Katie Greatti, MA, is associate director, learning and development, at the Security Industry Association.
How can associations build a sense of belonging among members? Start by looking within the organization and staff to deliver a better member experience that boosts engagement and welcomes new voices.
All associations aim to provide is a place for their respective industries to come together and share knowledge, resources, and best practices. In doing so, members are recruited, working groups and committees are formed, and reach and influence expands as thought leaders connect over shared interests.
However, as those good things are happening, associations may start to see the same members joining committees, engaging in online communities, or participating in networking events and conferences.
If this is something your association is experiencing, then consider what you are doing to create a sense of belonging: How do you engage current members who are less involved, and how do you attract new members who do not see where they fit in?
Any membership-related changes start within the association itself. Take a step back and review how your workplace environment fosters a sense of belonging. Do employees feel that they can take up space in any room and that they are validated and welcome in conversations?
Inviting employee feedback can help nurture a feeling of belonging among association staff. Ask employees what office social committees they want to see or poll them on community interests in the workplace. A sense of community within provides a base to build upon for members.
When association staff work in this type of collaborative environment, they feel more engaged and can provide better member service and develop programs, products, and services that better serve member needs.
If new people aren’t joining working groups or signing up to be volunteers in other capacities, associations should consider that public perception may be that only certain people are welcome, such as members with a long tenure in the industry.
Use this timely opportunity to conduct a call for new volunteers that emphasizes openness and purpose-driven involvement. Promoting involvement and community drives people to associations.
Leveraging social media can be particularly beneficial. Try creating a poll inviting more people to get involved by asking followers if they already participate in working groups, committees, or specialty groups. Chances are that you will receive responses from both members and potential new members.
As you receive responses, reach out to non-members about participating in activities within your organization. Be sure to note that partaking in committee and working group activities is a membership benefit, and then ask if they considered joining. This type of informal, exploratory conversation can present a great segue to welcome new members.
At the Security Industry Association, we have found success through two of our most well-known communities to both members and nonmembers. SIA’s RISE community for young professionals and our Women in Security Forum have grown to over 1,000 members each.
Notwithstanding the need for greater representation for NextGen and women professionals in the industry, these communities have established a major presence at industry tradeshows and host their own conference events, which attract both members and non-members. Companies that showed little engagement with SIA previously have become advocates for RISE and Women in Security Forum through attending these events and witnessing the power of community and the unity created.
While joining a SIA community is free and open to all, other program elements are differentiated by member and nonmember status. For example, members and nonmembers can participate in SIA’s Talent Inclusion Mentorship Education (TIME) program. In this case, mentees don’t need to be members, mentors are required to be affiliated with a member company.
The positivity and inclusive environments cultivated by these communities have provided members with a sense of purpose and encouraged them and their companies to become more involved. These programs have attracted nonmember individuals and companies to join based on special interests such as scholarship opportunities, student outreach, and professional development. In turn, our association has continued to grow with a revamped cohort of industry professionals looking to become further involved in other working groups, committees, and volunteer activities.
Associations wield a wonderful ability to bring like-minded groups together in ways that benefit businesses and professionals alike. It is rare to find a way to implement new member engagement and recruitment practices that are valuable to business and equally benefit the overall wellbeing of employees and individual members; however, keeping a community-centered mindset internally can lead to an overarchingly inclusive membership with an increased pool of potential new prospects.