Modernize These 7 Processes to Increase Member Engagement

Associations // Out with the old and in with the new! See if your association could modernize the way you're doing things in key areas to increase member engagement, save staff time, and earn more revenue.

Kat Jarvis
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To provide value and stay relevant in an increasingly digital environment, you need processes that will work to truly engage your members. Do you know if the current member engagement processes you’re using are working?

Let’s look at 7 processes you should evaluate to see if your approach is out of date.

Revisit your existing processes to see if you need to freshen them up to meet modern member expectations.

Process #1: Onboarding Members

Status quo: Scattered experience

You might understand the value of a great first impression, but because of one reason or another, you may not be giving your members that great first impression. Here are three onboarding methods that you might be using (and should revisit):

One welcome email/packet. Members receive one long email outlining everything they could ever be involved in at your association, all at once.

Why this doesn’t work: How many members read this email in its entirety? Even if they do, how much of it do they retain? Once a month has gone by, is the valuable information you shared still top of mind? Most of us, especially in this era of over-information, have to be fed things little by little, based on the stage we’re at.

No dedicated communication. Members don’t receive any special welcome communication – they are added to the member distribution list and begin receiving regular mailings.

Why this doesn’t work: Joining your association was a financial investment for your member, and it’s one that deserves recognition. Even more importantly, without a special welcome for your member, you’re missing a huge opportunity to get them engaged, and down the road, to grow their investment with you in the form of other purchases. The more engaged your members are, the longer they’ll stay, and the more invested they’ll become.

Limited resources. Your team sends out individual welcome emails or a welcome email series, places calls to new members welcoming them, etc.

Why this doesn’t work: You probably won’t find many associations taking this approach, simply because it takes so much time. Your staff has a lot to cover and if you’re a small organization, you likely don’t have time to spend on sending out multiple emails and making individual calls. And if you are doing onboarding this way, because you know a great onboarding experience leads to retention – there’s a better way to accomplish that goal.

Try this instead: Automated member onboarding campaign

If you want to onboard new members in a way that leads to retention, here’s the approach we suggest:

Members receive a series of personalized emails, timed over few weeks to a month-long period, that walks them through bite-sized benefits and opportunities to get involved in.

Why this works:

Members become invested and engaged. If you roll out the red carpet – strategically – at the start, you’ll help members take advantage of their investment in association membership, make a great impression from the very beginning, and reap the rewards of retention. Those first few weeks and the first year of membership have a big influence on whether that member will renew with you.

Your staff saves time. In the ideal world, your onboarding process is completely automated. When a new member signs up, they’ll automatically receive a series of emails to get them onboarded. Depending on how they interact with these messages, they’ll receive different ones.

The Florida Association of Insurance Agents (FAIA) launched four automated campaigns to cover new members, membership renewal, re-engagement, and past member recruitment. Former Communications Director at FAIA, Sue Ray, described the change to their process: “We used to send out one big email with tons of details when a member joined. Now, we split it up by topic over three emails spaced evenly apart; this has increased the number of opens and clicks significantly.”

Automating these tasks has saved FAIA staff 2-3 hours every day. Once you get past the initial work of planning and setting up your automated email campaign, you’ll have a much more efficient process. Not only does automation improve efficiency, but it also ensures that the onboarding experience is consistently excellent for every new member.

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Process #2: Membership Renewals

Status quo: Long grace periods

Do your members have a habit of procrastinating until the last minute to renew their membership? It can be so frustrating to spend time and effort chasing down renewals months before and after expiration dates.

That’s exactly what Christine Polite, Senior Director of Communications at the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists (ASCP) struggled with before creating automated renewal campaigns with Higher Logic. Let’s walk through how they did it.

Try this instead: Member renewal campaigns

Feeling frustrated that their 90-day grace period gave some members 15 months of membership for the price of 12, Christine and her team at ASCP built an automated, personalized renewal campaign to reach members more effectively.

Before, every renewal email from ASCP went out to every member, whether they were a board member or someone who paid their dues but never logged in to their online resources. ASCP knew they needed a deeper level of personalization to get these campaigns right.

The team built an automated flow of 10 messages triggered at different points in their membership cycle, segmenting into two buckets:

  • Active users who had logged in during the past 90 days
  • Inactive users who had not logged in during the last 90 days

By rethinking their renewal campaigns, ASCP:

  • Gained efficiency by reducing staff effort and hours sending one-off messages to each person, since membership started on a different day for every member.
  • Curbed procrastination. Rather than rewarding unwanted behavior, they created incentives to renew early, shortening the timeline and smoothing cash flow.
  • Created purposeful personalization. With value-driven messaging, they could give members a personalized, thoughtful experience that matched their behavior.

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Process #3: Communicating with Members

Status quo: Same messages to everyone

Your members are increasingly expecting a personalized experience. If you’re relying on sending batch-and-blast, one-off emails to your whole member base, it may be time to rethink things.

