4 Membership Engagement Mistakes Organizations Make (And How to Fix Them!)

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While we all strive for sustainable, effective membership engagement, the unfortunate truth is that many organizations with membership programs aren’t making the most of their member stewardship efforts.

Chances are, your organization has tried a number of member retention strategies in your time, and it may be hard to effectively assess which efforts have worked well (and which have fallen short).

Lucky for you, we know exactly which membership engagement mistakes nonprofits just like you are making. Even better? We know just how to correct them!

In this article, we’ll go over 4 mistakes your organization might be making when it comes to member engagement, including:

  1. You haven’t defined membership engagement.
  2. You’re not catering to your members.
  3. Recruitment is your #1 priority.
  4. You’re on a one-way communication path.

Not only will we outline these mistakes, but we’ll provide you with all the knowledge you need to fix them (and never make them again!).

Engaging members in a valuable way is easier said than done, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a strategy that works for your organization, and more importantly, for your members.

With that in mind, let’s dive in!

You haven't defined membership engagement

1. You haven’t defined membership engagement.

The Problem

Because membership engagement is such a broad term, your team may have a number of ideas for how this concept might come to fruition.

Unfortunately, when you’re not clear on the end results you’re working toward, it’s easy to get lost on the path there.

Organizations who don’t clearly establish their goals from the beginning might ending up checking some of the “member engagement” boxes, but more than likely, they won’t be able to effect any major changes in their engagement strategy.

If everyone on your membership team has their own definition of membership engagement, you might all end up working toward totally disconnected goals. When your efforts don’t all work together, you’re more likely to end up with a strategy that’s disjointed and confusing for members (which isn’t much of a strategy at all).

The Solution

You can’t accomplish a goal if you don’t set one, so you’ll want to be as specific as possible when putting together your membership engagement strategy.

Membership engagement can manifest itself in a variety of ways, so ask yourself which goal seems most realistic (and necessary) for your organization.

You might choose one of the following measures as your membership engagement benchmark:

  • Member event attendance.
  • Volunteer participation.
  • Social media impressions and engagements.
  • Email open and click-through rates.
  • Membership renewal.
  • Community-building among members.

Of course, some of these metrics are easier to track than others, so be sure to set quantitative and qualitative goals for your organization.

Once you know what it is you’re working toward, you’ll be that much closer to accomplishing your membership engagement goals!

Consider this problem solved if: You’ve determined a measurable, realistic goal for developing membership engagement within your organization.

You're not catering to your members

2. You’re not catering to your members.

The Problem

More than likely, your team is juggling a lot of members, each of whom has their own interests, preferences, likes, and dislikes. Because your member base is so diverse and nuanced, it can be an overwhelming prospect to plan engagement opportunities and communications that fit everyone’s needs. 

Instead, it’s much easier to simply develop an engagement plan that reflects some of the members’ personalities, or perhaps to follow a strategy that you only hope will be effective.

Unfortunately, hoping for the best is not an effective engagement strategy—it’s not a strategy at all! 

Let’s look at a specific example: If you send out a “Renew now!” message to all your members at once, you may get some positive responses. But, because you’re not targeting members who are ready to renew, you’ll also end up with a lot of confused members who have recently renewed and are now questioning their membership status.

Wouldn’t it be better to specifically tailor your messages (and efforts in general) to specific groups of members? We certainly think so!

The Solution

So, how on earth do you find engagement tactics that work for all your members? We’ll let you in on a secret: you can’t do it alone!

In fact, in order to put together a member stewardship plan that actually reflects your members, you’ll need the help of a major player in the membership engagement game: your membership management software

Membership management software (also known as association management software, depending on its feature set) can help you get to know your members in a sustainable, meaningful way, and use those insights to inform your engagement strategy on every level.

With membership management software, you’ll be able to:

  • Track members’ previous involvement. Discover what events members have gone to in the past, which volunteer opportunities they’ve skipped, and which communication methods they’ve responded well to. When you can tangibly measure the success of past efforts, you can better plan for future ones.
  • Segment your member list. Create lists of like-minded members to see what trends exist among different groups. Then, design targeted opportunities and messages that are relevant and engaging to them.
  • Find lapsed or inactive members. You can use past members’ data and history to inform your future decisions and set up automated communications to reach out to waning donors and ensure lapsing is a thing of the past.

When you have software on your side, you’ll be amazed how much more manageable member engagement will be!

