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How to Engage Association Members, Build Loyal Members, and Grow Revenue [Ultimate Guide]

12 min read

10 August 2022

It’s getting harder and harder to engage association members. As demands on the public’s attention proliferate, community managers need to work harder and harder to ensure that their members see enough value to renew their memberships. 

But attention for its own sake isn’t necessarily a good thing. 

Engagement needs to drive loyalty, which needs in turn to drive revenue. 

In this blog, we’re going to look at the best strategies available to engage association members, build loyalty, and grow your organization’s revenue. 


  • Define your value proposition for members in clear and measurable terms, then deliver on it.
  • Commit to a metrics-driven engagement strategy that aligns effectively with your value proposition.
  • Embrace the reality of today’s mobile-first world and connect with members where they are…on their phones.
  • Don’t overlook that part of your audience who is not engaged.  Identify their disconnect between what they want and what you are delivering.  
  • This blog looks at five ways for associations to drive engagement, five ways to build loyalty, and five ways to grow revenue

Why Do People Join Associations?

There are all sorts of reasons why people join associations. But we can boil them all down to one basic motivator:

They’re aiming to get some value out of being a member

“Get some value” can mean many things:

  • Finding a community of like-minded people
  • Keeping up with professional best practices
  • Obtaining professional qualifications
  • Being entertained
  • Having access to opportunities unavailable to non-members, etc 

Associations need to make money. Even non-profits have to make money to promote their causes. 

Most associations will make a significant proportion of their income from membership fees. So, associations need to attract and keep members, and the best way to do that is by providing lots of value! 

Five Best Ways To Engage Association Members

What Do We Mean By “Engage”?

We live in an attention economy. Associations must get members’ attention before they can provide them with value. 

Members engage when they use the resources an association makes available to them. 

That might mean opening and flipping through a magazine rather than throwing it away. It might mean replying to a question in an online community forum or reading a blog. 

It doesn’t have to mean that the audience gets value - plenty of media organizations get engagement by making people angry!

Engage Association Members - What Is Engagement?

But in this context - associations and their members engaging with one another - we’re assuming that the aim is to get attention to provide value. 

#1 Develop An Engagement Strategy

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail,” said Benjamin Franklin. He wasn’t talking about promoting association member engagement, but his maxim holds nonetheless.

Before you do anything else, you should:

  • Benchmark current engagement levels for different user personas. Check how often different segments are logging in, viewing content, etc from your online analytics. Combine this with a member survey to add qualitative data (NPS surveys are great for this purpose)
  • Decide which metrics matter. Which behaviors correlate with higher engagement, more positive sentiments, and longer retention?
  • Plan engagement activities that will promote those behaviors, which will drive the chosen metrics to improve on the benchmark levels

That’s a very basic summary, but those are the essential preliminary steps. 

#2 Build An Online Community

Back in the old days, associations might only put on in-person events and activities for members once a month or even once a year. 

But today, that’s not an option for most associations. They need frequent, convenient touchpoints to remain front-of-mind with members and keep delivering value. 

That’s why mobile apps are so important for associations. People today have their mobile phones about their persons at all times and check them around 150 times per day. What can compete with that for access to attention? 

Engage Association Members - Community Activity

Building an online community is one of the most powerful ways of driving association member engagement because the community gradually starts to generate its own momentum. People network, debate, and share thoughts and ideas - and all this user-generated content on your app keeps them coming back to talk to one another. 

#3 Provide Multichannel Alerts

One big mistake that a lot of associations make is over-reliance on email to communicate with members. 

A typical American gets between 80 and 100 emails a day, so your association’s emails are highly likely to get missed, overlooked, and ignored. 

What you need is a means of speaking directly to members without being drowned out by all the noise. 