Community Brands reported that almost 80% of members want their association to provide them with personalized content:

79% of Members say it is very or somewhat important that their organization provide targeted, valuable content. (Digital Evolution Study, 2019)

For example, with over 40 diverse member segments, Professionals Australia found it impossible to recruit, onboard, and engage with each segment in a personalized way. They sent one-off emails where needed and the same content to everyone due to technology and staff limitations.

To be effective today, the association knew they needed a member communication strategy that delivered a personal and valuable experience to members.

Try this instead: Segmented, personalized member communications

With smart, automated email campaigns (also known as “marketing automation”), you can set pathways to turn a semi-engaged member into a very engaged member.

Marketing automation is a way to look comprehensively at your audience’s behavior, from email to website to social media, and send them relevant, personalized content based on their demonstrated interests.

Stephen Gargano, Professionals Australia’s former Director of Member Engagement, emphasized that the important thing is personalization. For example, the service you provide for every member could be identical, but the way you communicate it makes a difference.

If you can create tailored messages based on data you’ve collected about members, you’ll see more engagement and success.

As a result of their improved, automated member onboarding and engagement journeys, Professionals Australia recorded the lowest number of member resignations for 5 years, seeing a 12.5% decline in resignations over the past year alone.

See how another association, FBLA-PBL, is using marketing automation software to improve member communications:

“Higher Logic Communications has been extremely valuable because we can see when people are reading and what they’re interested in, making our approach to member communications more data-informed. Before, members said we sent too many emails. Now, when we send emails out, people are actually paying attention. We even started an email distribution calendar so members know when they’ll hear from us, streamlining communication and eliminating extra emails. The implementation of the Leadership Community allows us to be more strategic and targeted in our messaging.”

– Gabrielle Gallagher, Director of Communications and Marketing, FBLA-PBL

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Process #4: Engaging Members

Status quo: Using a listserv for member-to-member communication

Short for “mailing list server,” your listserv has probably served your association or membership organization well over the last decade or two. You’ve been able to easily send out automated emails to segmented lists and your members have enjoyed reply-all options that allow them to easily communicate with the group.

During their heyday, listservs made a huge difference in member interaction and association communication. However, they’re now competing with new options that have a much greater opportunity to increase member engagement and membership value.

Try this instead: Build an online member community

Many membership organizations that have used email listservs for years are moving away from listservs in favor of increased engagement opportunities and membership value provided by online community platforms. For these organizations, email listservs alone just aren’t cutting it anymore. Online member communities provide additional options that work well for growing organizations.

This change comes with measurable benefits. Communication can take place outside of just email (and with Higher Logic Community, members can still use their email to reply to community discussions, which members love! No extra logging in necessary).

Members have more control and options over how they choose to engage – email, community discussion forum, etc. Your organization can provide quality content and information more seamlessly and, when members need to access those current or past conversations and content, they won’t have to worry about searching through their email archives. Higher Logic keeps a record of conversations, files, blogs, and announcements that members can find easily.

With all these additional options for members, switching to an online community will ideally increase engagement both online and at in-person events, like conferences, ceremonies, or meetings.

See what Alexander T. Graham, Executive President/CEO at FBLA-PBL has to say about their new community:

“I’m just so glad we’ve done what we’ve done as an organization, technologically. I’ve received meaningful feedback when I’ve shown our community’s landing pages and explained our approach at adviser conferences. In our first quarter since launch, we’ve seen upwards of 4K views and library downloads. Community members are also responding to threads, and we’re exceeding benchmarks for discussion posts. We find our advisers starting to become more involved, and some are even acting as spokespersons for their communities. This is a technology enhancement that makes FBLA-PBL stand out in the CTSO community.”

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Process #5: Using Member Data

Status quo: Difficulty using member data

With experiences provided by retail giants like Amazon, customers want personalized experiences. See what McKinsey has to say:

“Thanks to online pioneers, such as Amazon, customers have grown to expect and desire personalized experiences: a survey of 1,000 US adults by Epsilon and GBH Insights found that the vast majority of respondents (80 percent) want personalization from retailers.1 Personalization can even be called a “hygiene factor”: customers take it for granted, but if a retailer gets it wrong, customers may depart for a competitor.”

And you’re not off the hook as an association. Associations need to have strong member data and interconnected systems that allow them to put that data to work to create personalized experiences.

But when you’re part of a small team at an association with limited resources and hours, how can you make this happen? Many association teams find themselves pulling distribution lists manually, trying to send different messages based on time zone, and working on excluding the right members.

Improving this experience for you and for members all revolves around using systems to connect your data.

Try this instead: Integrate key software with your AMS

The beauty of an integrated database (like an association management system or customer relationship management software) is that it allows you to really leverage and maximize your existing data. If you can connect it to key tools like your online member community and your marketing automation platform, you have access to detailed data that you can now easily use.

