Association Engagement Defined

I had the opportunity to speak with three different groups of volunteer leaders this week and in each case we talked about the challenge of increasing member engagement. What struck me was that the focus of engagement is on the “big ticket items” of event attendance or volunteer leadership (read serve on committee or board). It will be difficult if not impossible for us to increase engagement if we keep this focus so narrow.  And there is a lot at stake.

Given that ASAE’s Decision To Join survey showed a direct correlation between engagement and renewal, it is certainly worth the effort to explore how members engage and will engage in the future. We need look no further than the web to see how people are engaging. They are collaborating, evaluating, sharing, and rating: creating content. And it’s increasingly about research. Before we make a purchase, choose which movie to watch, even visit the doctor, we log on to check out the options.  Engagement is so much more than attending an event, making a purchase or signing up to volunteer.

It follows then that member engagement is evolving too. It’s not just about attending the event or serving on a board, it’s about being a contributor and being an information consumer.
I would propose that the new definition of engagement can be formed by looking both at how many ways members can plug into our association and what they can do once they connect.

The list might include:

  • Log onto web
  • Call staff or another member
  • Email staff or other member
  • Join an e-community (our site or public site as Facebook, LinkedIn etal)
  • Follow on Twitter
  • Subscribe to RSS feed or a newsletter
  • Visit the association
  • Attend an event

Where they …

  • Create/update a profile
  • Join a discussion on listserv, blog, e-community
  • Write a blog post, article, white paper
  • Rate a product, service
  • Share a link or resource
  • Refer a colleague to join or attend or participate
  • Give a presentation
  • Complete survey, poll
  • Upload pictures, presentations, videos
  • Purchase a product
  • Talk with members, staff
  • Participate in a committee, team or on board
  • Endorse our association

These are starting points. Our challenge is to begin to build the list for our associations. So, let’s have a brainstorming meeting with staff to get started. Ask members how they define engagement – not just in your association but in their daily life. In your list, be as inclusive as you can. The idea is that if we can broaden how members can engage, we can increase that engagement.

Of course, we’ll need to figure out how to measure it, for if we can’t measure it, we can’t improve it. What I’ve seen from many associations is a great reluctance to build systems to measure these newer elements of engagement. With one group I heard it’s impossible to track behavioral info to the member record and in any case why would we want to?

One enlightened association exec, Andy Steggles, now Chief Operating Officer & Social Strategist at Higher Logic, was working on this at Risk & Insurance Management Society, where he built a more inclusive engagement model proving it can be done. But as I said to a group of chapter leaders at the California Association of Marriage & Family Therapists leadership meeting this past weekend, even if you have to start by using a spreadsheet that includes the member’s name, ID and then checks for all he’s done, do it. Sometimes the simplest approach gets the job done.

Eric Schonher, Marketing General, recently offered in an ASAE listserv discussion that engagement is “…defined by actively participating in an association activity….” The challenge is simply to build that list. What’s on your list?