Specialties: Strategic and Tactical growth for Membership Organizations, Business Management & Development


Members are the lifeblood of an association; if they’re not involved and engaged, your association can’t accomplish its mission. And yet, finding members to volunteer, to fill committees and move into leadership positions is a challenge for many associations.


What I’ve found, working for many years with associations at the chapter, regional and national levels, is that there are three main reasons members don’t get involved—and that you can change that with a few simple, but important steps.

Let’s talk first about why members show up to association events in the first place.

Why Members Show Up to Association Events

People show up to association events because they get value from them. Activities are the principal way associations provide value to members, and it’s not a mystery what members are looking for:

  • Meetings that are interesting, informative and impactful
  • Education, whether required by the industry or that enriches the industry
  • Volunteer opportunities that are easy to get involved in, as well as fun and rewarding
  • Committees that are effective, engaging and energetic
  • Opportunities to network and develop relationships

If you’re not nailing these things, that’s your first step. To learn more about how to create an amazing experience for your members, listen to my podcast about gaining and retaining members: Does Your Association Need More Volunteers?

Once you’re delivering programming that delivers value to your members, it’s time to look at why that’s not enough to get some members to show up and engage.

Why Members Don’t Show Up to Association Events

Most people who are engaged in your association—they show up to meetings, they volunteer, they’re active in a committee or hold a leadership position—are the kind of people who naturally show up. When they decide something is important, whether that’s an industry association, the PTA or their kid’s soccer team, they get involved. Organizations can’t survive without these kinds of people, but there’s a risk in relying entirely on them.

If you look at the people who are actively engaged with your association, you’ll probably notice that they’re the same people who have been keeping things going for some time. You might also realize that they carry a pretty heavy load. Some may be getting burned out or feeling ready to pass the torch so they can try their hand at a new role or take a step back. But they can’t, because who else is there to take that torch?

That’s why we have to look at the members who don’t naturally show up. They joined but don’t attend meetings, or they attend meetings but don’t get engaged beyond that. These are members who are not getting enough value of out of their membership, despite the great programming you offer. If they were, they would be involved. These kind of members usually come in two flavors:

  • New members who don’t show up
  • Veteran members who don’t show up

Let’s take these one at a time:

New Association Members Who Don’t Show Up


If you have people who are signing up, paying their dues but not showing up and engaging, that’s usually because they don’t know how to. This is actually good news, because it has a simple solution: You need a better orientation program.

In fact, if your association is having this challenge with new members not showing up, I’m guessing you don’t have an orientation program. I find that orientation isn’t something most associations think about, even though it’s easy to implement and has such a big impact.

Welcoming new members with a formal orientation doesn’t have to take long, and shouldn’t. One to two hours is plenty of time to:

  • Welcome new members and give an overview of what the orientation will cover
  • Introduce your staff, board and committee chairs, and let new members introduce themselves
  • Share your association’s vision and mission
  • Share details on how to get involved through volunteer activities, committees and events
  • Share details on other offerings and programs that help members get the most from their membership

An orientation should be fun and engaging; it should also include a social aspect for new members to get to know and network with each other and your staff, board and committee chairs.

Don’t stop there: Have a plan to keep engaging these new members in the first three, six and nine months, and as they approach renewal. Build a relationship with each of your new members and ensure that they build relationships with other members. If you do that, you can avoid the second category of members who don’t show up.

Veteran Members Who Don’t Show Up

These are members who saw enough potential value in your association to join but aren’t seeing enough actual value. They don’t show up to events or volunteer because they don’t feel like a part of your association family.

This has happened to me. I’ve joined organizations with high hopes only to feel like I didn’t fit in. No matter how long I was a member, I couldn’t make the connections I wanted to, so I skipped events and got nothing out of my membership.


Contrast that with an organization I recently joined. I’m a brand new member, but when I walk in people say, “Hey, Jim! Great to see you again! How’s it going? Come meet Jill.” I feel like I’ve been a member forever, and I can’t wait to go back. I’m also looking for opportunities to get involved, because I want to support these people like they support me.

