Member Engagement vs Engaging Your Members

Business People Crossing the Winning Line

Your members' success© Moodboard

Which questions sound more like your association’s internal conversation:

How can we get members to buy more of program X, product Y or service Z? OR How can we enable members to achieve the outcomes that matter most to them?

How can we get members to help us accomplish this goal? OR How can we better understand the needs and experiences of our members and help them accomplish their goals?

How can we get members to volunteer more often and more consistently? OR How can we help our members to define the terms of their involvement with us?

How can we convince our members that what we do is valuable? OR How can we collaborate better with members to offer programs that bring the best value to their membership?


One of my cherished childhood memories is of a peddler coming to visit my grandparents’ farm—true story!  This gentleman showed up in the spring and the fall with a cart FULL of fascinating gadgets, tools and household goods. On this particular visit he had with him the colander and slotted spoon my grandmother had asked about last time.  The conversation revolved around the weather, farming and the price of eggs. The exchange was engaging and genuine.

What this peddler knew was that visits to town were all about the transaction. The exchange was one sided.  If a store didn’t carry what you were looking for, you were out of luck! The peddler’s visit was about the relationship, listening to his customers and making sure he had what they needed.


Let’s look again at the questions at the beginning of the post.  What’s the difference between the first and second question in each group?

The first question is all about the organization.

The second question in each group is all about what’s important to the member.

It’s not uncommon for the member to be unclear about they want.  How often have you asked someone what he or she wanted and their response has been, “I’m not sure, but I’ll know it when I see it.” So how do we uncover what’s important to the member?

By asking questions like, “What are your top three challenges?” “Why are these important to you?” “What have you done to solve the problem?” “What has worked?” “What has not worked?” “How can we help you?”


Engagement is all about what the organization values.  We decide what the member needs and we offer it—conferences, webinars, publications, and industry research.  We measure engagement by numbers of renewals, conference attendance and subscriptions.

Engaging our members is about helping our members be successful. We spend time with our members, ask them questions, and listen to their answers with the singular aim of creating value. We foster conversation, collaboration and community.

On a scale of 1 — 5, where do you fall in the spectrum between engagement and engaging?

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