Skip to content

How to put membership engagement into practice

How do you keep members engaged through the good times so they are ready when you ask for a bigger commitment?

Working every day in a membership organisation or union means we sometimes forget that our members have other priorities than getting involved in our campaigns, elections or even ballots for action. 

That’s why it’s so important to maintain frequent, friendly communications with members to build a good relationship before you need to ask for a bigger commitment of their time and energy.  

In this blog, Agenda co-director, Vic Barlow, explores why and how engaging members in the good times will pave the way for greater involvement in the less happy times. 

Information and involvement 

The past few years have seen an intense period of public engagement around national moments – from the polarised Brexit campaigns to the nationwide COVID response to the Queen’s funeral arrangements.  

No matter our opinion on any of these issues, the level of public engagement around these extraordinary events made sure everyone knew what was going on and everyone had a chance to take, or play their, part.  

For membership organisations and unions, however, attempts to engage our broad membership around infrequent but high profile, high-stakes moments are not so easy to achieve – and we stand a better chance of success when members have become familiar and comfortable with taking part in more frequent, lower stakes activities.  

Our everyday work, therefore, should focus on providing opportunities to get involved through regular, accessible activities. These should demonstrate the value of engagement to members, their colleagues and sometimes their employers.  

Here are our top tips for member engagement:  

Know our audience  

1. Collect data about our members 

Capturing, analysing and acting on the right information about your members offers many clues as which issues our members care about and the extent to which they are currently engaged.  

2. Invest in a CRM  

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems lift the lid on how, when and why members engage – and what they think about our current offer and campaigns.  

3. Use data to make decisions  

Measuring success of your tactics and pivoting accordingly is a powerful means of ensuring our engagement plan stays relevant and on track. 

4. Humanise stories  

Any organiser will tell you that shared issues are the route to building member engagement and loyalty. And any comms person will tell you that the key to engaging these members, along with decision-makers and the media, is to humanise these issues by turning them into real life stories.  

5. Make links between self-interest and the wider group 

The journey of an individual from self-interest to collective interest to active participation has been described by Harvard academics as the story of self, the story of us, the story of now. Sharing stories about the good times where members achieved something for themselves and for others - e.g. professional and personal development; strong employer relations for better working conditions; shaping Government policy – helps build loyalty and confidence and gets them ready for bigger asks to get involved.

6. Harness the power of storytelling to change behaviour 

In the recent Society of Radiographers strike, we told individuals’ stories about what it’s like to work long hours for low pay in the NHS and how patients suffered from too few radiographers. The positive media coverage encouraged more members to vote and take part in the action – as well as garnering support from many patients themselves to get involved and move the more engaged members into greater involvement.  

7. Refine your engagement tactics  

Most members’ only hear from their organisation or union when they receive a letter or email from you, which they may or may not open. Your engagement tactics should focus on moving them from passive receivers of information to active contributors to your work, which will be achieved by reaching them where they already are – including mail and email, but also social media, press coverage and events. Each media outlet has data on their listener, reader and follower profiles, so you can hazard a guess where your members might be.  

8. Keep testing content and channels  

Guided by insight into activity on your own channels, you’ll have a range of places from which to start your engagement tactics. Testing different times, content and asks will help refine your approach. 

9. Offer spaces for members to come together 

There are a range of virtual and real life ways of engaging members – from the small asks of signing a petition, sharing a newsletter or retweeting a post, to the larger asks of taking a seat on a local or sector committee or becoming President.  As members respond to your ask to get involved, give them another opportunity to get closer to your organisation.

10. Every word and interaction counts 
And finally, remember, every written or spoken communication with a member is an opportunity to move along the engagement journey, giving them many chances to get involved as much as they wish. 

A version of this blog written by Vic first appeared on Unions 21 website.

More like this

Want to manage risk and avoid a comms crisis?

Are you prepared to defend your organisation's greatest asset - its reputation? Preparation is the key to averting a crisis or turning a challenge into an opportunity. Here Vic Barlow, Agenda co-director, explains how we can help.

2 min read