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5 Strategies to Foster Community in Your Association

You might not think of your association as a community, but that’s exactly what it is. Your members all share things in common. They want to connect with peers in their field, grow professionally, and participate in valuable industry events and workshops. 

That said, just because a group of people shares certain qualities, doesn’t mean they’re already acting as a community. It’s something you have to foster. Think about your association: does it feel like a close-knit community, or more like an awkward group who doesn’t know each other well? 

If you relate more to the second description, it’s time to consider how you can build a stronger sense of community in your organization. From volunteer opportunities to mentoring programs, here are the top strategies for strengthening your membership organization’s community: 

  1. Make your onboarding process a celebration.
  2. Plan a fundraiser.
  3. Offer volunteer opportunities.
  4. Host a conference.
  5. Create a mentor program.

When members feel connected to your association and each other, they’ll be more satisfied with their membership experience—and more likely to renew. Plus, when current members share their glowing reviews of your organization, you’ll draw in new members, too.

1. Make your onboarding process a celebration.

We all know what it’s like to be the new kid. When you join a new group, school, or organization, you don’t know where you fit in. Who will you sit with at the next meeting? Who do you go to when you have questions? 

Your new members may feel similarly when they join your organization. It’s important to welcome new members with open arms so they feel like valued parts of the larger community.

MemberClicks’ guide to welcoming new members offers plenty of tips for improving your onboarding experience. Make new members feel at home by:

  • Creating a comprehensive welcome packet. This packet should include a personalized welcome letter, information about joining your online member community, details regarding submitting dues payments, how to browse your event calendar, and any other essential information new members need. Make the packet fun and exciting with branded merchandise that members will be excited to show off and use. 
  • Spotlighting new members on your communication platforms. Highlight your new members on your social media accounts (including Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn), website blog, and email newsletters. Ask members to send in a few fun facts about themselves or fill out a brief Q&A to help their fellow members get to know them. 
  • Hosting a welcome event. If all else fails, throw a party! Host an in-person get-together at a restaurant (if it’s safe to do so in your community) or a virtual gathering on Zoom. Think of ideas for a couple of fun icebreaker activities to introduce your new members to the group.

Joining your organization should be an exciting, streamlined experience. By optimizing your onboarding experience, you can incorporate new members into your community quickly and naturally. Through your onboarding efforts, you can build a relationship with these individuals. Foster long-lasting loyalty by engaging members from the moment they join.

2. Plan a fundraiser.

Are you a nonprofit membership program? If so, fundraising might make up the bulk of your funding. But even if your association isn’t a nonprofit, you might fundraise from time to time to bolster your programs or raise funds for an external partner, like a local school or charity. 

But it isn’t all about the money. Hosting a fundraising event brings your members together around a common goal. As they participate, members work together as a team—and get to know one another! Plus, a successful initiative helps get your association’s name out into the community, potentially attracting new members. 

The key to a successful fundraiser is in the name: make it fun! Engaging fundraising events and ideas include:

  • A social media challenge: Launch a social media campaign to support your fundraising efforts. You can base your campaign on popular social media fundraisers like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Challenge members to participate in an activity, like sharing a photo or tagging their friends to encourage them to contribute to your cause. Members will donate after completing the challenge and encourage others to do the same. 
  • A creative 5K event: We’re all familiar with the basics of a 5K event. But you can offer members a more exciting experience by giving your 5K a creative theme. For example, you can make it a color run, Krispy Kreme challenge, or a costume contest. 
  • An auction: Auction events are fast-paced and exciting fundraising opportunities, as attendees make bids and collect their prizes. Ask local businesses or individual donors to contribute valuable prizes or experiences that attendees can bid on. You can host your auction in-person or online to appeal to your audience’s preferences.

Don’t limit yourself to monetary charitable contributions. Your association can also contribute in-kind donations to your nonprofit partners, like donations of goods or services. 

When doing so, choose a nonprofit partner that aligns with your association’s mission. For example, if your association is a culinary organization, you can partner with a local soup kitchen to donate ingredients and cooking supplies. That way, your charitable work feeds directly into the community you’re already building!

Encourage members to get involved by sharing your fundraising opportunities on your communication platforms. Promote them as an opportunity to build camaraderie while helping worthy causes right in your community.

