Member Engagment: It's Not About You
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Member Engagement: It’s Not About You

Think about a time when you were deeply engaged, when something or someone touched a nerve, and resonated with what truly matters to you or with what you are trying to accomplish in the world. It could be a relationship, a volunteer activity, a community, an idea, an experience, a hobby. It was probably something you were pretty passionate about, right? But it’s unlikely that your passionate involvement was a result of slick marketing or a clever pricing strategy.

What compelled you to commit your precious and limited time and resources and convert from passive observer to enthusiastic champion? Our thesis is this: the person, community, or organization that touched a chord took the time to discover what is meaningful to you and how you define value. In other words, they saw the world through your eyes, taking your perspective, putting you at the center of their endeavors, and creating an authentic connection with you.

Associations have always been “about” engagement, and in the past several years, we’ve had a renewed focus on engaging our members and other audiences. The thing is, most of us aren’t really doing it well. Several months ago, we wondered: Why not? Why are some associations successful in capturing, engaging, and sustaining members, and some, frankly, aren’t? Could it be because we’ve been thinking about engagement all wrong?

In short: What does it take to engage at the core? What is true engagement? What does it look like in practice?

In Leading Engagement from the Outside-In: Become an Indispensable Partner in Your Members' Success, we take an "outside-in" look at member engagement and describe a radical shift in our understanding of engagement, one based on an approach that encourages us to view the world from our audiences’ perspective, focus on the outcomes they want to achieve, build authentic relationships, and harness the power of collaboration to co-create the value our organizations provide.

The truth is that associations cannot create engagement for our members. Rather, the members choose to become engaged because they perceive and experience value they need to succeed. Engagement is not about you. It does not depend on your achievements, “engagement” strategies, communications, benefits, or powers of persuasion. It depends on your ability to discover what matters most to your members at any given time and to facilitate their success at the outcomes and goals they seek to achieve.

How does that play out in real life? The whitepaper offers numerous case studies and examples of successful member engagement, in which associations helped their members:

Get clients: An association refocused its awards (a traditional association program) entirely on the needs of the members. The event includes no long speeches or association business but rather is directed fully at recognizing member excellence, which members then feature prominently in their own advertising.

Connect with their target markets: A for-profit membership organization leverages cross-industry relationships to generate value for all stakeholders and constantly seeks new ways to convert the value of one group into a different type of value for another.

Find community: Another association helps people who often feel like outsiders “find their tribe,” through informal, highly idiosyncratic special-interest groups that are initiated and run by members. This group transformed its internal culture to get comfortable with the level of autonomy necessary to preserve the “juiciness” that drew members in the first place.

Direct their profession: Another for-profit membership organization has created such a strong value network of respected peers and high-quality research that members and the organization are in a continuous positive feedback loop of raising issues and trends, researching them, feeding results back into the community, and refining and building on responses to those results to raise the next set of issues and trends.

The whitepaper shares the stories of 11 different organizations who are on the path to reconfiguring their member relationships for greater engagement and financial success and identifies eight keys to becoming truly engaging, including:

• Thinking like your members
• Building real relationships
• Organizing around shared purpose
• Focusing on outcomes
• Co-Creating
• Harnessing the power of collaborative community
• Encouraging continuous learning
• Taking the long view

Properly understood, engagement is nothing more or less than the development of real, purposeful, two-way relationships with our members and other audiences around the creation and exchange of value. Authentic relationships take time to develop, involve increasing commitment on both sides, require us continually to be learning more about each other, and are focused on helping each other achieve important goals. Through the process of developing genuine relationships, associations become necessary partners in helping our audiences achieve their most important goals, and we achieve our goals—to be financially healthy, vital, growing, mission-driven organizations—as a result.

Download your free copy of Leading Engagement from the Outside-In: Become an Indispensable Partner in Your Members' Success, at

By: Anna Caraveli, PhD, Managing Partner, The Demand Networks, LLC and Elizabeth Weaver Engel, M.A., CAE, CEO & Chief Strategist, Spark Consulting LLC