Building An Ironclad Membership Engagement Strategy
Engagement is a hot topic among for-profit businesses right now. The conversation has really taken off in the last five years because we have started to understand what the word "engagement" actually means and how it is essential to growing businesses in every sector.
We know what you’re thinking, nonprofits aren’t traditional businesses so why should you spend your precious time, energy, and money on this trending topic? You will hear it here first: engagement is just as, if not more important than membership recruitment.
Why? Many nonprofits rely on memberships and donations as a large part of their revenue. If there is no strategy in place to retain those members, you could be facing membership attrition without even knowing it.
In this article we will discuss a few different ways to engage members and the metrics you should be following to measure success:
- Streamline Membership Lifecycle
- Revisit Membership Benefits
- Optimize Website
- Engage through Social Media
- Build a Community Mindset
Here we go!
Streamline Membership Lifecycle
Streamlining your membership lifecycle from onboarding to renewal can not only make your life easier, but also engage your members, maintain membership, and help them get the most out of your organization. Your members are spending their precious time and money committing to your nonprofit. Making their, and your, processes easier are going to be greatly appreciated and can do a lot to boost engagement.
Onboarding is the process of integrating a new member into your organization and getting them familiar with your work.
The first few days of membership are the most important. This is the first time your new member is interacting with your organization and it needs to be a positive experience for them. If not, you risk them not renewing their membership the following year. There are a lot of nonprofits competing for your member’s attention, and we want you to be the best!
With several processes put in place, you can streamline the onboarding process for your organization and engage your members at the same time.
Welcome kit: A welcome kit is an excellent way to create a sustainable onboarding process. You can send the kit via email (for an eco-friendly solution) and include elements like a signed welcome letter from the director, photos from events, a membership directory, a list of membership benefits, testimonials, goodies, and more. Send them individually or in groups (1x a week for example).
Pro Tip: If your members are for-profit entities, an onboarding presentation is a great way to show your professionalism and give appropriate background information on your organization. Include information about your governance, current team members, and an annual report
New member meetup: Setting up an initial meeting with your new members is a great way to integrate them into your organization. Putting a face to a name has inherent value and will lay the foundation for a lasting relationship. Invite them to an informal meeting in your offices or a neutral location where new members can gather, discuss with others and ask any questions they may have about their engagement. If you welcome new members all year long, doing a meetup once a quarter will be enough. If you work seasonally, one at the beginning of the year is ideal. If you cannot hold a physical meeting for safety reasons, this can easily be done online.
Pro Tip: If you are struggling with online events, know that planning is key. Find the best online video system for your organization (many even have discounts for nonprofits) and do a trial run the day before. Plan ice-breakers, guest speakers and have a plan-b if someone can’t connect because of technical difficulties.
- Personal contact: Give your members a personal contact that is available to answer any of their questions. If you don’t have a staff member dedicated to membership management, this role can be taken on by your operations or development team. Knowing that they have one person that is going to get back to them in a timely manner shows that your members have value within your organization and their requests are taken seriously.
Once your members have been properly onboarded, it is time to plan for membership renewal. It might seem extreme, but starting the renewal strategy a few months in advance will save you time, energy, and resources.
The core idea is to make the process as simple and beneficial as possible. Easier said than done, we know. Let’s break it down into more manageable steps.
Give discounts for early renewal: Everyone loves a good deal! Offering a discount on renewing their membership a month or two in advance gives an incentive to take action early and expands your bandwidth when membership season rolls around.
Give referral discounts: A referral program is an excellent strategy to not only attract new members but encourages current members to engage deeper with your organization. By offering a referral code or discount, you send the subliminal message that your member’s networks are highly valued. As a bonus, they are spreading the word about your work, mission, and impact.
Offer online payment: 72% of nonprofits take online payment, a trend that has been steadily rising for the past 10 years. Online payment simplifies the life of the member organization by not having to chase after checks, cash, members, the sending of receipts and invoices, trips to the bank and the list goes on! Members are far more likely to pay via credit card in two minutes, rather than finding their checkbook, going to the post office to buy a stamp, and putting it in the mailbox.
