members to interact and engage with each other. 

Oftentimes, individuals join associations to meet and network with others with similar interests or professionals in the same field. This way, they can learn and grow with other like-minded people, or even advance their careers. 

This is what makes it so important for members to feel like they’re a part of a growing community. So consider basing your member engagement strategy around encouraging member networking and interaction. In particular, you might:

  • Host live events. Events are the best way to engage your members and encourage community-building. This is because they provide a space for members to interact face-to-face. For example, a conference allows members in the same industries or sectors to come together and talk about new innovations or improvements in their field.
  • Provide an online member portal. While your association may have recurring in-person meetings and annual events, a growing membership requires an intuitive online member portal. This way, members can communicate with each other through forums and browse other profiles to get a better sense of their community.
  • Organize a member directory. Member directories provide your members with an important networking resource to explore your association’s member base and reach out to their peers. Additionally, they act as a great form of marketing for your organization, allowing you to show off to the public the size and professionalism of your membership program.

Member engagement and non-dues revenue

Many associations prioritize raising funds outside of their regular membership dues to continue funding and enhancing their services. The key to unlocking these non-dues revenue streams is to offer additional, paid engagement opportunities for members to further enhance their membership experiences.

Of course, asking members to pay fees on top of their regular dues might sound challenging, but it is entirely possible as long as these paid opportunities are valuable, unique, and worthwhile.

For example, event ticket sales are a great way to increase non-dues revenue. While tickets are an extra cost, events offer a rewarding experience that justifies the member’s purchase. Other engaging ways to increase non-dues revenue include running fundraising campaigns and offering branded merchandise through an online store.

Top Association Member Engagement Strategies

Since every association is different, it’s difficult to definitively say exactly which association member engagement strategy you should follow. Depending on your ultimate goal and members’ preferences, your member engagement strategy should be built around your specific KPIs and data metrics.

However, there are a few common strategic moves that can help to strengthen any member engagement approach.

1. Send out member engagement surveys.

Always establish a direct line of communication between you and your members. This way, you have a reliable two-way communication channel and platform to gauge how your members are feeling.

Whether it’s delivered through a social media platform, mobile events app, or email marketing tool, regularly send surveys and polls to your members. This way, you can gain a more direct understanding of your members’ needs and preferences.

When is the best time to send out surveys and polls? Consider these approaches:

  • After events. This is when the event is most prominent in your members’ eyes, so it’s a great time to get feedback on how your event went and what can be improved.
  • With membership renewal reminders. As members are deciding whether or not to renew, it makes sense to also get some feedback from them. If members decide to leave the association, ask them to reveal why!
  • At the end of the year. When the holidays begin to wrap up, this is a great time to get members to reflect on the year and what your association has offered them.

To encourage members to complete more surveys in the future, make sure to send respondents a quick thank-you email. Additionally, follow up with any strategic changes your organization makes based on common points of feedback to show that you take members’ comments and suggestions seriously.

2. Segment your members by interests.

To better engage your members, segment them based on their interests. This way, you can gain a better understanding of which members respond best to different member engagement tactics.

Then, you can start customizing content to resonate with certain segments. For example, younger members may be more receptive to one type of message, while another version appeals to older members.

3. Use advertising to promote engagement opportunities. 

Chances are, you’ve spent time crafting meaningful member engagement opportunities like members-only events and learning opportunities. Now, you need to make sure your members know about these opportunities. Paid advertising can be a fantastic way to amplify member perks and inspire people to engage.

Here are a few paid advertising strategies for nonprofits to promote member engagement:

  • Google Ads: Use Google Ads to promote your website and encourage members to explore online resources like webinars, educational materials, and discussion forums. You can also promote your events. Best of all, eligible 501(c)(3) organizations can leverage this paid advertising channel for free through the Google Ad Grant program.
  • Social media ads: Show up in members’ news feeds by running ads for upcoming events, membership drives, and other initiatives to encourage participation. By using targeting features, you can reach current and potential members alike.
  • Retargeted ads: Reconnect with users who have previously engaged with your website or social media content. Whether they abandoned your membership form or an event registration form, you can inspire them to complete specific actions personalized to their interests.

Paid ads can be immensely helpful in engaging current members and inspiring new prospects to sign up. With thoughtful strategies, you can increase visibility for your initiatives, deliver ads to the right audiences, and drive more traffic to your site and social media.

4. Improve your communication strategies.

People get bombarded with emails and messages every day, so don’t bog down their inboxes with unnecessary content. As you’re developing your member engagement strategies, consider ways that you can improve your communication.