Now, I know: We all need to put ourselves out there and try to make the most of our membership, especially when we’re new. But think about how intimidating it is to walk into a room full of people you don’t know. You’re one person; they are many. What if a handful of those people made sure to greet you and offer to introduce you to people? Not just the first time you show up, but every time. How would that make you feel?

At the end of the day, if your association wants engaged, active members, you need to cultivate a welcoming, supportive culture. You need your members to feel like they belong, that they’re part of your association family. The good news is: It’s not too late, even for your veteran members. Let me share an example of how one organization I was a part of did that.

How to Get Members to Show Up: An Example

It was the end of the year. Membership renewals were due soon, and the organization had a holiday party coming up. Another member made a crazy suggestion: “Why don’t we call all our members and thank them for being members?”

Call all our members?! Seriously?! That was more than 200 people! Someone pointed out that if 10 people volunteered to make the calls, that was only 20 calls per person. More importantly, it was a chance to let our members know how much we valued them and to invite them personally to the party.

I volunteered to help make those calls. Our script was simple and short: “We want to thank you for being a member. It’s members like you who make this organization so special. We also want to remind you about the upcoming holiday party. We’d love to see you there. Thank you. You make a real difference.”

Those calls we made and the messages we left made a difference. So many people showed up and got more involved. It was the best thing I’ve ever seen an association do, to this day.

That was an idea that came out of the blue and worked, but how do you know what else might work? You ask your members, strategically.

How to Know What Your Association Members Value


The thing I find most effective to boosting the engagement of an association’s members is sending out a strategic survey. The key word here is strategic. A survey needs to elicit responses that get to the heart of the challenge and provide information you can act on.

I love a 1-10 scale with questions like:

  • On a scale of 1-10, how important are our events to you?
  • On a scale of 1-10, how valuable do you find our educational programs?
  • On a scale of 1-10, how much value are you getting out of your membership?
  • On a scale of 1-10, how welcome do you feel at our events?

These 1-10 scale questions give you an overall sense of how your members feel, but you also want to include open-ended questions to really dig in. These are my three favorite open-ended questions:

  • What do you enjoy most about our association?
  • What do you enjoy least about our association?
  • If you ran our association, what would you do differently?

Many associations I’ve worked with do not like that second question: What do you enjoy least about our association? I get it; it’s a pretty scary question to ask. But in my experience, it is also the #1 question you need to ask if you really want to boost engagement in your association. If your members aren’t engaged, they’re already thinking about what they don’t like about your association. You’re not creating dissatisfaction; it exists, and the only way to figure out why it exists is to ask the question.

What I find is that members who aren’t engaged appreciate being asked why they aren’t. They paid for a membership; they want it to be valuable. They want to share—and they have great ideas. In fact, this is the question that prompts great ideas even from members who are engaged. So don’t fear the question. Ask it, and act on it. Like I always say, The more you know, the more you grow.

Your Plan to Boost Your Association’s Member Engagement

Step 1: Provide high-value programming
  • √ Offer meetings, education and events that are interesting, informative and impactful.
  • √ Communicate volunteer and committee opportunities,and make it easy,fun and rewarding to get involved.
  • √ Offer networking and other social opportunities,and make sure everyone feels welcome at them.
Step 2: Have a great orientation program
  • √ Design a welcoming, engaging 1-2 hour orientation program involving your staff, board and committee chairs.
  • √ Offer your orientation program regularly to make sure all new members have a chance to participate early in their membership.
  • √ Design a plan to continue engaging new members in the first three, six, nine and twelve months.
Step 3: Know what your association members value
  • √ Design a strategic survey to uncover what members do and don’t like about your association and to elicit suggestions you can act on.
  • √ Act on those suggestions!
  • √ Repeat annually.
Bonus Action: Reach out to disengaged members.

The steps above focus on association-wide activities, but if you have members who aren’t showing up to your association, I suspect you know who some of them are. Put together a task force whose goal is to help those specific members reengage. This may seem like a labor-intensive approach, but like they say in sales: It’s easier to retain a client than find a new one. I bet you’ll find that those members who don’t show up really want to show up. They just need a little help.

Do you need a little help? If you’d like to talk about how to boost your association’s member engagement, please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. I’d love to talk.



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