Engage Association Members - Push Notifications

That’s where Push Notifications come in. These are messages sent by mobile apps that appear directly on phone home screens. Using Clowder, for example, you can create scheduled, triggered, and one-off Push Notifications that alert members to vital updates - and according to research by Business of Apps:

  • The average open rate for emails is around 2%, compared to 20% for Push Notifications
  • Push Notifications have an average click rate of 28%. Emails get between 1% and 2%

The point here is to be where your audience is. Push Notifications are ideal because so many people have their phones to hand at all times. But it’s always best to go for a multichannel approach, to keep in touch with those members who don’t have or don’t use mobiles.

#4 Offer Volunteering Opportunities

Many people join associations because they want to do some good. Others join because they want to gain exposure to new experiences and develop new skills. 

Volunteering ticks both of these boxes - so making sure that members know about and can take up volunteering opportunities is a great way to promote engagement. 

#5 Re-Engage Disengaged Members

Another big mistake associations make is concentrating too much on what members who are engaged are doing, at the expense of understanding those risky members who aren’t engaging. 

If a member hasn’t logged into your app for a while, that’s a red flag - especially if they were strongly engaged in the past. 

It’s easy to forget about the people you don’t see, so create automated rules for reaching out to disengaged members (by email or phone, or some other channel that doesn’t require them to be logged in) to remind them of what they’re missing. 

Use your analytics data, membership history, browsing patterns, etc to make your re-engagement pitch as relevant to their interests as possible. 

And don’t give up after one email! It could have been missed, or maybe the messaging just missed the mark. Try again, at least two more times - but don’t go on forever. That’s annoying and spammy. 

Five Best Ways To Build Loyalty in Association Members

What Do We Mean By “Loyalty”?

If “engagement” is a matter of members interacting with and getting value from what your association provides, then “loyalty” is a matter of them reaching a threshold of value that means they will renew when their membership is due to expire. 

We care about engagement because it’s usually a driver of loyalty. People who engage more are more likely to renew. 

Of course, that’s not true for every association. There are some associations you have to be a member of to practice certain professions whether you get anything else out of it or not, for example!

Ignoring them, here are some of the best ideas for making association members more loyal. 

#1 Understand Their Needs Using Their Data

You can’t simply assume that members value what you think they value - or that what they value doesn’t change.

Fortunately, online interactions from engaged members provide a wealth of data that you can capture, analyze, and interpret to offer different groups of users more of what they have shown you is valuable to them. 


Engage Association Members - Use Data To Understand Member Needs

Without app and web analytics, understanding members’ motivations and needs is very slow and difficult. But a good mobile app platform - like Clowder’s - will provide you with customizable dashboards that let you track engagement and use it to understand behavior and needs fast. 

#2 Provide Personalized Experiences

The more tailored to members’ specific circumstances you can make their experiences, not only will they get more value out of membership - the more valued by your association they will feel. This sense of being valued is key to generating long-term loyalty. 

If you know where your members are located, you can suggest relevant events to them in their areas. On the other hand, if you’re promoting events in Florida to members in Alaska, they’re unlikely to get much out of that - and will think you’re not taking the time to get to know them. 

Personalization can range from as little as using members’ names in communications, to fully-fledged tailored experiences (eg news feeds based on their browsing preferences, events recommendations and special offers based on previous purchases, bespoke course recommendations, etc). 

#3 Create A Loyalty Program

Well, this one is pretty direct! Loyalty programs offer rewards for sticking around, and they come in many different forms:

  • Tiered programs offer more benefits to favored users. This can be a simple premium membership or it can be based on usage, similar to airlines’ frequent flyer programs
  • Longevity programs offer discounts, benefits, or other perks simply based on how long members have been around, as a way of saying “thank you” for the ongoing commitment
  • Partner loyalty programs offer special offers, discounts, and rewards to loyal members through third-party partners

Which of these is right for your association will depend on what your membership expects to get out of it. 

#4 Give Them Exclusive, Industry-Specific Offers

The more exclusive the benefits of membership are, the more attractive it becomes. Examples can include members-only jobs boards, Ask Me Anything sessions with high-profile members or celebrities, pre-launch previews of new products, etc. 

