Member Engagement model

Member engagement: why one size doesn’t fit all organisations

The top goal for member organisations in 2017 is increasing member engagement.

 Engagement matters. Engaged members are more likely to renew AND they are more likely to advocate. The value of engaged members is immense.

 But many member organisations struggle to define what engagement means for them, let alone measure it in a way that provides meaningful insight. Where there is no ‘corporate’ definition of member engagement, there may be differing views among internal stakeholders about what constitutes engagement. 

Some think of member engagement as their attendance at conferences, open rates of emails and take-up of webinars. But this is very far from the full story. These behaviors don’t get at the deeper attitudes and motivations that drive them.

 Research by Design’s thought leadership research on member engagement offers the following definition:

 Member engagement is the creation of a deep and meaningful relationship between the member and the organisation, that endures over time and

 drives renewal, upgrade decisions and advocacy.

It goes beyond joining and includes member involvement and interactions as well as their connections with the organisation and its member community

 Engaged members are aware and ‘get the bigger picture’; they are passionate and proud to be associated with the organisation.

Member Engagement modelBased on this definition, our model for measuring engagement goes beyond behaviours and seeks to understand engagement at the cognitive, social and emotional levels. Understanding engagement in this way supports a data-driven engagement strategy.

 But one size of engagement doesn’t fit all organisations.  Below are three ‘flavours’ of membership engagement.

 Picture for Elizabeths blog

And these are just a few of the possible ‘flavours’ - there are also regulatory bodies, charities, private members’ clubs, sports clubs, business associations/clubs…the list goes on.

We’ve extended our measurement model to encompass each of these.

Membership organisations are different; their aims are different and so their measurement of engagement will be different.  Although there is some overlap, each of these membership association categories face unique challenges to engaging members.

For instance, trade unions may struggle to engage younger or female workers and reach people in the increasingly distributed workforce. The measures, or proxies, that will help get at the perceptions and attitudes driving member or potential member decisions are different from those in a consumer or professional association.

Further, within each of these membership association types there is another layer of complexity.

Let’s look at professional membership associations as an example.  Study associations, are primarily focussed on extending knowledge through the encouragement of research and dissemination of knowledge (e.g. Royal Geographical Society), their measures will be heavily weighted towards editorial contributions to magazines and journals, special interest group participation and conference attendance, amongst others. 

Qualifying associations, being more focused on examining and qualifying individuals, managing professional conduct and elevating professional status (e.g. Royal College of General Practitioners) will be looking closely at the use of educational and CPD resources as well as attendance at training events, conferences and webinars.

Occupational associations, on the other hand, often have strong protective characteristics (e.g. Association of Optometrists); take-up of insurance products, use of helplines and advisory forums are key measures.

These are just three types of professional associations with only two or three examples of measures that are important.

As the leading market research agency for membership associations in the UK, Research by Design’s unrivalled experience in the membership sector has given us a deep understanding of the unique challenges faced by different type of organisations.

To discuss the specific engagement priorities and challenges in your association, contact us today for a chat. See our blog for further posts on member engagement.


Research by Design (2017) ‘Digital Excellence Report’

Geoffrey Millerson ‘Qualifying Associations’. Whilst Millerson’s definitions relate to associations as they existed in the 1960s, their basic characteristics remain true today.

By Elizabeth Marsh. 

This entry was posted in Membership, Blog, Research, tagged Membership, Engagement and posted on September 6, 2017


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