It’s an age-old story. People join associations with the best of intentions. Networking! Personal and professional growth! Fun, stimulating, informative events! But ultimately, in order for a member to get the most out of his or her membership, he or she has to work at it.
They say they want to. You plan meetings, you take suggestions, and you get things together but when the day comes there’s a lack of RSVPs and even fewer attendees.
So what’s the deal?
We have some answers for you, looking deep into the minds of the membership psyche. While these are not ALWAYS true (by any means!) but could help unlock some mystery as to why your members seem to be interested in engagement but not actually following through.
Authors note: All of these examples have literally gone through my brain concerning every association or group I’ve ever been involved with since college, as both a board member, a member-at-large, and a dues-paid fringe member. If you are an association member and reading this and maybe feel a little guilty, don’t be. You’re in good company.
What they say: I want to belong to an association.
What they mean: I want to belong to an association that doesn’t take any of my spare time, money, or energy.
The bottom line: Break the big commitments down into little chunks. For example, hour long volunteer periods at events instead of committing to working the whole thing. Don't forget to keep events as affordable as possible. Members have to know that some extra time and money expense is assumed when they sign on, but remember that as an association executive, you are asking for participation and money on top of what they already do for their work and family. It’s a big ask!
What they say: I want quality interaction with other professionals and experts in my field.
What they mean: I want other professionals and experts in my field at my disposal.
The bottom line: Now’s the time to pump up your AMS’s social media community and encourage online interaction as well as networking in person. Consider Google+ communities, LinkedIn groups, and Facebook groups (depending on where your members are already concerning social media.) That way they can have their cake at events and eat it too online! Need some help with social media engagement?
What they say: What we really need is a social networking platform just for our association.
What they mean: I don’t want to be the first and only person to use the social networking platform just for our association.
The bottom line: Sometimes engagement has to start with you as an association leader. Post meeting notes and pictures on your AMS, use the forums, and drive your members there! “If you build it, they will come” only works in the movies. Sometimes members need a little guidance!
What they say: More events! We need more events!
What they mean: Fit into my schedule, please.
The bottom line: This is tough because you’re never going to get on the same page with everyone. A group of any size from 10 people to 10,000 people are going to have a hard time coordinating. The best thing I say here is good luck and do the best you can. Using your AMS’s calendar or other meeting coordination tools can help, though, so be sure to encourage collaboration and calendar review as often as you can! Need some help with event planning?
What they say: A dues hike would be worth it…
What they mean: Don’t hike dues.
The bottom line: People immediately react to how their wallets feel. If you do have an increase in dues or event registration fees, make sure you let as many people know as possible and leave it open to discussion. Sometimes an initial ask for more money immediately makes people panic a little, but give it a minute to sink in (and for your members to look at their budgets) and you can probably make it work.
What they say: I want to participate!
What they mean: I want to participate when it’s convenient for me.
The bottom line: Your members WANT to engage and reap the benefits of your association. They wouldn’t have joined if they didn’t, but they have lives and like most professionals these days, they have a lot of balls in the air already. Your best chance for engagement is to spread the net wide. Vary events in venue, time, feel, and length. Offer online opportunities to take some leadership responsibilities (your AMS is a great place for collaboration) as well as in-person. Stay flexible! Your membership is a living, breathing organism and sometimes you have to roll with the punches.
I know it’s frustrating, from an association board view, a member view, and a blogger view. Hang in there, baby! Keep trying! You WILL find a rhythm for engagement that works for your association.