Engaging members: Why it’s important and how to measure it

In Charity and Third Sector, Growth by Tom Cannon

We’ve written before about the challenges associated with membership organisations, and in this blog post we’ll take a deeper dive into the importance of an engaged base of members.

Why engagement? As said by one of our interviewees for this piece – Amanda Watkin, General Secretary for Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland – “Without engaged members, organisations do not exist, there is no need. Those groups of like-minded people never meet, never decide anything and nothing is achieved on any scale. It becomes a waste of time and waste of money.”

In the first of this two-part series we’ll discuss why having an engaged membership is important, how you can improve engagement and how to effectively measure it. Keep an eye out for the second piece which will look at the role communication plays in engaging members.

A group of people by a body of water.

For both posts we spoke with a range of membership charities and organisations for their expertise and insight:


Why is it important to have an engaged membership?

As Amanda pointed out, charities and organisations require an engaged membership base to exist. But there are other benefits to be had from a highly engaged membership too.

1. Encourages renewal
“We know that an engaged member is more likely to renew their membership. One of the key principles of membership is: renewal first, recruitment second as it costs less to keep a current member than to recruit a new one. So in essence, membership organisations will run more efficiently and effectively if they focus on keeping their current members happy and engaged,” says Kerrie.

2. Leads to improvements
“We use feedback from our members to help us make decisions and we monitor reviews to see if we can make any improvements,” says Harvey. “Engaged members help you to develop your services and provide feedback. The more engaged the member they more they will feel inclined to share their true opinion,” add Rafael.

3. Establishes community
“In our case, as a new membership club, it was important for people to create an environment which encourages our members to engage not only with us but with other members. All of our members have the opportunity to get to know other people so that they can help each other to each grow their own businesses. Our members enjoy our club so much that they invite their friends to attend our events which in consequence grows the HIGH PROFILE family,” says Rafael. 

4. Unites the organisation
“Communication both external and internal is vital in keeping members informed, engaged, interested and perhaps most importantly in bringing the movement together as a cohesive whole.   Our members are all over the UK and therefore good communication is essential. They need to know what is happening, what is available and the advice and support on offer,” says Ian.

5. Rallies the troops
“Every charity has the privilege of representing the views and interests of its members, and this is exactly what the RSPB has been doing for 130 years. Engaged members are vital in the third sector; for many charities the issues they are finding solutions for and the scale of the work involved can seem overwhelming to an individual. Which makes it all the more important for each charity to show how bringing together like-minded people can make a difference. In its simplest form our mission is to save nature. We need our membership to get behind the cause and create impact whether in saving species from extinction or putting pressure on decision makers to do the right things for the natural world,” says Rebecca.

6. Effects positive change
“It is thanks only to our engaged membership that Rotary achieves so much in communities here and overseas. That incredibly positive social impact is only possible due to the ideas, skills and enthusiasm of our engaged members who team up and get stuck in, making Rotary the dynamic and life-changing organisation it is. The more members, the greater the effect. For example, take the Rotary memory cafes for dementia patients and their carers/families. Rotary members create and run those to give everyone a break. The memory boxes full of personal items brings back that loved one for a while. These are free to attend and meet an urgent need in the local area,” says Amanda.

Improving engagement in the future

We wanted to know, in light of this increasingly competitive market, what organisations and charities can do to keep improving their engagement in 2019 and beyond. Here is what our experts had to say:

1. Focus on members first
While creating an engaged membership has always been difficult, there is now a higher level of competition. Many organisations and charities are also trying to executive multiple strategies, which can result in confusion for their members. “Putting the member at the heart of everything you do can help. When you start on any project, ask yourself, how does this help our members? If you cannot relate it directly to fixing a member challenge then it’s likely that this project will distract you away from your core business of keeping members happy,” says Kerrie.

2. Have a strategy
High Profile Club launched 9 months ago and Rafael told us it was initially ‘very difficult’. However, in less than a year they have had over 2,500 people attend their events, a continually growing database and glowing member testimonials. How did they do it? With a clear strategy. “We follow a four-step model: plan, promote (a lot!), execute and follow up. It’s labour intensive but our members love our club and that’s what’s important to us,” he says. 

3. Keep evolving
When times are going well, it could be tempting to rest on your laurels. But to stay relevant, charities and organisations are keen to keep evolving with the times. “Membership for any organisation is a challenge with different trends influencing how people choose to spend their time and money. Rotary has found a way of appealing to a wide audience. Those who are time limited can be part of an online e-club with members from all across the world. Other people prefer the companionship gained from a face-to-face gathering. It’s also possible to just join in without joining. Cost wise, it is good value starting at roughly £2 a week for a year’s membership (other costs may be incurred depending on club activities),” says Amanda.

