Timeless Member Engagement Strategies

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Keeping members engaged is often considered the hard part. One association CEO outlines key membership engagement points that work no matter what, even in troubled times. The key to it all: value.

“Membership engagement solves everything.”

That’s a pretty bold statement. Tom Morrison, CEO of the Metal Treating Institute, backs it up with impressive numbers: More than 80 percent of MTI members are engaged at some level, and the organization has maintained a 97 percent retention rate for 10 years in a row. He says engaged members lead to fiscal growth, better volunteerism, and program involvement, which is why it’s his number-one priority as an association leader.

Morrison recently cohosted a webinar outlining successful strategies for keeping members engaged, even in a crisis.

Know Your Value

“Members support your mission, but they buy your value,” Morrison said. It is essential, therefore, for associations to know exactly what their value is.

We all know advocacy and meetings are core elements of an association’s value proposition. Without advocacy and meetings, what’s left? Good question.

Several years ago, during a strategic planning session with MTI’s board, as part of an exercise to determine value, they took advocacy and meetings off the table. That forced leadership to look internally at problems and “high pain points” and analyze them. Sales forecasting, financial benchmarking, training, and professional development emerged as important value drivers for members.

Another value proposition that has re-emerged is information. It was a high-value point in the ‘80s, Morrison said, but now with the advent of widespread misinformation distributed across many platforms, “associations are back in the channel of interpretation of information.” Associations need to ask what information they are engaging members with, where it comes from, and how to become the authority on interpreting it, he said.

Perceived vs. Actual Value

“Relevance is directly related to your value as an association,” Morrison said. Members engage in what they value. But value can be perceived or actual, and the latter is the one that counts.

Morrison noted, for example, that some associations offer members a discount on car rentals, which he says most people can easily get on the internet for an even lower price so that is not technically an actual member benefit. It is something some associations put out there, but it isn’t really meaningful—so it falls into the perceived value category.

Associations need to drill down on their benefits and determine if their value is actual or perceived. Morrison noted that many members pay for consultants to help with issues that associations could be helping to solve at a fraction of the cost—or at no cost at all. You need to know what members are going to need on any given day that your association can provide, so they don’t go looking for it elsewhere.

Morrison said he keeps hearing people ask, “How do you communicate value during COVID?” Talking about value is not enough right now, he said, “It’s time to do your value.”

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