Consider this problem solved if: You’ve gotten set up with member management software that can help you better understand your donors and plan engagement opportunities that cater to their needs and interests.

Recruitment is your #1 priority

3. Recruitment is your #1 priority.

The Problem

Acquiring new recruits for your association or membership program is undoubtedly a huge part of your overall membership strategy. Planning and executing successful membership drives, optimizing your membership application form, and ensuring that new members are met with a plethora of engagement opportunities—all of these are worthwhile efforts that push your membership program and overall cause forward.

That said, if your membership team is focused more on recruiting new members than it is on retaining existing members, you may want to take a step back and ask yourself, “Is this strategy sustainable?” 

While recruitment is important, member stewardship should be equally so. When you focus all your efforts on bringing new individuals to the group, you run the risk of leaving your other members with fewer opportunities, unattended concerns, and lack of lasting connection and community within your organization.

Membership programs are designed to provide a tight-knit, exclusive place for supporters to share in their interests, values, and goals. If you focus too narrowly on expansion, you’ll lose out on a big opportunity to develop real relationships and effect change within your group’s existing community.

The Solution

Don’t get us wrong: the solution here is not to stop recruiting altogether! In fact, that would be highly counter-intuitive to the goals of any membership program or association.

Instead, look at recruitment and retention as two sides of the same coin. Consider refocusing on your retention efforts by adopting the following tactics:

  • Always say thanks. You should be quick to show your appreciation for your members, but you should especially show your gratitude when they participate in activities or renew their membership.
  • Don’t advertise your membership drive. Membership drives are a useful tool for acquiring new members, but they can be isolating for existing members (especially those who joined without any special benefits!). Be careful not to announce these efforts to your current members.
  • Provide membership renewal benefits. If you’re finding it easier to collect new members than retain current ones, you might consider adding additional renewal incentives, like discounts for early or multi-year renewal.

Focusing on retention is one of the most cost-effective and lucrative decisions you can make. Since your team has already spent time and resources acquiring these members, you won’t have to redo that work to get them to renew.

If you’re thoughtful in planning your retention strategy, you’ll soon have an organization full of happy members, new and old.

Consider this problem solved if: You’ve established a membership strategy that prioritizes both recruitment and retention.

You're on a one-way communication path

4. You’re on a one-way communication path.

The Problem

No matter your membership model, chances are, your supporters joined your association or membership program because they’re invested in your cause.

To make sure members are receiving communications that match their dedication, you should send regular updates, create exclusive content, and provide consistent information about involvement opportunities.

But your member interactions shouldn’t stop after you’ve hit “send” on your weekly newsletter! 

While a number of your communication efforts will be one-way by nature, many organizations make the mistake of limiting their communications to automated updates and the occasional personalized thank-you note rather than creating a relational member community based on two-way interactions.

The Solution

If you want to engage members more effectively, the first step is to keep communication lines open at all times. Not only should members be able to build community among themselves, but they should also have easy access to your organization’s leadership team to voice concerns, offer feedback, or simply share their thoughts.

There are a myriad of methods for breaking down communication barriers, but here are some of our favorites: 

  • Stay social. Social media is one of the most convenient ways to stay connected to your members. Set up exclusive groups for members to interact with one another, and don’t be afraid to jump into the discussion to ask (and answer) questions or thank supporters for their involvement.
  • Ask for feedback. Your member management software can help you organize your constituents by preferences and interests, but it won’t get very far if that data doesn’t exist! Reach out to your members by creating a survey that asks their feedback on programs, initiatives, and opportunities.
  • Get some face time. While in-person membership events are probably already part of your engagement strategy (or should be), you should use these occasions as opportunities to get to know your members one-on-one. Host programs that can facilitate community-building, and let your members know that your leadership team will be available on-site.

Your membership program should be a well-connected community of individuals, so make sure you’re going the extra mile to encourage two-way communication.

Consider this problem solved if: Your members are empowered to interact with one another as well as with your organization itself.


There’s no surefire way to instantly build a community of informed, engaged members within your organization. Even so, striving for member engagement will only leave you with happier, more invested members—and we probably don’t have to tell you why that result is certainly worth the effort!

For even more ways to create engaging membership programs, check out these additional resources:

Learn engage your members with our free checklist!

 

About
Andrew is a Marketing Associate at NeonCRM. He writes about innovation and technology in the nonprofit sector. Follow him on Twitter: @AndrewatNeon.

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