Perks like this need to be either highly relevant and complementary to the reasons why members stay members, or they need to be highly valuable in their own right if not directly related (eg free annual travel insurance for credit card customers falls into the latter category). 

#5 Facilitate A Mentoring Program

An important reason why new members join associations is to make connections with experienced professionals they can learn from. 



Engage Association Members - Directory

Many associations have benefited from facilitating this tendency, by setting up mentor programs that pair those willing to share their knowledge with those looking to learn. 

Five Best Ways To Grow Revenue From Association Members

What Do We Mean By “Grow Revenue”?

Loyalty grows revenue by increasing the lifetime value of members. The longer they stay, the more they pay. 

But there are other ways to grow revenue from association members, such as:

  • Increasing total revenue by growing membership numbers
  • Increasing the lifetime value of existing members by encouraging them to make additional purchases
  • Leveraging your membership to offer paid-for commercial opportunities to third-parties

Having covered loyalty in the last section, we’ll look primarily at these other ways here. 

#1 Make It Easy To Pay

Research by the Baymard Institute shows that 69.82% of online transactions are abandoned before they’re completed. For mobiles, that figure is 85.65%. 

Marketing General’s 2021 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report found that 45% of associations saw a decline in membership last year. 

Following the strategies we’ve discussed here should help your association keep more members. But what about getting them to pay?

The simple answer to beating those odds is to make the payment process as easy and smooth as possible. 

And a mobile app is perfect in this respect because logged-in users’ payment details can be kept conveniently to hand without having to be typed in over and over again.


Engage Association Members - One-Click Renewal

You can use in-app messages and Push Notifications to remind members when it’s time to renew and make it as easy as clicking a single button. 

#2 Monetize Your Directory

Advertisers will pay good money for access to well-qualified audiences, and your members will benefit from well-targeted, relevant advertising. 

One of the basic components of most association apps is a directory, where members can find and communicate with one another. 

Not only can you invite third parties in to promote their products and services through adverts, event partnerships, sponsored content, and more. You can also sell premium benefits to members, such as enriched listings, preferential treatment in search results, content opportunities, etc. 

Keep at least some elements of your directory behind the membership paywall, to encourage people to join to get the benefits and to maintain quality through exclusivity. 

#3 Sell Tickets For Virtual Events

Selling tickets to seminars, conferences, and networking events has been a mainstay of association fundraising for years. 

The shift towards online events doesn’t mean you can’t still use this tactic. While putting on virtual events for free is a great way to provide value and drive engagement, access to premium content can be restricted to those who pay extra. 

High-value webinars, research papers, on-demand access to previous live events, and private mastermind groups - there are all great examples of content that you can alert the general membership to through your app, and then sell tickets to access. 

#4 Reward Members For Referrals

Create incentives for existing members to refer your association to eligible contacts. If new members create a lot of revenue, you can be quite generous with these perks! 

Payment service Wise, for example, pays its customers $100 for every three new customers (who use the service) they invite. Evernote gives referring users points that can be exchanged for extra services. 

Referrals tap into the word-of-mouth power of your membership. McKinsey has found that word-of-mouth is the single most effective form of marketing, the primary factor behind between 20% and 50% of all purchasing decisions

#5 Provide Paid-For Learning Opportunities

By integrating a Learning Management System (LMS) with your app, you can provide a complete online platform for training and upskilling members, complete with tests and official certifications. 

Engage Association Members - Learning Opportunities

That’s a great engagement driver if you make these resources available to all members. But it can also be used to generate revenue directly:

  • From examination fees
  • From premium courses

The Bottom Line

If we had to provide just one tip to engage association members, build loyal members, and grow revenue, we wouldn’t hesitate. 

The best single thing you can do is create a members’ mobile app and start using it to provide value. 

And with Clowder, it has never been easier to create mobile apps for membership associations that can do all of the things we’ve talked about here and more. 

Interested in finding out more? Book a free demo today. 

Written by Alexa Kade