"I’m as engaged as I want to be"

There’s been a lot of effort of late in the association community to improve member engagement. As I wrote last year, I believe understanding and measuring member engagement is not a fad; it’s a critical part of every association’s long-term survival and relevance.

When associations measure member engagement, they discover that some portion of the membership (20%? 30%? 50%?) is not engaged at all and the natural tendency is to say “We need to do something to get these members engaged!”

It’s an understandable reaction, but in many cases, it may be a mistake to spend too much time and energy trying to get your disengaged members more engaged. And here’s why: some members won’t engage, but will always renew.

But how could this be? Why would anyone be a member of an association and NOT be engaged?

Many years ago I worked as membership director at the National Association of College and University Business Officer (NACUBO). NACUBO’s primary membership was four-year colleges in the US. At that time, NACUBO had as members all but three of all of the four-year colleges in the US; 99.7% of the market! Yet nearly half of those organizations had little or no engagement with NACUBO. But why?

What I learned from talking with some of the primary representatives of these non-engaged institutions was this: membership in NACUBO was important in order to show support for what NACUBO did in terms of developing content for business officers, and for representing higher education at the national level (policy). They appreciated the monthly magazine and the other free information they could get at NACUBO’s website.

But they were never going to attend a meeting (or rarely). They were never going to get involved in volunteer work, or in speaking or writing. But they were always going to renew their membership because supporting NACUBO through dues was enough engagement for them.

“Engagement” is defined by the customer, not by the association. And if the customer defines engagement as paying their dues every year, and that’s it, that’s okay.

By accepting this reality, association executives can direct their always-limited resources towards improving engagement where it can be improved — and often that is with those that are already engaged!

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