At the RSPB, Rebecca tells me that there has never been a more critical climate for their mission, which makes an engaged audience all the more important: “For the RSPB our mission has never been more critical or relevant. Common sense, confirmed by YouGov polling, shows that people in the UK value the environment and want it protected and enhanced for future generations. Over the next twelve months we have a historic opportunity to shape a future in which wildlife and our natural world can thrive.”

“We need governments across the UK to step up their ambitions and establish world-leading new laws that will drive the recovery of the nature on our doorstep – and in doing so, inspire other countries to act. To achieve this we must engage with our members as well as new audiences to talk about the threats to nature, what debates are being held and what the RSPB is doing alongside what we are supporting others to do,” she continues.

How can you measure membership engagement?

It’s all well and good extolling the virtues of an engagement membership, but determining whether members are engaged or not can be challenging and, at times, seem overwhelming. “There are lots of different ways to measure engagement – some more complicated than others. Some use advanced data in CRM to create scores; others will look at specific activities such as event attendance as a proportion of the total membership. Others use Net Promoter Score (NPS),” says Kerrie.

But if that sounds overwhelming? Rest assured, Kerrie tells us: “The most important thing to do is to create measurements that work for your membership organisation and are across all teams and departments. Voting in an AGM is an engagement activity – it’s not just about purchasing products or services.”

Here are a few ways you could measure engagement at your organisations or charity.

1. New members
“U3A measures increases in its membership, the number of new U3As and frequency that they are formed,” says Ian.

2. Email interaction
“Firstly, it is important to measure how people interact with your emails. Do they ignore your emails? How quickly do they reply? We use a CRM system called InfusionSoft to track how many people open their emails. This is an easy way to measure engagement,” says Rafael.

3. Uptake of services
“Our high membership retention rate and uptake of our services, such as insurance, caravan cover and overseas holidays, each year speaks volumes. However, we use a range of measures to measure member engagement,” says Harvey.

4. Willingness to volunteer
“We particularly measure our engagement by the number of volunteers who come forward when requested for specific areas such as running workshops, helping to support the set-up of other U3As, with national office functions or proof-reading publications.  The Third Age Trust which support all the U3As in the country, currently has 300 volunteers, from across the movement and it is growing all the time,” says Ian.

5. Event attendance
“Additionally, it is important to measure event attendance – it is easy to see engagement levels by understanding how many people actually attend your events,” says Rafael.

6. Positive feedback
“The evidence is in the high number of good news stories from clubs across Great Britain and Ireland. It is apparent that members are active and having a great time in the process. It could be a simple fundraiser for a local cause or collecting and delivering baby clothes to orphanages. Having the option to choose what challenge to undertake is a big motivator for our members,” says Amanda.

7. Social media engagement
“With social media, engagement means advocacy and for us having followers share our content is one of the biggest engagements we could ask for. This sets off a cycle of followers sharing their own experiences with us, which we then in turn share with our wider following. Using this user generated content gives our products authenticity, and before we know it, we’ve got a sharing culture starting to form. This can only happen with engaged brand advocates,” says Harvey.

8. Community engagement
“Our membership club has a WhatsApp group which is constantly full of messages – our members share their photos, achievements, updates, questions and general conversation. It’s a wonderful way to see how engaged our members and how much they enjoy the club as they continually post, share and chat,” says Rafael.

9. Organic reach
“As for measuring engagement on our social channels, we use a number of different metrics including reactions, shares and retweets. One of the most important metrics in our Facebook channel is reach, and specifically organic reach. With people’s timelines being overcrowded with content, Facebook asks you to pay to show your content to the right audience. Organic reach means that our content is being surfaced naturally through people liking, commenting and sharing without having to pay, and happily our organic reach and engagement is far higher than the industry standard,” says Harvey.

10. Opt-in rate
“Just like any large organisation we have a wide range of two-way communication channels that enable us to talk with our members. This has evolved over time as technology has changed and to reflect how our members would like us to communicate with them. Through the GDPR process we asked our members if they would like to continue to hear from us, and over 90% of respondents said yes,” says Rebecca.

11. Satisfaction scores
“We often survey our members and are delighted that we have receive high satisfaction scores, plus our members are great advocates for the Club,” says Harvey.

In conclusion…

Having an engaged base is vital for the health of membership-based charities and organisations. Engaged members are more likely to renew and more likely to provide valuable feedback that leads to improvement. It also creates a sense of community and unites the organisation. Through this ‘rallying of the troops’ real and positive change can be made.

But how do you know if you have an engaged membership? How you choose to measure engagement will depend entirely on the culture and purpose of your charity or organisation. Some of the popular methods the experts we spoke to suggested included tracking increases in membership, email and social media interaction, uptake of services, satisfaction scores and a willingness to volunteer. You might also like to look at event attendance, positive feedback and community engagement. Lastly, you might also consider some very specific options such as organic reach or opt-in rate for email.

In our second piece in this series, we’ll be looking at the role communication plays in member engagement (hint: a very big role!) and we’ll take a look at some of the practical steps you can take to improve communication with a view to increasing engagement.