Member Engagement Metrics, Trends, and Education Program Advice for Associations in 2024

What goals and concerns are your association peers prioritizing? How does your association’s performance across a range of member engagement metrics compare with theirs? And what can you do to improve engagement, especially if you're on the professional development team? 

Satisfy your curiosity with the 2024 Membership Performance Benchmark Report from iMIS by ASI, our parent company. The 9th annual edition of this report reveals associations’ top goals and concerns, association trends, and best-practice strategies. 

With ten times last year’s responses, this year’s survey broke the record: 1,478 association and membership professionals took part. Of the participants, 23% work in education or accreditation. Millennials were the largest respondent group (51%), replacing Gen X for the first time. The participation of Gen Z increased from 2% to 15%.

This post highlights the findings of most value to education teams. Learn more about membership trends in the report or iMIS by ASI’s recap.

Marching orders for improving member engagement metrics in 2024

Overall, things are looking good for associations. “News is very positive… member-centric organizations really have their mojo back—and are kicking into overdrive… Nearly every metric we used shows a clear upward momentum,” including membership acquisition and retention.

Confidence levels are nearly triple last year’s: 67% of survey participants are very or extremely confident about future growth and sustainability compared to just 24% last year.

Craft a member engagement strategy if you want to improve metrics

Like last year, the top goal and concern for survey participants is increasing member engagement, although 54% said engagement was up. You can’t just think and talk about it, you need to document your member engagement plan. Organizations with a formal plan reported significant increases in conference and webinar attendance. 

Time spent putting together an engagement strategy forces you to understand what different segments of members value and want to accomplish with their membership. Offer and promote engagement opportunities that meet those expectations.

Acknowledge education’s role in member engagement 

Professional development (PD) plays a huge role in a member engagement strategy. Every member either seeks it or needs it, whether or not they know it. Industry research tells us people primarily join associations to learn and stay informed and to connect with others. 

But registering for an online course requires overcoming psychological obstacles, sacrificing time, and investing limited resources. To get members on the learning path, continually promote the value of lifelong learning, not just your programs.

Your learning portfolio must appeal to people of all career stages. Offer programs at a range of commitment levels. Microlearning programs serve as stepping stones to programs requiring more time investment.

Credentialing programs should offer something for every level of professional. Attract young professionals with introductory stackable microcredentials that award digital badges. 

Pay attention to member inclusion and onboarding

Ensuring diversity, equality, and inclusion in members and staff was the #3 goal for survey participants. To demonstrate inclusion, offer a range of online learning programs anyone can afford, including free programs. 

Member engagement begins on Day 1 with new member onboarding. Help new members develop online learning habits with mini-membership courses tailored to different member segments. Invite them to quarterly virtual orientations. Assign them to a new member online cohort and mentorship group that helps them stay accountable for achieving their membership and career goals. 

By collecting and using demographic and behavioral data, your marketing campaigns can more accurately match members with relevant programs… which leads us to the next big finding of the report.

woman staring intently at laptop - an example of improving member engagement metrics

Address digital transformation challenges—and opportunities

The #2 goal of survey participants is developing a digital transformation strategy, which is related to their #2 concern, addressing digital transformation challenges.

As you’ve realized by now, digital transformation is never-ending. The goal posts keep getting pushed further out. For the PD team, digital transformation means taking your association from where you are now to where you need to be to deliver knowledge and skills:

  • you aren’t even aware of yet
  • in formats you haven’t considered
  • for jobs that don’t exist

This piece of cake means having the technology infrastructure, processes, and people in place who can take you and your members and customers successfully into that unknown future. Sometimes, this mission involves the hard work of shifting mindsets, reallocating resources, and experimenting with new programs and formats. 

Watch out for professional development competitors 

Of all the survey respondents, Millennials and Gen Z were most concerned about digital transformation, probably because they know their peers are less tolerant of suboptimal digital experiences. They also might see the potential for competitors stealing your members and revenue.

Your competitors in the PD arena are many. They could be your own chapters or associations in the same or related industries. For-profit competitors are already a threat for many associations, from those who specialize in the same industry or profession to generic learning providers like LinkedIn and Coursera.

Colleges and universities are scrambling for revenue and relevance as enrollment declines. They’re going after the growing market in credentialing programs, especially stackable microcredentials that help people enter an industry or acquire specialized skills.

Set up the technology infrastructure for digital transformation

82% of survey respondents have or are developing a digital transformation plan—think of it as a survival plan—which is nearly double the 43% adoption rate reported in 2023. 

Association technology investments reflect this shift in focus. 35% have invested or plan to invest in AI tools and/or a membership management system (AMS/CRM) and 29% have invested or will invest in a learning management system (LMS). We’d love to talk about your LMS needs, goals, and aspirations!

To get a handle on data, you need a single source of truth that brings all interactions with your members, customers, and prospects together. Integration, middleware, or data analytics tools can help you achieve this position of insight. 

Explore the potential of AI for your staff, members, and industry

Surprisingly, Boomers were the most excited segment of respondents about the potential of AI. 86% think AI increases or significantly increases efficiency. About half use AI for member communications and service, including emails, newsletters, and/or website chat bot. A quarter use AI to produce website content.

25% feel they need a better understanding before providing guidance about AI to their members. I hope that doesn’t take long because associations should be the ones taking the lead on industry conversations about AI’s impact on employers, employees, customers, and other stakeholders.

Take advantage of this opportunity to become the preferred source of AI training, guidelines, and policies for employers and employees in your industry. Offer programs that cover AI skill and ethical concerns, like privacy, intellectual property, and sustainability.

Strengthen non-dues revenue streams

The #3 goal of survey respondents is increasing non-dues revenue, which is a necessity to carry out your mission, attract talented staff, and develop and improve learning programs. 

If you want to learn how professional development can bring in lots of revenue, look no further than our blog posts on these trends—and engagement opportunities: 

The usual approach to sponsorship merely offers brand awareness opportunities through the display of logos and thanks from the podium. But sponsors want more. They’re already sharing their expertise with members via their own channels: webinars, blogs, user conferences and online events, and research reports and white papers.

Sponsorship consultant Bruce Rosenthal suggests a better way. “Associations should create a bigger tent for members and sponsors to maximize collaboration and information-sharing, or companies will invite members to their tent.” Content-driven partnerships change the sponsor’s focus from selling to sharing expertise.

Every association shares these goals: member engagement, digital transformation, and non-dues revenue. There’s no shortage of advice on all three. Don’t wait for the perfect plan to come together. Keep working on your engagement plan while finding something you can do or experiment with this month. 

  • Send out a poll or three-question survey to uncover something you need to know about members or your market. 
  • Record members at different career stages talking about the skills they wished they had learned “back then.” 
  • Schedule Zooms with a few sponsors to learn more about their marketing goals and shareable expertise. 

It’s easy to come up with ideas, but transformation requires taking the first few steps in the right direction. 

member engagement
non-dues revenue
digital transformation
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