Say thank you: It is common to remind donors of what their contributions have done, but membership-based organizations are often left out of this kind of follow-up. Remind members of what their engagement means to your organization, what you have been able to accomplish from their support, and how their continued support will positively impact your work. Send this via email, make a personalized video, or mention their names on your annual report.
Now that we have gone through the steps to streamline the membership lifecycle for better engagement, make sure your efforts are a worthy investment of your time. Here are a few metrics to follow:
Survey to track integration time: Send out a survey before putting your new onboarding processes in place to see how long it took your current members to integrate into your nonprofit. After every membership season, send the survey out to first-year members again. If the trend goes down, you know you have been successful.
Number of Membership renewals: Start with the number of renewals for the past three years and track for the next several seasons. It will take time to gather this data, but the outcome will be worth the effort.
Satisfaction with renewal process: Sending out a simple survey using a number-based system (ex: 1 being low satisfaction, 10 being highly satisfied) will suffice here.
Adding these tools into your membership strategy is going to streamline your lifecycle and engage donors in a creative way. Each organization is unique, so your membership processes should be as well! Take the time to find what works best for your team.
Revisit Membership Benefits
Membership benefits can be a strategic lever when creating an engagement strategy. Members sign up because they are passionate about your work and want to support it. In return for their loyalty, providing certain extras can boost legitimacy, fidelity, and engagement.
Here is a shortlist of benefits you can put into place, depending on the size, sector, and mission of your nonprofit.
Exclusive newsletters: A popular tactic among political, social, and health organizations, your organization can invest your expertise in providing an exclusive, members-only newsletter. These are not your typical, once-a-month email blasts, but carefully crafted emails with quality information that is not easily found online. A good example of this is a summary of a conference your organization participated in, targeted news from the sector, new research, or exclusive access to studies, trials, or white books.
Slack channel: A favorite from the start-up world, many new businesses are starting slack channels to build communities of like-minded individuals to share tips, tricks and ask questions. This is a great option to offer to your members, to be able to communicate with them on a regular basis and invite them into an exclusive community where they can interact with people with the same interests (and your other members).
Goodies: This is pretty self-explanatory, but you would be surprised at the power of a t-shirt. Goodies like t-shirts, tote bags, or mugs should be unique to your organization’s values (ex: using recycled cotton if you are working to combat textile pollution) and sent as soon as possible after members join.
Discounts: Offering discounts to certain events like shows, conferences, networking events, or training sessions is an excellent incentive. Negotiating partnerships for your members with organizations and/or businesses they might enjoy is a bonus from which everyone can profit from.
Communication tools: Creating communication tools like a branded email signature or banner will help get your name out, attract potential members, and give your members a sense of importance to be part of your initiative.
Members-only events: Invite your members to an event that you have created only for them to show your support. Depending on your mission, this event could be an outing to see your beneficiaries, doing a team-building activity, or even a dinner at a local restaurant.
While benefits are great, the essential is to know what kind of benefits your members are looking for. Don’t hesitate to send out a survey or questionnaire about how satisfied your current members are with their benefits and what they are looking for more of. Leave this question blank and let them be creative!
Some metrics to follow here would be satisfaction. A simple survey come renewal time is a great way to follow up on a regular basis and can track what benefits work best for your membership type.
Your website is the window into your nonprofit. It shows who you are, what you do, and most importantly, what you value and who is part of your journey.
If your website isn’t optimized for membership engagement, your members will have to spend unnecessary time searching for the information they need. This can highly affect retention and recruitment rates.
Don’t worry, you don’t need to be a computer whiz, or spend precious resources on hiring a developer. There are some simple techniques that you can put into place that will optimize your website, and your chances, for membership engagement.
