While associations often know the basics about their members - profile data, for example - they know less about what interests their members. Why does it matter what interests individuals, outside of association-related benefits and offerings?
Each member of an organization is a whole person, not just a cog in the wheel of association transactions, events and educational opportunities. Gaining an understanding of member interests is important, not only because it provides the association a more comprehensive look at individuals, but more importantly because that knowledge helps members feel they are an integral part of the community.
One interest area in which associations may not know their members is volunteerism. While an association might call on members to volunteer when an acute need arises, they don’t have a gauge on which members are interested in volunteering, nor specific areas of interest. And that is because they likely have never asked the question.
Take public policy and advocacy, for example. An association might send out a broadcast email telling members what the public policy committee is doing (association-focused information), perhaps with a call to action to register for an upcoming advocacy event (which likely costs money for members to attend). This communication might land with a few members passionate about the topic and result in some event registrations. But if the member is new or unsure about their potential contributions or value in this area, they are likely to shy away and hit delete.
In the above one-way communication, the member receives little to no value nor a true sense of belonging.
Instead, what if the association engages each member in a conversation over email starting with a simple question, such as “Are you interested in volunteering?” From that point, a member can lend his voice to explain more about the volunteer areas in which he’s interested. If he selects public policy, the association can take this new interest data and invite him to the advocacy event, along with additional related opportunities down the road.
In the second approach, the member is heard personally, the association has a better understanding of that member and can, with more certainty, deliver on what interests the member. No more guesswork.
When members feel needed, accepted and listened to, they stay and they participate. By asking questions about member interests, capturing the voice of the member and acting on that information, associations get to know each member and incorporate their interests, creating alignment on an individual basis.