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How to Show Your Association Members the L.O.V.E. - A Strategic Guide

Dave Will
March 11, 2024

When it comes to association engagement, the key to thriving is not just in offering value, but in deeply understanding and cherishing your members (just like real-life relationships)! Effectively engaging members is all about building a community where members feel heard, valued, and connected. 

Let's explore how your association can adopt this holistic approach to foster stronger, more meaningful relationships with your members - just in time for February, the month of L.O.V.E.!

L - Listening to Members

True listening is an art that goes beyond collecting feedback. It's about creating an environment where members feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and know that their voices will be heard and acted upon.

We think we listen through surveys, social media, and other forms of qualitative feedback. Here are examples of how we believe we are listening: 

  • "Personalizing" communications
  • {{First Name}} - need I say more?
  • Sending surveys
  • Yes, but they're always historical, and not usually actionable
  • Providing an email address for open feedback
  • Is that engagement? Or the equivalent of a personal relationship, where you give someone your phone number even if you don't want them to call, and don't know what you'll do when they do?

Data field personalization, surveys and multiple modes of communication can be helpful listening tools. But they are:

  • Passive.
  • Usually about the association, not the individual member.
  • Leave guesswork about individual needs, preferences, intent.

If these listening attempts depend on the ability to tailor communications based on what we know about people, gaps in relevant, timely knowledge leave a blind spot in truly understanding members.

True listening is only the first step. The real magic happens when you act on what you hear. This could mean adapting your programs to better suit the evolving needs of your members, or it might involve addressing concerns that have been raised. Show your members that their input isn't just collected but is a crucial part of your decision-making process!

O - Being Open-Minded

"Fear and love cannot coexist." - Author Unknown

When was the last time you made a work decision based on fear? What was it and what was the outcome? We do things like obsess over Calls to Action (CTAs), send 10 reminder emails about member renewals, and send long, copy-heavy, broadcast emails for one reason.


Open-mindedness is about embracing change and being willing to try new approaches. For associations, this could mean experimenting with digital transformation, diversifying your board, or introducing new membership models. It's about creating a culture where innovation is encouraged and failure is seen as a stepping stone to success.

This also means being receptive to feedback, even when it's challenging. Creating a diverse and inclusive environment where different perspectives are not just welcomed but sought after can lead to more innovative solutions and a stronger community.

What would it look like for your team to come from love instead of fear in your member engagement? It might look like shifting from a fear-based action like asking for money, to a love-based action of showing members how much they are valued (which should lead you to the money long term).

V - Demonstrating Value

Demonstrating value is crucial in a world where members are constantly assessing the ROI of their memberships. Go beyond the traditional benefits and think about what truly matters to your members. This might include professional development opportunities, networking events, or advocacy efforts. Do you actually know what they value? Unless you’ve asked them individually, you don’t know, and you can’t act on it to deliver… VALUE!

In shifting the mindset around member value, look at it from the member’s perspective. It’s possible that you and your leadership team are viewing member value from the top down. Consider these points:

  • Generational & Cultural Gaps
  • These aren’t useful standalone reasons for declining participation and membership numbers. They can (and are often!) the excuse for year over year declines. When you deliver on true member wants and needs, they will value their relationship with your organization. Period.
  • Interpersonal Needs Fulfillment
  • Often, we serve the members who are the loudest voices in the room, have the desire to control a situation (or an entire organization), and need to feel important. 
  • These are the people who are "engaging!" Policies, benefits, even conference locations are decided this way. It’s possible that you’re being unintentionally exclusive, delivering on leadership-specific and anecdotal wants and needs.

But remember, value is also emotional. Recognize and celebrate your members' achievements, offer personalized communications, and create opportunities for members to contribute and be acknowledged. For example, spotlighting members in your newsletters or on social media can be a powerful way to make them feel like they belong.

E - Long-term Engagement

Engagement is the glue that holds your community together. It's about creating ongoing, meaningful interactions. This might involve year-round programming, regular check-ins, or community-building activities. Consider creating special interest groups or forums where members can connect over shared interests.

Moreover, leverage technology to facilitate easier interactions and provide more value and get down to a “Market of One.” You can discover the Voice of the Member by: 

  • Pattern Interrupt
  • If everything looks the same, and you're asking members to do the same things, you get the same results. Mix it up!
  • Acceptance that all will participate
  • Members will engage when they see something that interests them, or that they can contribute. Not necessarily when you send the email 🙂
  • Meet members where they are
  • It's not about the association. It's about the individuals who make up the association. Begin to decrease the guesswork about who they are, what they need and what they are thinking. Then act on it.

A Little Self Love

In addition to loving your members, how about a little self love? Even if you make a mistake - we’re human, so we’re bound to! - you can take the time to appreciate yourself and your team for all of the efforts big and small that you put forth every day to love your members. If something doesn’t go your way when it comes to engagement, or it just plain doesn’t work, try something new: 

  • Ask for input on their time; give multiple opportunities for feedback, not only in the annual survey.
  • Use more open-ended response questions.
  • Micro opportunities: collect tidbits of important data (like whether or not they intend to come to your annual conference), vs. data sitting in spreadsheets in big data sets.
  • Where else can you engage? Conference reg/check-in, in a main session, and during the membership joining process are a few ideas.
  • At any transactional point.

Finally, practice these tips (not once - over an over!):

  • Love yourself - forgive and move on! We all make mistakes.
  • Learn something - how will you avoid the same error again?
  • Be honest - don't try to hide it.
  • Engage - there's always a way to connect.
  • Your reaction is more important than the mistake!

Flip the Script

The L.O.V.E approach is not just a set of tactics but a mindset shift. It's about seeing your members as partners in your journey, not just as customers or numbers in a database. By listening, being open-minded, demonstrating value, and fostering long-term engagement, you can build a thriving community that supports both the individual and collective growth of your members.

Now, reflect on your association's strategies. Are you truly showing your members L.O.V.E? How can you incorporate these principles into your engagement strategies? Together, let's make your association not just a network, but a community where every member feels valued and connected.

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