Membership stories, often called testimonials, are an excellent way to humanize your organization to potential new and existing members. In the marketing world, we call this strategy "social proof" a phenomenon that incites people to copy actions in order to reflect a behavior for a given situation. In layman's terms, people see the testimonials and imagine themselves having the same success!
Solicit your members to help with this task, and get them involved in the process. I’m sure they would be thrilled to discuss their membership experience with you. You can present this information in different formats:
Video Presentation: If they are comfortable in front of the camera, a video testimonial is the way to go, as videos up to 2 minutes have the highest rate of engagement among other forms of content. Have them present themselves, what they do, their role in your organization, and what their membership means to them.
Written Q&A: A simple question and answer interview is a classic, and is for a reason. This is by far the most common type of content produced around testimonials. Prepare your questions in advance, and if you can’t get your member on the phone, you can also have them respond via email.
Written Use-Case: Like the video presentation but in a more long-form style, the written use-case is a presentation of how the membership has benefitted the member, the organization, and getting into the detail of why the member decided to join and is engaged. You can take your time here and really get to the details that might not come out via video.
Social Media: Have the members boost your online presence. This is a more creative form of testimonials, but having them give you a rating on google, posting a quick note on Facebook, Twitter, or a shoutout on Instagram can go a long way, especially if social media is a big part of your organization's strategy.
Member stories are an excellent way to learn about what you are doing well, or not so well. Being open to having this conversation with your members also means being able to hear where they might not be completely satisfied.
Don’t panic. Nonprofit software has come a long way in the past few years and many of them are easy to use, reasonably priced, and are made for small teams who might not have a developer on hand.
Software is an excellent way to optimize your website as it puts systems into place, on the front and back end, that will streamline nearly all of your processes and make membership management easier. Many even have website builders integrated where you can build your website autonomously, update it, and add tools into it to fit what your organization needs.
For example, at Springly, our membership management software is built to automate a lot of the administrative tasks that take up a lot of your time. You can create customized membership forms, accept online and offline payments, track dues, send email blasts, plan events, build a modern website and have a full database system that is automatically updated for you.
Having an all-in-one tool that does the hard work for you will only save you time, money, and energy at the end of the day. By being able to control, update and modify your website at any time gives you the flexibility to keep up with your members, their needs, and what you can do to engage them at a deeper level.
Bonus pages are the website pages that go above and beyond to engage your members. They are often not available to everyone (members-only) and are a low-maintenance way to keep your website up to date for your community.
A few examples of bonus pages are:
Membership directory: a membership directory is a list of the contacts of your current and past members with often their name, job title, membership year, and contact information (email or phone number). You will need your member's consent, so make sure to ask permission before putting it on your website.
Events page: Let your members know what you are up to, what events you are participating in or hosting. This is an excellent opportunity to offer a discount for your members who are interested in your events.
Calendar: While this might seem arbitrary, having a calendar with information like your member's birthdays, milestone days (ex: your organization's birthday), important days (ex: Giving Tuesday), conferences, and more, will keep your members actively engaged.
The main metric used when discussing a website is the number of unique visitors. Unique visitors are the number of single individuals visiting your website during a single period. You can use tools like google analytics to track the number of visitors and how long they stay on your individual pages.
Engage Through Social Media
There is no doubt that social media is a powerful tool that can provide a lot of insight and engagement when used strategically. You can use it to raise awareness on your mission, interact with other nonprofits, share highlights, and connect with your community.
We’ve spoken a lot about connecting with your members in this article, and in every section, the connections have different uses with a specific end result. Social media is no different, but here you want to incite not only connection but interaction.
Interactive content is a fairly new topic, created in the last few years with the birth of new networks like Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok. Content like this is useful to get your community moving and grooving, getting them excited about your organization and making them feel like a part of the conversation.
Here are our best tips for creating interactive content:
Polls: Asking your member's opinions just got easier. Instead of sending out a formal survey, use Instagram or Facebook to create a quick poll on subjects that don’t require a lot of background or context. You get live results and your members save time by answering your questions from their couch.
