Keys to Community Building

If you want your association to be sustainable and to continually grow (and, it goes without saying, you do), you need to make your collective a community. Professional associations that build an identity, as opposed to becoming a paper tiger, will be propelled by their membership instead of being weighed down by it.

However, a community won’t just evolve because your association exists and time happens to pass. Your staff and representatives will need to put in the work to stimulate an ecosystem that will result in the gradual growth of a definable community. Their efforts need to be concentrated and consistent over time to achieve a recognizable identity. Below are some of the high-level initiatives that should be implemented to support making a community of your association.

Genuine Interactions
Existing and prospective members of your association need to feel that they are entering into an active environment. If members feel that your association is all show (bright lights on the exterior with a hollow inside), your chance at creating a healthy community will most certainly be dashed. Members need to be interacted with meaningfully and consistently. Communication doesn’t always have to be informative or informational. It doesn’t even need to provide particular value necessarily. Sometimes, the purpose of reaching out to members can just be a pulse-check – giving them comfort that the association is a living, breathing environment and would be ready to respond should they inquire about this or that. What’s more, any communication coming from the association to the membership should be completely genuine. Honest correspondence will establish a transparent relationship that will build the trust necessary for a strong community to exist. This initiative requires professional administrators that are in-touch with your membership, organized and knowledgeable about the ever-changing needs of members.
Provide & Extract Value
An association is an assembly of people with like interests and backgrounds – but a community is more than that. In a community, people don’t just congregate – they provide value to one another for the benefit of the entire collective. An association needs to get the ball rolling by installing valuable and accessible resources. This could be anything from educational content, to live seminars, to association events and get-togethers. Once you’ve built momentum in providing value, the next step is to encourage the membership to contribute. Members can serve as keynote speakers at events, author informational white-papers and share industry insights from their professional experience. With both association-contributed and membership-contributed value being continually circulated, everyone (both long-time and newly arrived) will derive a comprehensive level of good by being involved – thus creating a community mentality.
Know Your People
Your association needs to have a comprehensive knowledge of its target market and the industry(ies) it serves. That goes without saying. The only way to position your association properly, strategize for success and effectively market relies on your understanding of the people that will make up the body of your association. However, understanding the market sector will only allow you to plan for getting them in the door – the next step (obviously) is keeping them there. This requires a more intimate familiarity with the members that form your membership. As stated above, providing value is important in sustaining and growing your community – and, the only way you can know what your membership finds valuable is to know who your members are as people and professionals. This can be a tall order, but if you have diligent and committed administrators, it can be done. This can’t be accomplished over night, of course. It will take time and dedication to see through. But, once your association has established strong relationships, you’ll receive invaluable insight into what the collective needs and goals of members are. An added benefit of getting familiar with your members is that they will become familiar with you – creating an environment that empowers the free flow of information.
If You Build It...
The place where you attempt to establish and support your community is worth thinking about. There may be a few times in a calendar year when members can meet-up in person, but for the most part, the majority of your interactions will occur online. Most associations will implement a member management system to maintain continuity of the community throughout the year. The solution you choose is an important decision. A confusing or difficult to use system could diminish your ability to cultivate or sustain a community. Members will become discouraged rapidly if it isn’t simple to access value. Guild is an AMS solution that will empower your administrators and members to participate in community building. To speak with a representative at Guild or to view a live demo, click here.

There’s no rocket science here. Making your association a healthy and impactful community simply requires ease of access, valuable information, and an effort to be friendly – that’s it. People already want to be surrounded by colleagues with like interests and backgrounds. All that’s left is to make them feel welcome and give them a sense of belonging.