Skip to main content
Intro to AI Webinar

Associations were once at the heart of many professionals’ social lives. Take London’s Royal Society, for instance. Founded in 1660, the Royal Society published many of the world’s most crucial scientific papers in its signature peer-reviewed journal. From Isaac Newton to James Cook, the Royal Society’s members were responsible for paradigm-shifting discoveries.

Today, however, people have a seemingly endless array of groups to join and ways to discover new information. From local clubs to volunteer organizations, Facebook groups to Reddit communities, there’s no shortage of options for finding community and knowledge. 

Exacerbating the issue, many of these groups are free to join, posing a challenge for associations that rely on membership dues. 

Associations could expend needless energy fighting against this widespread pattern—or embrace and adapt to modern changes. 

The Open Garden model proposes a shift away from focusing exclusively on attracting and retaining members. Instead, associations should focus on engagement as their North Star.

Read on to discover three compelling reasons why engagement should be any savvy association’s number one goal.

Engaging Content Can Educate the Public

Many organizations embrace opportunities to create educational resources that can lead their industries in new, innovative directions. 

But taking the time to create these educational resources is only the first step. Unless an audience reads and shares your association’s hard work, your educational efforts aren’t as effective as they could be. Smart associations use digital marketing tactics to drive engagement. 

For example, you could:

  • Publish a weekly newsletter featuring educational tips and insights
  • Host a podcast featuring experts within your organization
  • Post digestible tips and resources on social media channels
  • Pitch journalists who might be interested in citing your work
  • Forge syndication or partnership agreements with other stakeholders in your space

The key is to make sure the public has ample opportunities to discover — and learn from — your association’s work. 

Engagement Can Support Your Core Purpose

If your association’s core purpose includes advocating for changes within society, attracting a highly engaged audience can directly advance your mission.

For example, Sunny Knoll Ecofarm serves as a living example of just how effective self-sustaining agriculture can be. Unlike commercial farming, Sunny Knoll Ecofarm uses free range livestock to manage a thriving, productive, and sustainable farm.

As more members of the general public become invested in Sunny Knoll Ecofarm’s journey, their attitudes toward commercial farming may begin to shift. With time, they may also start to prioritize purchasing groceries from sustainable farms, advancing Sunny Knoll Ecofarm’s overall core purpose. 

Engagement Can Turn Into Membership

While many members of your audience might only engage with your content occasionally, some will connect on a deeper level — and seek out more ways to engage. With time, these core fans will become your biggest advocates, sharing your association’s content with their networks and encouraging others to engage.

Though the Open Garden model encourages associations to prioritize engagement as a key metric for success, memberships still matter. Your biggest fans may derive enough value from engaging with your content that they take the membership plunge themselves. 

Making engagement your association’s top priority doesn’t mean ignoring your other goals — it often means accomplishing them more effectively.

Heather Nolan
Post by Heather Nolan
August 12, 2020
Heather a skilled communicator with expertise in social media and marketing strategy, brand management and journalism. She uses storytelling and audience growth skills to help companies showcase their brand and expand their reach.