For starters, consider letting members choose their preferred mode of communication and deliver messages in a way that they’re most likely to respond to. To do so, you can take a proactive approach by asking members for their preferences. Alternatively, you can also explore previous engagement data to determine which channels a particular member responds best to.

For example, one group of members might indicate that they like to be contacted through direct mail, while others tend to favor digital channels. When you communicate with each individual in the way they prefer, they’re more likely to respond positively.

Additionally, segment your members and tailor each message based on their particular preferences and engagement histories. This can be done by customizing existing templates within your AMS platform to more personally address each recipient.

5. Host engaging events.

One of the most appealing factors of joining an association is the events. In-person meetings provide significant value, as they reinforce to members that they’re a part of a real community. There’s little loyalty or emotion involved when all of the other members you “meet” are just photos on a screen.

In addition to serving as a strategy for boosting member engagement, events offer learning and networking opportunities that might not be found elsewhere. Remember that what your association offers should outweigh the costs of the membership dues, so actively consider ways to make your event stand out.

6. Make new members feel welcome, and existing members feel valued.

Your member engagement strategy should start on day one. As soon as a member joins your association, focus on engaging with them. Send a welcome packet containing relevant association information, as well as instructions to access the online portal and information on any upcoming events. It’s important to immediately communicate the value of engaging with your robust member community.

However, don’t forget about those who have stayed loyal to you over the years. Tenured members should still feel valued, as their retained contribution and engagement are still vital to your association. Maintain positive member engagement by continuously communicating your appreciation for their membership.

7. Offer many ways to engage.

Avoid focusing on only one method of member engagement. While it’s wise to have a goal for your association to work toward, don’t let other engagement opportunities fall by the wayside. We’ll be discussing both digital and in-person member engagement strategies.

Here are some digital member engagement opportunities:

  • Online member portal. Provide a space for members to connect with others in their community.
  • Community message board. Members can actively engage with each other through forums, collaborate on files, and comment on each other’s ideas.
  • Learning management system. With an effective LMS, you can offer online courses and classes for members to further their education and gain certifications.

However, don’t forget about the value of face-to-face engagements. Consider these in-person member engagement opportunities: 

  • Events. Host conferences, presentations, and more to engage your members in person. This way, they can actively interact with each other throughout the event.
  • Learning opportunities. Offer in-person classes and learning events for members to further their education.
  • Meetings. Oftentimes, your association will have committees and subsections. Encourage them to meet in person on a regular basis so that they can efficiently accomplish objectives.

8. Make it easier with an association management system.

To compete with other organizations vying for your members’ time, money, and attention, relying on software solutions has become more of a necessity than a suggestion. This is especially true as your association continues to grow. 

After all, as more members flock to your association, you want to ensure that each individual continues to get the same level of attention and keeps closely engaging and participating with your organization. So, how can you effectively engage your members when you and your staff are bogged down by daily internal processes like manually sending dues reminder emails?

By investing in the right association management software solution, you can automate the upkeep of daily tasks, streamline communications, and closely monitor and analyze your various engagement activities.

Member Engagement Ideas for 3 Types of Members

Your association’s members typically follow a distinct membership lifecycle. Generally, the cycle is made up of five components: awareness, recruitment, engagement, renewal, and reinstatement. 

The five components of the membership lifecycle which can be used to inform your member engagement strategy.

Members will respond to your engagement strategies differently depending on which phase they are in—for example, you wouldn’t invite a member of three years to a welcome happy hour. Instead, associations should target different types of members with tailored engagement opportunities. 

Here are ways you can engage three different types of members: 

New members

A new member is one that was recently recruited by the association. They are very new to the organization and likely still need help navigating your membership portal and getting to know fellow members. These members fall into the recruitment and/or early engagement stages of the membership lifecycle.

Here are some ways to engage new members:

  • A welcome email series. Put together a set of emails that is sent to any new member, triggered by the new member completing the enrollment process. These emails should have clear and engaging subject lines and include instructions for setting up any necessary accounts, an onboarding checklist, contact information for members who can help them get acquainted, and links to important association resources. 
  • Onboarding webinars. In addition to an email series, you might create a webinar that walks through the basics of getting set up at your association. The webinar should also touch on the exclusive benefits offered by the association to spread awareness. 
  • Mentorship programs. Help members get to know their peers by pairing them with another member to mentor them. The program can last anywhere from six months to a year or more. Make sure the mentors you choose are knowledgeable about the association’s offerings. 

