The Secret to Improving Association Member Engagement

Studies show that on average only about 20% of members ever engage with an association after joining. Some members may attend an association conference or take advantage of a professional development meeting, but the vast majority of members never get involved or become engaged with the association. This poses real risks to the association. According to ASAE research in why members drop out of associations, 56% of those surveyed said it was because they did not receive the expected value to justify the cost of dues.

Although associations bring together people with common concerns and interests, the membership itself is often quite diverse. To maximize member participation, associations need to identify the lifestyle and professional needs of each member segment. For example, one of the greatest fears expressed by association leaders in recent years has been the prospect of declining membership owing to younger generations that no longer find value in the association experience.

However according to the study Generations and the Future of Association Participation, the needs associated with career stage carry more weight than those associated with life stage. Younger workers tend to be entry-level and research shows they are more apt to think that association options available do not adequately suit their needs. Yet in a four-year longitudinal tracking study, it was found that the same Gen Xers and Millennials who previously had low membership rates were later joining associations at rates that surpassed those of Baby Boomers. When asked to anticipate the need for associations in the future, Millennials, more than any other age group, said there would be a greater need.

This finding is reassuring in that it shows younger workers have not dismissed associations entirely. Rather it suggests that many associations are not adequately addressing the needs of entry level workers. It confirms that each membership segment (entry level, mid-career, senior level and near retirement) has needs that are unique to their career stage and these needs heavily influence their perception of association value.

There are a variety of factors influences what members need from their association, ranging from career stage to demographic, attitudinal to generational influences. Each of these characteristics will indicate needs that may vary from one member segment to another. A better understanding of these unique needs will help association management determine the mix of products, offers, marketing strategies that will prove effective in recruiting, engaging and retaining members.

How can Associations develop a deeper understanding of member needs? What is the secret to building association member engagement? Traditional focus groups and surveys are not the answer. Associations have spent millions on focus groups yet the fundamental problem of low member engagement remains. True insights come from exploratory, open-ended, probing research. The type of research that gives members the opportunity to talk freely and at length. When conducted properly, insights-focused research will result in members telling you exactly what is holding them back and what they need to hear in order become engaged.

If you would like help uncovering member needs and translating that insights into actionable marketing strategies for your association, contact us today for a free consultation.