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By Kevin, Helm, CAE, KCSAE Director

I’ve not yet met anyone from an association who has told me it’s their mission to have stagnant growth.  To the contrary, we know that if you aren’t at the table then you’re on the menu.  It’s in our survival and competitive DNA strands to grow our associations and we can’t successfully do that without our members being involved.

According to Association Analytics, member engagement is the most important metric for associations. And accounting firm Tate and Tryon’s report, Membership Metrics: A Review of Current and Best Practices further tells us its also perceived as the most critical by association executives.  But, according to Tate and Tryon report, member engagement is the least calculated association metric. We know from research such as that found in David Gammel’s book, Maximum Engagement, that the more active the member in the association, the stronger the impact they have on its growth.  So, if member engagement is so important, why are many of us not spending time measuring it?

Why aren’t all associations tracking this metric? The answer is often that it can be difficult to find a starting place and it can be more difficult to find the data. Thankfully for us, there are a many ways you can begin looking at this now and even more suggestions from the plethora of resources available through ASAE and other groups. It can be as simple as laying out your member offerings on a spreadsheet, left to right, with the member application on the left and then listing all your product and service offerings, responses to surveys, financial contributions to your foundation, and then all the leadership opportunities with board president being on the far right.  As you move from left to right, use your best judgment on which ones involve more engagement.  After you begin to measure these, you’ll get a better analytical framework for how these should be laid out, but to begin with a best guess is good enough.  This will build your “continuum” of engagement opportunities.  Then, simply count how many members you have in each category. If you don’t have a data for a particular category, start collecting it.  Most likely, you’ll have more members in your buckets on the left and fewer on the right. 

The bonus metric is to see if you can identify the area(s) where the member moves to the ownership position. I believe associations are unique and there’s a critical point in a member’s journey in your association.  The critical point happens the moment the member begins to refer to the association as “their” association.  Most of our members’ first step was to join.  Simple as filling out the form and sending a check. It’s a purchase of a product or service. But, as they develop more interest in professional development and volunteerism and so forth and begin to understand the value the association provides to them, they become more engaged.  As Gammel points out, there’s a continuum of involvement from that initial member application through serving as board president.  And this is where associations are different.  Along the way through the continuum, the member at some point begins to feel a deeper connection and moves from joining the association to claiming it as their association.  It’s a key distinction and a critical moment in member engagement. They have now taken an ownership position in the association. 

Your goal?  Move more people from bucket to bucket gradually from left to right.  The more members who have made it to the ownership stage, the more likely you’ll be creating a successful organization.  Keep track of how your promotions and branding impact this movement and create a dashboard report showing the number of members in each category and how they change over time.  Your board will be impressed. 

There are more sophisticated ways of looking at engagement, and I’d encourage you to investigate them, but this will hopefully give you an introduction and stimulate your thoughts around member engagement for your association.

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