Definition of Member Engagement for Associations

The term ‘member engagement’ is often bandied about in the association world. More of it is considered better yet we rarely state what that actually means. I thought I would put a stake in the ground with my definition of it in the work I do with clients.

Member engagement is the result of a member investing time and/or money with the association in exchange for value. The more of these precious resources they invest, the more engaged they are.

A member who speaks at a lot of conferences and writes many articles for association publications is highly engaged.

A member who invests hundreds of thousands of dollars in sponsorship money is also highly engaged, even if they do absolutely nothing else.

Engagement is about value. The value for the person doing the engaging as well as the value of that engagement for the association.

Healthy associations create more engagement opportunities in areas that create strategic value for the organization. Having a surfeit of articles to publish is nice but doesn’t really matter if the budget has been in the red for the last three years.

Create engagement where it matters.

7 thoughts on “Definition of Member Engagement for Associations

  1. Pingback: Expand Engagement Before and After Membership | High Context Consulting

  2. David — We ran some data analytics for one client and found data that supports your definition. We found the following related to behavior and renewal:

    — Members who placed a product order in the past year were 28% more likely to renew than those who had not placed an order.
    — Members who also maintained membership in an optional local chapter along with their national membership were 17 percent more likely to renew than those who were not a member of a chapter.
    — Members who attended an association meeting in the past year were 19 percent more likely to renew than those who did not attend a meeting.
    — Members who attended an association meeting at any time in the past were 7% more likely to renew than those who never attended a meeting.
    — Members who attended four or more meetings were 30 percent more likely to renew than members who never attended a meeting.
    — Members who upgraded their membership in the past year to a higher level of service were 12% more likely to renew.

    So part of our challenge is how do we provide the value that produces the behavior that encourages continue membership?


  3. Thanks for sharing that data, Tony. Interesting stuff.

    If the goal is growing and continued membership, I think you follow the data such as you just shared. Which activities tend to generate the most members? Which tend to increase retention? Invest in growing those and track impact.

  4. David,
    Great definition and thanks to Tony for the analytics. Too many people think member engagement is defined by showing up to a meeting or participating on a committee. Filling out an electronic survey or even sending feedback in an email is also member engagement.

    How about a definition for “transparency?” I could not find a modern, organizational definition of this buzz word, so I invented one. What do you think?

    Transparency is more than telling the simple truth about what you did; it is the act of making known what you are thinking about doing, how you are planning to think about it, who is going to be involved, and why you are thinking about doing it. Then, after you have done it, telling what you did and why.

    Transparency is no longer a matter of seeing through the organization, it is now about seeing into it.

  5. Dave, I might add to your definition to choose, based on strategy, where to be transparent. While most orgs are too opaque I think too much transparency can hinder your ability to operate.

    The question becomes one of where will transparency in the organization create the most strategic value for our mission.

  6. Dave

    With respect, I think your definition of engagement is too subjective and limiting and doesn’t sufficiently capture the complexity of engagement.

    Associations need a much more robust definition of engagement. Forrester Research produced an outstanding analysis of how engagement is defined in 2007 and has continued to build on it. They posit a 4 step process (with Association Laboratory’s modification to associations) that is particularly applicable summarized below.

    Involvement – the “touches” between a person and the organization

    This component of engagement is the basic approach of a person to the association. Common measurements would be web page views or requests for information. At this point there is no “back and forth” or purchase transaction.

    Interaction – the contributions or back and forth between the person and the organization

    Interactions represent the common “transactions” between a member and the association. Interactions would include becoming a member, purchasing a book or registering for a conference. Interactions go both ways though, so this area also includes volunteering or writing an article for the newsletter. Interaction is not only when the person requests and receives something from the association but also begins to contribute to the association.

    Intimacy – the sentiment (likes or dislikes) of the person regarding the organization

    Intimacy represents how the person “feels” about the association. Potential measures might include satisfaction or net promoter scores or “likes” on the association’s Facebook. Intimacy is indicative of a person’s emotional commitment to the association.

    Influence – the likelihood and strength of a person’s promotion or advocacy for the organization

    The influence stage is when the member (or other stakeholder) begins to actively promote the association, for example, through a member-get-a-member campaign.

    When taken together, these four components represent a model of engagement that can be measured, tracked and used to guide business strategy. The leadership imperative is to define engagement for your own association and develop specific strategies to lead people through these stages as they desire.

    We discuss this issue in more detail on our blog here and presented on how to apply it at the AVECTRA Users and Developers Conference. The Forrester Report can be identified here as well as a great blog that continues the discussion.

    I think we need to start advising associations that “engagement” is a much more complex and thus useful thing to identify and measure. It is also not a mysterious thing, a great deal of time and energy have gone into understanding this concept, and we don’t need to reinvent the wheel – we need to simply attach it to our car.

  7. Dean, I think we’re on the same page. This post is from 09, I actually wrote a book published by ASAE last year building on this in more detail.

    The Forrester model you adapted is complimentary to the work I did in Maximum Engagement. Two ways to look at it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s