When members have this sense of belonging and community, they are likely to be renewed as they are receiving valuable emotional benefits from their membership, and we all know that emotions drive decisions.
But these members are the exception. Most of the members have a different relationship with their association. They attend events, read your newsletters, and possess your credential. But they haven't felt the emotional impact of membership yet. They may be long, but they don't feel the same sense of belonging and community.
8 ways to help members have a sense of belonging
It can create conditions and opportunities for members to develop relationships and have experiences that will give them a sense of belonging and community.
# 1: Onboarding new members. Once a quarter, introduce new members to others who have joined in the last three months. "Welcome, Spring 2020 Class!" A web conferencing platform, such as Zoom, for organizing orientation sessions, meetups, and greetings, lunches, and learnings, or hangouts after work. Allow new members to meet and see each other as they discuss the goals and interests of the membership.
# 2: Online meetings. Extend the opportunity to meet online with all members. Many of them cannot afford to attend events in person but want to meet other members. Even if it has chapters, the members still want the chance to meet people from other places. Host online meetings for virtual coffee breaks, bag lunches, or happy hours.
# 3: Local meetings. If you don't have chapters, give members the tools to host their own local meetings, just like MeetUp.com does. Don't limit these meetings to professional topics. Seeing people outside of the normal context helps a relationship move from being a casual acquaintance to a true friend. Suggest social gatherings, such as coffee talks, happy hours, walks, tours, or festivals - activities that allow people to talk while participating.
# 4: Member Buddy Programs. The association has always encouraged relationship building through mentoring programs. How about a reverse mentoring program? Start matching event rookies with event veterans if you haven't already. A membership ambassador program helps new members find their way.
# 5: Niche groups. Given the size of an association's membership, it is a challenge for members to find "their people." When you offer a variety of niche groups, members can stand up and build a smaller community from the larger one. Chapters serve this purpose to some extent, but even in chapters, members want to find a smaller group.
Consider creating niche groups:
Special interest groups (SIG) by specialties and professional roles
Women and other underrepresented demographic groups
Remote workers: a growing group that does not have the same camaraderie as members who work in offices
Only entrepreneurs, freelancers, freelancers and consultants, and others who work alone
Study groups, masterminds, discussion groups, and book clubs
When members can bring their whole selves to the association, they are more likely to have a sense of belonging. Consider starting hobbyist groups for members who want to share information about cooking, crafts, DIY projects, etc.
# 6: online community. We can't talk about the community without mentioning online communities. They serve a practical purpose as a forum for advice and recommendations but are also a good icebreaker for strangers who could become acquaintances given the opportunity.
# 7: Volunteering. People want to contribute, especially when they can be part of something bigger. Volunteering allows members to make a difference and, in some cases, meet others. But members don't always have the time or don't want to commit long-term to traditional volunteer roles.
#8: Inclusive leadership. Members will never feel a sense of true community if they see your association’s leaders in a negative light. If leadership is perceived as an exclusive ‘old boys’ or ‘old girls’ club or gives off a country club or clique vibe, a sense of belonging will remain elusive for many.
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