At this stage, it’s key to make a positive impression on members, teach them to navigate the association, and help them make relationships with peers. Additionally, make sure to share all of the benefits and opportunities that they can take advantage of as a member, such as earning certifications.

Current members

Current members are those who have passed the initial onboarding stage. This can include those who have already renewed their membership in previous years or first-year members who fall between onboarding and renewal. In the membership lifecycle, these members fall within the engagement phase.

To engage current members, leverage the following engagement strategies:

  • Advanced learning opportunities. Promote any online courses, certifications, and/or interactive workshops your association has, and, if possible, create more based on members’ interests. To engage your more senior members, make sure these go above and beyond common knowledge in your industry.
  • Member-generated content. Give members the chance to create and share content about their areas of expertise. For example, if a member of your restaurant association is passionate about preventing burnout and protecting the mental health of cooks and chefs, offer to have them create a blog post and host a special webinar about the issue.
  • Leadership opportunities. Your most dedicated, involved members are the most likely to volunteer their time to your association by taking on leadership roles. Share about these opportunities in targeted emails and promote the importance of and benefits of holding these roles.

These members are often looking for ways to get more from your association, so make sure your engagement strategies go beyond the surface level. Additionally, remember to collect feedback from members about your association’s offerings, implementing suggestions that are feasible. This shows that you care about members’ opinions and want to create value that appeals to them.

Members at risk of lapsing

Members who are at risk of lapsing are simply those who are nearing the renewal period. During this time, they’ll decide whether they want to pay for another year of membership. Renewals are like a vote of confidence in your association, and they make up an important part of your revenue. 

While your association may already send out messages prompting members to renew, you can take it a step further by reminding members of the benefits associated with being a member. Consider engagement strategies such as:

  • Providing a customized value proposition. Using your association management software, narrow down your CRM to those members who are approaching renewal. Then, you can further segment those members by interest and send customized value propositions that highlight the benefits related to their preferences.
  • Offering exclusive discounts. To motivate members to renew as quickly as possible, offer early renewal discounts. For example, set a deadline one month before their renewal date and offer 10% off the next year’s membership if they renew in time.
  • Extending member appreciation benefits. Show that you value current members’ investment in your association. You might send eCards for milestones or birthdays, acknowledge members who have been with your organization for long periods of time or offer digital badges displaying how many years they have been active.
  • Allowing members to opt into auto-renewal. Using your association management system, you can give members the option to set up auto-renew. This way, they don’t have to worry about manually renewing their membership each year. Just make sure to send out a notification letting them know their membership is about to renew.

Keep in mind that you likely won’t retain every member, and that’s okay. For any members who cancel their membership, send a survey asking why they decided not to renew. These answers should give your association a solid starting point when making updates and improvements to its benefits and engagement tactics.

Our Recommended Member Engagement Software Solution

If your association is looking for an effective, reliable association management solution, then look no further. Fonteva has worked with associations for over a decade. Through our powerful Salesforce-native association software, we strive to reduce the burden of association management and member engagement. 

With more powerful and comprehensive tools than a simple association management system, Fonteva provides an all-in-one association management platform that gives you and your team access to:

  • Online member profiles. Engage your constituents online by providing a public member directory. This gives members a chance to get to know each other and even interact on an online message board. Members can also edit their own profiles and update any inaccuracies.
  • An intuitive member database. An intuitive CRM system makes it easy to personalize member communication. Because Fonteva is native to Salesforce, your member profiles will be fully fleshed out and regularly updated with engagement metrics from event attendance, payment preference, and more!
  • Event planning and management software. Fonteva’s association management platform includes event management tools, so there is no need to look for a third-party solution. You can easily host an event microsite, create a mobile event app, and manage all of your key event personnel on one streamlined platform!
  • Continuing education opportunities. People join associations to stay up-to-date on best practices and innovations in their field. With Fonteva, you can offer certifications, learning events, online courses, and more.

Fonteva’s comprehensive association management platform also helps your association visualize past data to improve your member engagement and retention strategies for the future. With flexible reporting tools, you can easily see which communications, events, and other forms of outreach are working and which need to be tweaked.

Wrapping Up

Actively engaging your members is an ongoing journey, but certain strategies can simplify the process. By investing in reliable association management software, you can easily compile reports to understand these goals and form measurable KPIs to take appropriate action.

Eager to learn more about strategies and tools that you can use to elevate your association and engage your members? Check out these additional resources:

Contact Fonteva to learn how association management software can make member engagement a breeze.
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