Quizzes: Post a quiz about sector news or membership benefits. Post this on your Instagram story or use the "Quiz" plug-in Facebook if your community is more active there. To incite people to get involved, offer a prize for all questions answered correctly.
Giveaways: Everyone loves free goodies. Engage your members by challenging them to post photos, like your post, share your blog articles, or even bring more people to your social media profiles with the possibility to win a giveaway prize. The most classic example is asking them to like your photo and tag two friends in return for one giveaway entry.
Forums: Much like the slack channel we discussed before, a forum is an excellent way to engage your members on a professional level. Invite them into a closed Facebook or LinkedIn group run by a specific topic. Ask discussion questions, post articles and invite them to comment, give their opinions, and share content of their own.
Live stream: Facebook and Instagram lives are the more modern forms of webinars. Your community can comment, like, and interact with you in real-time. It is more informal than a webinar and adapted for creative content like live streaming from the field.
Content takeover: Invite your members to take over your social media platforms for the day! This is a fun way to get them involved and harness the power of their own network to generate traffic. Give them light guidelines, but let their creativity fly by allowing them to document an event, the membership registration process, or even documenting their day.
These are just a few suggestions of how fun and creative interactive content can be. Pick the type of content and channel that is best for your organization. You don’t need to create an Instagram account if all of your members communicate on Facebook. Pick one channel and master it before trying something new.
The best metrics to follow here are the number of likes, comments, and shares. Start with one, and track it over a few months to be able to properly analyze if your content is paying off!
Build a Community Mindset
Nonprofits have some of the most committed communities around them. There is nothing stronger than the bonds of people who come together to work on a mission they are passionate about. Membership engagement is born here and will always thrive under the circumstances of having a strong community mindset.
So how do you build one? It breaks down to one simple concept: give everyone responsibility for the growth and success of your organization’s mission. As much as we believe nonprofits are true heroes, no one can build a successful organization on their own (I mean, even Batman has Robin). By giving every single person who interacts with your organization a sense that they are deeply involved, your mission will skyrocket and your members will feel like their presence is helpful.
Here are our best tips to get started on a community mindset:
Intimate events: A fancy word for cocktail hour, invite your members to an after-work at your offices or the local watering hole for an informal gathering. Take the time to get to know your members, learn about their lives and what pushed them to join your organization. Knowing their motivations and putting faces to names (for them and for you) helps build a solid foundation to your community.
Ask their opinion: Your members are all people with careers and valuable skills! Before introducing new programs or new processes, don’t hesitate to solicit their advice to see what they prefer or get their feedback.
Open the door for two-way communication: This is probably the most important aspect of community building. Your members should feel comfortable communicating to you not only the positive aspects of their experience but also what could be improved. Their feedback should never be taken as criticism, they only want to help make your organization a better place for everyone. Accomplish this by sending out regular satisfaction surveys, responding to their comments on social media or jotting down their feedback when they give it to you face-to-face.
Volunteer together: Instead of a classic team-building exercise, sign-up for a day-long volunteer mission with your members. Working together for a common goal outside of your organization’s context will build bonds and promote camaraderie not just among members, but friends!
There is no magic recipe for this strategy, but if you put sincere time and effort into your members, what interests them, and how they feel, the mindset will follow. This is a strategy that works for a lot of organizations because they already have the community ready to engage, they just need a little push to see the results! Another great way to do this is by building a member ambassador program to build a community mindset from the ground up.
Measuring metrics on a state of mind can be challenging, but our suggestion is to send out a questionnaire with questions that determine the member's state of mind while participating in your community-building activities. An example is questions like: "Do you feel your skills are valued by our organization?"
You now have all the tips and tricks you need to build an ironclad membership engagement strategy. Remember, you can’t adopt all of these changes at once. Pick the ones that are the best and most pertinent for your organization, you know it, and your members best! It is better to do one thing really well, than too many halfway.
Best of luck!