Making the Whole Greater than the Sum of the Parts in Membership

Do you ever get the feeling that you’re doing the same thing every year – and the same things as everyone else – but for no better results?

This, I think, summarizes all our conversations on engagement.

Over the last several years, one of the most common themes has been the concept of membership or stakeholder engagement. How can we establish it? How can we expand it? How can we make it a more ongoing, or annualized relationship?

The missing link in our conversations is annualized engagement.

Annualized engagement is defined as the interaction between you and your members throughout the year, on an annual basis. How often do they engage with your association, in what manner and how consistently over time?

Critical to annualized engagement is the existence of opportunities or channels for annualized engagement.

Successful annualized engagement is more likely if there are more, not less, opportunities for a member or other stakeholder to engage. The more channels that exist, the more likely annualized engagement.

The first solution to annualized engagement? Focus on the core membership audience.

The second solution is to improve messaging and program design to more specifically address the challenges and needs of the core membership audience.

The third solution is to create an annual portfolio of engagement opportunities through which members can participate.

Association Laboratory reviewed 10 different domestic and international individual member societies for insights into strategies designed to improve annualized engagement.

Based on our review of these organizations, five principal strategies are used to provide opportunities for annualized engagement.

1. Face-to-face strategies targeting distinct audiences, geographies and/or technical disciplines.

2. Publication strategies (digital/traditional) targeting distinct audiences or technical disciplines and distributed in timeframes ranging from daily to monthly or quarterly.

3. Online strategies providing access to distinct communities by technical discipline via the website.

4. User-led strategies through which the association provides a mechanism or platform for members to self-organize into groups based on technical discipline, topic or geography.

5. Leadership strategies, for example technical working committees, that focus member activity on the discussion and/or solution of a distinct problem.

The commonality? The most robust organizations use an integrated, portfolio approach that creates multiple, ongoing opportunities for BOTH association-led and user-led opportunities for engagement.

To be successful relative to competing options, associations need to start thinking of engagement as a curriculum where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

By linking engagement opportunities to each other in a cohesive manner, the association can create defined, intentional engagement paths which can be customized to the needs of different audiences.

All associations have the same tools in the toolkit. Measuring how many times your members or stakeholders use each tool is only one part of the equation.

What they build with these tools is what is critical, and provides a more accurate and useful picture of their relationship with the association.

Last month, we talked about how the Manhattan Cocktail was a good metaphor for business strategy.

It’s good to remember that a cocktail is simply a combination of ingredients that creates a something different when mixed together.

Good engagement strategy is no different.

Cheers from my seat at the bar.