Communicating effectively with your members

browningyork Communication audiences, Communication lessons, General communication, Planning, Voluntary sector

Until I started working for myself, nearly 7 years ago, I had no idea how many membership organisations there are. I was aware of professional membership bodies, such as the Institute of Internal Communication and CiPD, but not of the multitude of others. Since then I have come across many more, including CharityComms (one of my personal favourites), the Association of University Administrators, the Institute of Chemical Engineers and the British Parking Association (who knew?!), to name just a few.

Often I find when I am talking to the people who run these organisations that they find communication with their members to be a real challenge. In some ways you might think that having paid a fee to join, members would be keen to engage and communicate. However, the reality is that unless communication with their membership body is really adding value and making a genuine difference to an aspect of their working life, communication may just become so much noise. Even with the best of intentions, the newsletter or the social media feed can slip (or be pushed) to the bottom of the ‘to do’ list.

This presents a membership body with a problem. In some cases, such as professional accreditations for accountants and solicitors for example, individuals have to be members in order to maintain their licence to practise. But for organisations where membership is a voluntary choice, they need to be communicating and engaging with members to keep the funding coming in. If they are not providing added value – and, crucially, if they are not clearly communicating that value – membership renewals will be ignored. The problem of how to cut through the noise that their members are hearing from all directions needs to be solved.

So how to address that problem? As usual, it comes down to thinking strategically about how membership communication can support your overall aims as an organisation; how you can clearly and explicitly show the value you are adding; and a deep understanding of your membership profile. Why do people join your organisation? What do they want from you? What are they most interested, motivated and/or concerned by? When you understand the answers to these questions, it makes it much easier to identify clear, compelling content, such as practical guidance and relatable case-studies, that will achieve your aims with these people.

Unless you are a very niche organisation, you are likely to have different groups with different specific interests within your overall membership body. You are likely to need to tailor your content, either by communicating with groups in different ways or by sign-posting to different content in a way that makes it quick, simple and easy for them to find what they need. You will also need to factor in the size of your communications resource – in my experience, very few membership bodies have the luxury of large comms teams. It will be better to pick one or two channels and do them really well (tailoring content as appropriate), than to try to do everything.

How do you communicate with your members? I’d love to hear your stories. If you need help with making your membership communications more effective, please get in touch for a chat about how I could help.

Until next time
Sarah