3. Offer volunteer opportunities.

Volunteering offers a way for association members to give back to their community while building a stronger relationship with your organization. 

Reach out to nonprofits or other charitable organizations in the community to assess their volunteer needs. Then, ensure the volunteer experience is valuable for all participants by following these tips:

  • Provide a comprehensive volunteer onboarding process. Equip members with everything they need to know! Share training materials via email or use your learning management system to distribute e-learning courses. This ensures members feel comfortable and confident in their roles, allowing them to contribute the best work. 
  • Offer a variety of flexible volunteering opportunities. Most of your members probably have busy schedules and don’t have a ton of free time to devote to volunteering. Make it as easy as possible for them to get involved by offering a wide range of volunteer opportunities, from in-person micro-volunteering to virtual opportunities that they can participate in from home. 
  • Thank members for their participation. Be sure to recognize your members who decide to participate in volunteer opportunities. Post shout-outs on your social media pages or send a quick handwritten note to each volunteer. This ensures members feel appreciated for their hard work, making them more likely to participate the next time you offer a volunteer opportunity.

Even if you don’t have a nonprofit partner, your association can create its own volunteer program or opportunities. From cleaning up a local park to gathering donated supplies for an animal shelter, there are likely plenty of volunteer opportunities available in your community.

4. Host a conference.

At a conference, your members can finally network face to face—and get to know one another on a personal level. They’ll source the business and personal connections that make them feel more connected to your organization.

If you’re hosting an in-person event, foster connections by leaving room in the schedule for discussion time or breakout sessions. On the other hand, even a hybrid or virtual conference can offer members a valuable experience from the comfort of their homes. Web Courseworks’ guide to hosting a virtual conference offers tips for making your digital experiences just as valuable as your in-person ones, such as:

  • Prioritizing accessibility to ensure all members can participate in your event. Incorporate accessibility best practices such as adding closed captions for your speakers and presentations and building in occasional breaks. 
  • Prepping your speakers to present to a remote audience. Some of your speakers probably haven’t presented remotely before. Whether you’re hosting live speakers or pre-recorded content, ensure presenters have everything they need to connect with your virtual audience successfully.
  • Incorporate opportunities for engagement. Encourage conversations throughout your event by offering a live chat and polling for participants. You can even plan icebreaker activities for virtual attendees to get to know one another.

Investigate your options for a conference mobile app to streamline the process for both event planners and attendees. You can use your app to keep attendees updated on any changes or provide additional information. Plus, participants can use the app to customize their experience, creating a personalized event schedule depending on which sessions they want to attend.

5. Create a mentor program.

Sometimes, being a part of a large group can feel paradoxically isolating. If you don’t have one friend or even a familiar face, you might start to feel like just a number rather than a valued member of the group. 

You can foster stronger relationships between new and longtime members with a mentoring program. 

Use your association management software to identify long-time members who would be potential mentors, as well as new members who might benefit from mentoring. Comb through your membership database to determine each individual’s history of involvement and area of expertise. 

Promote your mentoring program on your social media pages, website, and email newsletters. Also, reach out to the members who you identified as potential mentors! See if you can spark their interest. 

Lastly, create a structure for your mentor program so both mentors and mentees can get the most out of it. For example:

  • Construct a schedule for mentoring sessions to take place.
  • Suggest locations where mentor partners can meet up, whether it’s a coffee shop, local park, or restaurant.
  • Provide a topic calendar to give mentors a starting point for driving the conversation.

At the conclusion of the program, host a gathering for all mentors and mentees to celebrate their accomplishments and meet new people. The more connections you foster, the more you’ll be able to build the type of community where all feel welcomed and comfortable.

No matter how big or small your association is, you always have the opportunity to foster a greater sense of community among your members. Whether you decide to take a more community-service-driven route or professional development route is up to you. 

Either way, you have an effective opportunity to boost membership engagement and renewals. You want your members to want to stay involved in your organization and even take their engagement to the next level by contributing their mentorship abilities, leadership qualities, and other talents. 

It’s easy for them to want to leave their dues behind, but it’s less easy to leave their community behind. These interpersonal relationships are what encourage people to become lifelong members.