October 26, 2015
All associations struggle with absentee members. While you want them to be engaged, it isn’t always clear how best way to go about it. From my experience, I find it is best to tackle this problem in three distinct ways:
New members – Engagement critical in the first year
I cannot stress how important it is to welcome first time members. Whether it is done by staff, your volunteer leaders, or an automated email system, it is critical to use that first opportunity to lay the foundations of your relationship. While automation is efficient, personalized messages are more impactful. Below are a variety of different ways associations can engage with new members in the first year:
- Emails, welcome letters and phone calls – and don’t just limit these to the first year
- Specific committees that cater to different member types
- Mentor/mentee programs for your annual meeting
- Face-to-face committee meetings at your annual event
- New-member conference programming
- New-member targeted content on social media
- Foundations, Special Interest Groups
Volunteer Leaders – Continual engagement is key
New members are the future of your organization. From the moment they join, there should be programs in place that will get them involved in the management of the organization.
Volunteer leadership programs are a great way to bring fresh ideas back into your organization. In order to be successful, clearly outline the expectations of each position including meeting attendance. Official orientations, whether performed via a conference call or as a face-to-face meeting, are also beneficial. Remember that change is a good thing, so be sure to listen to their suggestions and implement their ideas where appropriate.
For cohesion and continued engagement, consider hosting team building exercises. A simple board dinner can be enough to keep people feeling as if they belong to a larger group. Board mentorship programs, connecting new with seasoned Board members, are another great way to build team spirit.
Absentee Leaders – Take a personal approach
Just because they took a leadership position doesn’t mean they’ll stay engaged. Inquire about the reasons for non-participation through personal visits and phone calls. You should consider whether the organization can assist with any of the identified roadblocks, and whether his/her company is still supporting their participation. For trade groups, perhaps there is someone else from their company better suited for the role.
Other things to consider:
Consider going through the membership directory and previous year attendees’ lists and contact every member that is not registered for the Annual Meeting before the Early Bird expires. If that is unrealistic, try focusing your attention on key members and companies and go from there.
The most important thing is to have activities or levels of participation that absentee members can engage in. Your annual meeting shouldn’t define membership. If they can’t make it, promote the next webinar or regional program.