The 4 pillars of building a sustainable and active membership
Organizations that lead the way in effective advocacy do four things consistently well and are always looking for ways to improve them. They are to Educate, Engage, Mobilize and Measure.
1. EducateMany non-profits do a pretty good job of telling members the history of their organization—why they came into being. But a fraction of them do a great job of keeping members and prospective members informed about ongoing issues that are of concern to them. The key to keeping members engaged is keeping them apprised of your progress on initiatives and their role in defining and determining your success.
The cornerstone of member engagement is relevancy — getting the right messages to the right audiences. The more you can segment your lists (active donors, volunteers, members, prospective members, etc.) the more you can tailor messages to the things these groups care about most.
Now, more than ever, your outreach needs facilitate two-way conversation. It’s simply not enough to push out newsletters (although they still can be an effective part of your communication strategy). Think of engagement as an action. Are you making it easy for your members to get updates via social media? Are you sending campaign updates in various formats, so that people can engage with you where and how they want to?
Responsiveness is expected. Is your organization equipped to field inquiries in a timely manner? Nothing telegraphs that your organization has its act together and really cares about its members than a timely response. It's the key to grassroots campaigns that really take root and grow.
Tell a story. Don’t just say what you did. Tell them how you did it. Make your members part of the story. Show how they contributed to success. The organizations that take the time to develop a narrative are the ones that keep people feeling like they are part of the team. Help them feel the pride.
3. MobilizeWhen you need to get your members to take action, does everyone start running as hard as they can in different directions? The hallmark of an effective organization is having a mobilization strategy and adapting to conditions as they develop (as opposed to simply relying on nimbleness alone).
Who is responsible for creating the action strategies for your organization? Are there so many initiatives that it’s hard to rally around them or to get anything done on time? Might you assign smaller initiatives to others in the organization and have a core team take on the larger projects?
Does everyone in the organization know what success will look like? Be specific. (We need to raise $15,000 dollars, we need to grow membership by 15%, etc.)
What about calls to action (CTAs)? When you send out an action alert, is it crystal clear what you want the recipient to do? One specific, clearly articulated CTA will always outperform a plea that offers 5 ways to help. It’s human nature. If we’re the least bit confused, we’ll move on, having done nothing.
A lot of organizations claim that they measure results, but their measurement metrics don’t really extend beyond “we made our goal” or “we didn’t make our goal”. That isn’t really the basis for any valuable learning. In order to thrive, you need to know things like “What messages resonated most with our membership?”, “What campaign yielded the most new members and why?” and “Where and how are people responding to our messages (e-mail, print, social media) and how does that affect how we will spend our money next year?”
The most effective organizations are not only asking these questions in strategic meetings, they are getting the whole staff involved. “What did we learn and how can we get better?” are questions that get asked and answered frequently and used to inform actions going forward.
When is the last time you did a postmortem on an initiative, large or small.