When you’re running a membership-based organization, connecting with your members is one of the most important things you do. It’s how you create a member experience, build excitement, fuel your projects, and keep everyone in the loop.
Without support from the right membership engagement software tools, it can also be one of the most tedious.
If you’re importing/exporting lists and spreadsheets, sending mass email blasts that no one seems to pay any attention to, or looking towards your next membership drive with dread, you know what I mean.
Fortunately, there are great software tools out there that help nonprofits and associations build deeper relationships with their members and communicate with them more easily. But how do you choose the right one for your organization?
Set your own criteria
Choosing technology tools for your nonprofit or association can be intimidating. There’s a lot to sift through, and your choices can affect your entire organization. You’ll have a budget, of course, but “is it the cheapest?” is rarely the only thing to consider when you’re shopping for software.
Every organization is different, and what works well for somebody else might not be the best fit for you. Before you start signing up for software demos, take a minute to focus on what you actually need, and the problems you’re hoping the software will help you solve.
First, audit your existing tools. What are you using now? What are its capabilities? Are you using all of them? Why or why not? What do you wish you could do more easily? Is your current email tool driving you up the wall? This audit will help you identify your top priorities, which will help you narrow down your selection.
It’s useful to have more than one person contribute to this audit. You may find that different team members have radically different perspectives on a tool.
Next, consider your communication plans. What do you need the software to be able to handle? If you’re planning to dip your toes into digital advertising, you’ll want a tool that can support that. If you’re planning to personalize your communications, you’ll need robust segmentation tools.
Take notes on your highest priorities, needs, and any other impressions you have during this process. Keep them close when you’re evaluating and demoing software to stay focused on choosing the right software for your organization.
The 3 big membership engagement connectors
How do you connect with members and prospective members? Which channels do you use to engage with them the most? If you’re using an omnichannel strategy, you’re probably active online and offline, but when you’re choosing software, pay special attention to three digital channels: email, social media, and digital advertising.
Email is a primary means of communicating with your members, but not all emails are equally effective.
Think about your own inbox. It’s pretty crowded in there, right? Most people get an astonishing number of emails a day, including your members. You need a membership engagement tool that makes it easier for you to personalize and segment your emails, helping them to stand out in your members’ inboxes.
In addition to looking for software that makes it simple to create appealing, high-performing emails, it’s important to consider features that support engagement, like personalization and automation.
Look for software that can connect to your CRM, AMS, or donor management software, so you can send personalized emails based on recent activity, event attendance, member status, or course registrations. This level of personalization doesn’t just perform better — it gives your members a better experience.
Email automation is another area to explore to build your connection with members while saving time and effort on your end. Automatically triggering emails at renewal time can simplify things for your team considerably.
Automation based on member behavior can make things even more efficient. It would be impossible for you to individually track and follow up with everyone who abandoned your online membership renewal form, but setting up a triggered automatic reminder email is no problem with the right tool. More members will complete renewals without you having to sift through what everyone’s status is.
Social media advertising
An estimated seven in ten Americans are active on social media, so there’s a good chance that your members are among them. Your organic social media posts are one way to connect with members on social, but don’t stop there.
Social media advertising can help you target the people who are most likely to want to hear from you, like current members or former members. This means you can use your social media advertising budget more effectively and get a greater return on your ad spend because you’re not wasting time and money advertising to people who have no interest.
Think again about those membership renewal page abandons. With the right member engagement tool, you could serve social media ads just to the people who abandoned the page. Looking to re-engage members from a past event, but only have a list of emails? With a tool like Feathr, you can reach this very specific groups with targeted social media advertising.
Membership marketing is a challenge for many organizations. The push to attract new members is strong, whether you’re trying to grow your organization or just keep it going. Without new members, you can’t get far.
Digital advertising can be a crucial part of a strong membership marketing campaign. If you’ve tried using ads in the past and didn’t see great results, you’ll be glad to know that the right tools can make a big difference.
Think beyond a general awareness campaign, and get strategic. Search targeting lets you show your ads based on what people are already searching for, like “community service organizations Philadelphia,” or “library volunteering,” or “professional organizations nurse practitioners Iowa.”
There are a lot of options with digital advertising. Mobile geofencing lets you target ads based on current or previous location. You could target your membership ads to people at relevant industry conferences, universities, or other locations, to make the biggest impact. Affinity targeting and lookalike audiences help you connect with people who aren’t your members, but are similar to you members in their interests, industry, or demographics.
Choose what’s best for you
Engaging your members doesn’t have to be tedious. Software can help you build relationships with current members and attract new ones without spending an inordinate amount of time and energy.
As you search for member engagement software, keep your own criteria in mind and look for tools that deliver the biggest impact in the three biggest connectors: email, social, and digital advertising, to make sure that your investment pays off.
About the author:
Megan Donahue is a communications consultant, writer, and nonprofit nerd. She's the host of Love & Robots and fascinated by the intersection of nonprofits and technology.
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