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How to Increase Membership Engagement Using Data
For many associations, nothing is more important than member engagement. Marketing General Inc.’s (MGI) 2018 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report revealed that lack of engagement with the association is the number one reason members don’t renew. Further, the 2019 GrowthZone Association Annual Survey said member engagement is the top challenge for associations this year. But how does an association identify and measure member engagement? It starts with data, says Chris Mundschenk, executive director at SmithBucklin. Association boards can leverage member data to make strategic decisions to improve existing programs and develop future offerings that better engage members.

Minimizing Misconceptions and Maximizing Resources

While many associations might not have the resources to mine big data like large companies do, the truth is a huge investment in time and resources is not required to gather valuable data. Key data on member engagement should be readily available and easily accessible. “The primary misconceptions about data are that it’s expensive and hard to obtain,” says Mundschenk. “It's not, and most associations have this type of data available and relatively accessible.”

One piece of low-hanging fruit is conference data. The annual meeting is one of an association’s biggest investments and revenue generators, so it’s critical to maximize that investment. Examining attendance data can help associations do that. Start by looking at the percentage of members who are attending the annual meeting. If that number is lower than anticipated, say 20 percent, that means 80 percent of the membership is not attending. “Now you’ve got the opportunity to grow your conference by trying to make it more appealing to the percentage of your membership that isn't going,” says Mundschenk. The board may want to direct staff to survey the membership for a better understanding of why members aren’t attending. Is it cost? Is it the location? Is it a lack of perceived value? Are they unaware of it? The answers will form the foundation for future strategic initiatives to engage membership with live events.

The Building Service Contractors Association International (BSCAI) conducted this calculation and found the member attendance percentage was lower than expected, explains Mundschenk, who serves as executive vice president of BSCAI. So, the board, working with staff, developed a plan that included providing alternatives to the face-to-face live event. As a result, BSCAI developed online courses and content, webinars, and access to recorded content from meetings. “The engagement data gave our board some really interesting insights to think more broadly about how we're providing educational and networking value to our members,” says Mundschenk.

Rank Member Engagement

Data can also help the board learn how engaged individual members are with the association. “Just about every touchpoint of interaction that a member has with the association has some kind of transaction that can be tracked,” Mundschenk says. He suggests reviewing each of these touchpoints. If the member only pays membership dues and does nothing else, then they would be most at risk to discontinue their membership. “You can target these members to try to engage with them deeper,” says Mundschenk. “Maybe the solution is to offer them complimentary registration to attend the annual conference to show them its value,” he says. “Maybe it involves reaching out via email, texts, or phone calls to educate them about how to extract value from their membership.”

This data can also help association leaders determine who are their most engaged members — those who utilize the most services. If they regularly attend meetings, are certified, buy books in the bookstore, register for webinars, log on to the content hub, or whatever else, that illustrates a higher level of engagement. “That’s meaningful data that we can track easily. We do an annual activity report at the close of the fiscal year and then we roll up all that data by individual member. That information tells us a lot of things.”

Moving the Needle

Boards can also look at new member retention statistics. If the data shows the association loses a significant portion of members after the first year, then obviously the engagement of new members is lacking. BSCAI discovered this was the case and decided to revamp its new member onboarding processes. The association created a welcome kit — a branded box that includes a membership certificate, an activation guide, and a branded gift — that is mailed to every new member. It’s something that only 44 percent of associations do, according to MGI’s report, but it’s a simple an effective way to engage new members.

And that was just part of the BSCAI strategy. The association implemented a series of communications from staff over the first six months of membership to properly introduce the association’s programs and services, inviting them to get involved and become active from the outset.

Associations can gain engagement information from numerous other data points, including membership renewal, certification program participation, online course registration, learning management system utilization, and even online interaction. “With Google Analytics and surf reports you can find out how many people are accessing your content on a weekly basis,” says Mundschenk. “What percentage is that compared to the full membership? Can something be done to move the needle?”

While staff can find this data, it falls on the board, working with staff, to make sense of what it means. “You can use this engagement data to inform important strategic decisions about what to invest in, what to focus on, or what to sunset.” Once associations start compiling this data annually, boards can look at year-over-year numbers to determine long-term trends. But it starts with the board analyzing its strategic goals and objectives to determine the key performance indicators (KPIs) that matter to the association and working with staff to set goals and determine engagement levels for each one. “Then have a board-level conversation about how to improve upon the ones (KPIs) that you think are prioritized to have the most impact for your group,” Mundschenk concludes.
 
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Board Forward is published 10 times a year by SmithBucklin, the association management and services company more organizations turn to than any other. SmithBucklin has served volunteer board members for 70 years.

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