4 Tips to Build Your Membership Program's Digital Strategy

4 Tips to Build Your Membership Program's Digital Strategy

Connecting with all of your members online is key for maintaining an active and engaged audience. Although your association holds meaningful in-person events throughout the year, for most organizations, the bulk of communication with members will take place online. 

A comprehensive digital strategy not only helps you attract new members but retain and connect with your current base, strengthening their ties to your association. Building out a new digital strategy requires time and resources, but it will make up the return on investment in long-term support, new connections, and an overall increased value for your membership program. 

To get started, here are four methods for associations looking to further develop their digital strategy.

1. Segment your members. 

Association members tend to share common interests, both professional and personal. However, there are still distinct groups within that membership who will respond better to different types of communication. You can connect with each of these groups online by leveraging segmentation strategies.

Segmentation is the act of identifying your members’ shared characteristics and dividing them into groups based on those characteristics. When determining how to segment your members, select traits that are meaningful to your association and how you interact with members. For example, you could segment members based on gender, but for most associations, it is unclear how that division will improve communication. 

If you’re unsure what characteristics are meaningful for your association, consider using these common segments:

  • New members. New members need the essentials of your association explained to them. Try creating a segment for individuals who have only been a member for a few months at most. Create an email series for them that highlight engagement opportunities, invite them to attend annual events, and generally provide more information on what your association does. 

  • At-risk members. Search your database for members who have behaviors associated with a potential lapse in membership. These include lack of attendance at past events, not opening emails from your association, and late membership renewal. For this segment, your messages should focus on re-engagement by highlighting your most exciting activities and avoid asking for donations. 

  • High engagement members. Members who go above and beyond in their engagement can be considered “super fans.” These types of members can be called on to do more for your association, such as donating, referring your association to others, and moving to higher membership tiers. The emails you send to this segment may include more requests for support than you would make to other members. 

There will be situations in which you will need to send the same message to multiple segments, but you can still create unique communications for each group. For example, Fundraising Letters has a variety of membership renewal letter templates. Use resources like these to draft different messages for each group that can then be further customized with a recipient’s personal information.

2. Generate conversations online. 

A strong digital strategy engages members and encourages them to create user-generated content. This content can be independent projects, articles they’ve written, arranged meet-ups with other members, or even just comments on your internal forums. 

User-generated content is mostly self-sustaining but requires initial input from your association to get started. This is why many association blogs post on a weekly basis. Their members will spend the next few days commenting on an article and interacting with one another. However, they can only discuss one piece of content for so long before exhausting potential conversations. 

In addition to regularly creating new content to inspire members, you can generate online conversations by having a member of your staff—such as the head of community or social media manager—respond to members’ comments. Seeing your association openly engage with other members can create a positive feedback loop as other members will also comment if they know your organization will interact with them. 

If your association has yet to experiment with encouraging user-generated content, consider partnering with a marketing consultant. DNL OmniMedia’s guide to consulting firms recommends seeking assistance from a marketing consultant when starting a brand-new type of campaign. A consultant will also be helpful if your association has a specific need you would like assistance with, such as boosting online engagement.

3. Offer online-exclusive opportunities. 

As mentioned, between in-person events, the majority of your interactions with members will take place online. By creating high-value, online-exclusive opportunities, you can improve the overall member experience and expand the number of ways they engage with your association. 

Your potential to develop online content is only limited by your organization’s creativity. To get started, a few popular types of online content include:

  • Webinars. Invite experts to lead webinars or panels on various topics related to your association. Ahead of the webinar, plan a few minutes for panelists to familiarize themselves with one another and identify where their specialities overlap. Doing so can create a more dynamic, intersectional experience for viewers and potentially lead to new opportunities for your association to work with panelists in the future. 

  • Virtual events. Exclusive events are a major draw for associations, and you can provide flexibility for your members by planning virtual events. These events can be lectures and presentation series, networking opportunities, or even virtual workshops. 

  • Blog content. Strive to routinely produce high-quality written content for your association’s blog. This could be research reports, news articles, opinion pieces, general updates on your association, or anything else you believe your members would find interesting. By maintaining a blog with an archive of valuable content, you can re-engage members every time you publish a new post. 

Online opportunities and content are also a useful tool for engaging new members who have yet to attend an in-person event. Plus, having online content you can strategically make free or offer at a discounted rate can entice new members to join your association. 

4. Invest in your membership management tools. 

To grow your online presence and manage a comprehensive digital strategy, you’ll need the proper tools supporting you. While social media and email have low-cost communication platforms, associations operating on a large scale will need specialized applications to help manage their contact lists, maintain member profiles, host content, and craft and send hundreds of messages at a time.

Your membership management software will be the core of your association’s technology stack. As you interact with members online and learn more about them, use your membership management software to track key details that can be used to enhance your relationship with them. For example, if you notice a member regularly comments on your content, you can add a note to their profile that can be useful when determining which members should be placed in your high-engagement segment.

If your association has already invested in a membership management CRM, consider assessing your database before moving forward with a new digital strategy. If your data is unclear, outdated, or incomplete, take the time to clean it or partner with a CRM data management consultant who can assess your database for you. Expanding your strategy and continuing to collect new data with a disorganized database can lead to extensive data hygiene issues that require a more intensive cleaning down the line. 


Connecting with your members online should be a core part of your association’s digital strategy. Reach out to members with highly-valued online content tailored to their interests to engage them and improve retention. 

Associations looking to launch an entirely new online engagement strategy can benefit from partnering with a digital marketing consultant to get a professional insight into how to take their membership program online and maximize their ability to engage current and prospective members.

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