The ABCs of Member Engagement: Five strategies “picked” from the kindergarten classroom

News | August 20, 2018

By: Lynette Sappe-Watkins, CFRE, PA Foundation Executive Director

If only the members of our sister associations were like the kids in my friend’s kindergarten class. She has funny stories of how her students jump to volunteer when she says, “I need a helper to…” Can’t you just hear it, “Pick me! Pick me!” from her audience of six-year-olds?

We’re all hungry for greater member engagement. Perhaps we should steal a few strategies from the tool-box of a seasoned kindergarten teacher:

  1. Ask for helpers.

Volunteers! They are the lifeblood of the nonprofit. We all have jobs that need the expertise of our association members. Committee members, scholarship and grant application reviewers, workgroup participants, fundraisers (yes, fundraisers) and of course, Board members. Those that raise their hand to say, “Pick me!” are already engaged and can influence their peers to join in too.

  1. Gold stars!

Nothing says, “I’m proud you’re on my team!” like a gold star. Public and private recognition is key to keeping members engaged and cultivates them to make (or increase) donations.  Thank them for their volunteerism. Thank them for their gifts. Feature the work they’re doing through grants or fellowship funding on social media and in newsletters. Don’t forget to “tag” them on social media and get their friends and colleagues engaged, and thinking about participating too (bonus).

  1. Celebrate a milestone

In kindergarten classrooms around the nation the 100th day of school is celebrated. What can your foundation celebrate that will inspire association members to look back nostalgically? Perhaps it’s the anniversary of a fellowship program and time to do a “where are they now” retrospective? This look back could launch a new fundraising campaign to take the program into the future or inspire the next generation of leaders.

  1. Connect the dots

A beautiful picture is revealed when you connect the dots and add a little color. Connect association members to your scholarship and/or grant recipients by allowing them to tell their stories and how gifts from donors helped them accomplish something special. Take it to the next level by customizing the approach. For example, pull member lists of alumni from the schools of your scholarship recipients and send special alumni email announcements to members from those schools.  Of course, please don’t forget the “donate now” button!

  1. Show and tell

Any chance you get, show the association members and your donors how the foundation is accomplishing its mission. Use all channels you can, as many mediums as you can and as many peer influencers as you can. A picture is worth a thousand words and a video gives voice to the picture! Do you have Board members attending state conferences or chapter meetings?  Equip volunteers with a “road show” speech and let them tell your story to new audiences and inspire them to get engaged.

Getting association members to engage with the Foundation may not be as easy as singing the ABCs in a kindergarten class, but they can play a pivotal role in transforming your organizational culture. By adopting strategies used during that crucial first year of education can inspire us all to refine our tactics, engage our members, inspire donations and, just like kindergarten, set the stage for many years to come. That’s a song that we all want to sing along to, right?

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