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Member segmentation: The best way to boost engagement

5 min read
Jun 8, 2023

Your members are the lifeblood of your organization, the most passionate advocates for your cause, and at the core of everything you do.

So why is it so hard to get them to read your emails?!

If you regularly send mass messages to your entire community, you may have noticed that this one-size-fits-all approach… doesn’t really work that well.

Getting members to open, read, and act on your messages can be a challenge. What's the best way to increase opens, clicks, and engagement in general?

Fortunately, there’s a solution. If you stop trying to make one size fit all, and start tailoring your communications to your members, you’ll find they’re much more likely to engage.

“Member segmentation” may sound like a dry and technical solution, but it’s how you can make your communications relevant, personal, and engaging for your members.

Why you need to segment your member communications

There was a time when sending the same newsletter to everyone worked relatively well. People didn’t expect personalization. They listened to the same radio stations, got the same television channels, and had a limited choice of daily newspapers.

Associations and nonprofits sent mass messages to their entire community because there wasn’t really an alternative. 

Things have changed. Now, your members are being offered a curated, personalized experience with practically every brand and institution they engage with. Algorithms serve up tailored experiences and recommendations — from streaming services to shoe shopping.

At the same time, your members are being bombarded with messages across every channel. It’s a lot to sift through, and only the most relevant, personalized, and engaging content will attract their attention and keep it. 

Member segmentation helps you make sure that your communication is relevant and personalized to your members. Your members aren’t all the same, and have different interests and needs.

When you create segments that receive their own versions of communications, you can speak directly to that group. Not only will this encourage them to engage with your message in the first place, it will also help with future communication by demonstrating that they can trust you to send useful and interesting information. 

How to create segments 

There are several ways to segment your membership list. Once you’ve let go of a one-size-fits-all approach, you’ll need to figure out what the different “sizes” you want to offer your membership.

If you look at your data and your membership information, you’ll likely find that several groups already exist within your membership. You just need to identify them.


  • How do they engage with you? Are they new members? Long-term and loyal? On a special committee or affinity group within the organization?
  • Are there different demographics within your membership with unique needs? Do you want to engage differently with different age groups? Parents? People within a certain geographic area?
  • What are they interested in? Do some members care more about different programs or service areas? 

For example, you may find that some of your members are only interested in your family programs, while others are interested in solo volunteer opportunities.

By separating these groups into segments, you can send the most important information to each group instead of overwhelming them with information they don’t care about. 

Top four segments for member organizations

If you’re just getting started with member segmentation at your membership organization, dividing up your group by their type of engagement is a great way to begin. Try out tailored communications with these segments and see how your members respond. 

New members

Your first-year members are unique. They’re getting their first impression of your organization and learning how everything works.

Joining a new organization can be overwhelming, but you can ease their experience by creating a segment just for them. That way, you can explain things in more detail, make space for them to ask questions, and create a first-year membership journey that makes them feel welcome and confident about their membership. 

How to engage

Start this member segment off with a welcome email to set the tone. Define terms and acronyms that are generally understood within your organization.

Remind them of membership benefits and responsibilities, introduce them to members who can help them with questions, and highlight different features of your programs. 

Prospective members

Do you have people on your contact list who aren’t members, at least not yet? Putting them into their own segment allows you to exclude them from members-only communication easily, and showcase the benefits of membership.

While it would be jarring for your existing members to get a “become a member” campaign from you, these folks are just the right audience for a membership drive.

How to engage

Invite prospective members to any events that are open to the public, share the highlights from your activities, and demonstrate how being a member of your organization contributes to members’ lives. 

Long-time members

Your established members have deep knowledge of your organization. You can make your communication more specific, reference shared experiences, and continue to build your relationships with a long-time member segment.

How to engage

Create content for these members that acknowledges their commitment to and investment in the organization. Recognize their dedication and expertise. Remember, these are members who have opinions!

While new members might not have a lot to say about where to have the annual picnic or whether or not to volunteer at the same site as last year, your established members will. Give them opportunities to contribute with surveys and questions. 

Lapsed members

You know how it goes. There are people on your list who aren’t current members, but you haven’t deleted their contact information, either. Member segmentation allows you to attempt to re-engage these past members without flooding them with information, or bothering everybody else. 

How to engage

Send a quarterly update on the highlights of your activities, along with an invitation to rejoin membership. You don’t have to give it a hard sell, just let them know what you’re up to, and that you’d love to see them again. 

Member segmentation means more engagement

Segmenting your member communications doesn’t have to be overwhelming.

Is this more initial work than sending one message to everyone? Yes, it admittedly is. However, in many cases, you won’t need to write completely distinct content for each group. Instead, you can create basic content, like a meeting announcement, and add and subtract paragraphs for each segment. 

The payoff is in greater engagement, not just with your communications, but with your organization. New members who feel supported and confident are more likely to show up for meetings or volunteer. Established members are more likely to stay engaged where they feel appreciated.

That engagement will carry through the year, all the way to membership renewal and beyond. 

That makes it well worth building those extra emails, ad creatives, or really any content that allows you to speak personally to your unique segments! 


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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