There is a lot of talk about engagement in the association and nonprofit world. For one of our clients, I recently wrote up a summary of five different types of conversations I’ve noticed about engagement in this space, based on the alleged ultimate purpose of the engagement: purchases, customer satisfaction, content, volunteering, or community. From my perspective, engagement is typically a combination of those areas, rather than one exclusively, but no matter what your goals are around engagement, there is one point that came out in our conversation with the client that is perhaps more important:
Engagement is defined exclusively by the individual member (or customer, stakeholder, volunteer, etc.). It’s their engagement, not yours.
You’re a part of it, of course (it’s really a relationship), but you don’t get to define exactly what engagement means to your stakeholders. It’s up to them to do that.
One of the participants in our workshop talked about how highly engaged she was in a website/online community that she used to track her food intake, exercise, and overall health. She read every email she got from that community, read all the blogs, and was a strong evangelist, telling her friends about it. But she rarely commented or posted visibly. It mattered deeply to her life, even though that might not have been very visible (by traditional engagement metrics) to the organization.
In another example, this participant described being strongly engaged with her specific participation within a club sports league, but had no desire to be on the board or run things. Even her example of low engagement (where she attended events and read content sporadically) seemed to be meeting her needs just fine.
You may be thinking, “Oh great, all my members get to define their own engagement differently–how am I going to manage all those unique situations?” I don’t have an easy answer for you, but I will say (as Maddie and I explain in more detail in our new book), that we’ve been moving in this direction for a while now. We expect customization. We expect our needs to be met on our own terms. How do you start figuring out how to do that? Start by defining what engagement means for your organization in a way that describes exactly how it’s a two way street.