With emails specifically, you can run targeted campaigns, as well as tailor the experience without the manual headache of pulling lists. Your database is live and changes minute to minute – and all that is now reflected in your other tools. If someone was added to the database yesterday, they could easily be added to an email campaign today. This means you can send much more personalized content much more easily. If you aren’t integrating your key tools, this could be a key area to focus on to save time and resources – and improve the member experience.

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Process #6: Understanding Member Behavior

Status quo: Guesswork about member engagement

You want to lean on your engaged members’ expertise to benefit the industry and your organization, but how do you know when to reach out?

Many organizations take the classic approach to member engagement: When a member joins, the association welcomes them to the organization. Yearly, they spend time with them at the annual conference. They’ll make sure members receive their monthly, weekly, daily newsletter, and when the time is right, they will remind them that it’s time to renew – and repeat every year.

While this can work for some members, it’s not the best member engagement strategy. It also leaves you and your organization in the dark about each member’s engagement levels.

Many associations will rank members simply based on tenure. Of course, renewing over and over again is one good indicator of loyalty and involvement, but there are plenty of other indicators you might be missing, like attending an event, reading resources on your website, or contributing in your online member community.

What if there was a way to score members’ engagement to help you identify the right time to reach out? Turns out, there is – and it’s called engagement scoring.

Try this instead: Member engagement scoring

You may be familiar with the term “lead scoring,” which is a foundational concept for email marketing and sales. Lead scoring is a way for marketing and sales teams to automatically rank leads based on their interest.

Similarly for associations, engagement scoring helps you tell a story about the members of your association. While you might use engagement scoring for member sales, we see it more frequently used to gauge engagement levels for existing members. How engaged are they? What are they most interested in? For instance, you can group people by tenure, participation in events, contributions to discussions, and involvement with the overall organization.

Like lead scoring, one way to build these engagement scores is through a point system. The idea is to assign points based on their level of involvement.

For example, you could assign 10 points to someone who clicked through an email, or 40 points to someone who completed a certification. You can also add points based on other variables such as tenure, organizational involvement, and whether people are responding to emails.

This exact science of your point system depends on the unique dynamics of your organization. It’s up to your team to determine what’s considered engaged.

Engagement scoring might seem like an overwhelming prospect – who has the time to go track down every member’s activity? No one does – that’s marketing automation or email campaign software helps.

You can use technology like Higher Logic’s Communications platform to develop these benchmarks and assign scores to individual members based on their real-time activity.

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Process #7: Managing Mentoring & Volunteering Programs

Status quo: Manual management

Often, with member programs like mentoring or volunteering, your members are hesitant to get involved because they’re uncertain about the time commitment or feel like it’s too big of a request. Then on your end, managing the process is time-consuming since you don’t have a dedicated system for pairing mentors and mentees or giving volunteers an easy way to sign up.

Try this instead: Use dedicated software to manage your programs

Sound expensive? Fortunately, you can find online community platforms that already incorporate tools like volunteer management or mentor program software.

Here’s a tip on volunteer management from the American Academy of Audiology, who uses Higher Logic’s volunteer portal in tandem with their online community. Lauren Reimer, AAA’s volunteer coordinator, says:

“I would highly recommend the volunteer portal to other Higher Logic clients who rely on volunteers within their organization. It’s a good place for members to see what else is going on. They may go in to sign up for one and end up signing up for multiple opportunities. Additionally, having everything in one place makes it easy for members to peruse what each opportunity involves. We used automation rules to ask former volunteers to volunteer again for the conference subcommittee, and we saw a huge spike in applications.”

Barb Boggs, Events & Volunteer Relations Manager at the Grant Professionals Association, shares how incorporating their mentoring program into the community has helped her keep track of everything, much more easily:

“Before we used Higher Logic’s Mentor Match, we manually matched mentors and mentees using Excel spreadsheets and Word documents. Mentor Match saves us approximately 10 staff hours a month, empowering mentees to make connections on their own.”

Improve your member programs and save your team time by utilizing the right technology.

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Out with the Old: Which Processes Do You Need to Revise?

To provide value and stay relevant, your association has to adopt new strategies to engage members. Do you know which processes you need to revise? Think through which of these strategies will have the most impact on your business goals – whether it’s retention, increased engagement, more non-dues revenue, or acquiring new members – and then prioritize your digital transformation based on that.

Kat Jarvis

Consultant, Strategic Services

Passionate about creating authentic and impactful communications, Kat is an experienced communications and community consultant delivering creative solutions to both corporate and non-profit organizations. Prior to joining Higher Logic, she worked in the association space for a number of years in marketing. She is a CMX Academy Certified Community Professional & American Marketing Association Professional Certified Marketer (PCM). A lover of cultures, languages, and technology, she finds inspiration in art, music, and travel.

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