How to Create an Authentic Community in Your Member-Based Organization

July 08, 2019
by Chrissie Koeppen

How to Create Authentic Community in your Member-Based Organization

Easy & Out-of-the-Box Ideas to Create Authentic Community in Your Member-Based Organization


We all crave face-to-face communication; it’s essential to the human need to belong. 

Joining groups and associations is no exception. People join for a variety of reasons, some more professional in nature, such as networking and mentorship. But at the core of joining is the need to feel part of a larger community. We are social creatures after all. 

But different generations define “community belonging” in a variety of ways. For older generations, this takes the form of actual face-to-face meetings, whether a breakfast at McDonald’s to chat, a bourbon or book club, or a live conference.

The youngest working generations still crave community and human interaction, but they define face-to-face communication a little differently. Facetime or zoom are perfectly suitable ways to connect with others face-to-face and may even be preferred by some as it can be done easily from anywhere. 

Creating an authentic community that makes all members feel welcome and serves their needs in the way they want and anticipate just takes some creative thinking:

1. Conferences and Trade Shows. Re-think how you make these available for members. Conferences still have their place, but how can you re-imagine attendance? Can certain parts be live-streamed? Can a registration option be added so that people could attend virtually? 

Also, ensure attendees receive follow-up opportunities so they can continue the learning, networking, and feeling of belonging beyond the conference walls. 

A simple thank-you note is a good start, as well as an event app that allows members to continue connecting, or even sharing specific learning with attendees and facilitating ongoing discussion and connection on the topic.

2. Local meetings and events. For member-based organizations, we’ve found the local chapters to be the lifeblood of the organization for members. This is where they feel the most welcome and where they most strongly identify their community. 

Ensure you continue to provide local, face-to-face meetings and events, but also think about how you can be creativein doing so. Start by evaluating your local events – what can you do to shake these up a bit? See where members are really showing up and engaging – and if you don’t know, ask your members which local events they find valuable and which they don’t – and then keep the tried-and-true and add in some trial events to see how they perform. Maybe try:

  • a new local establishment
  • rotating members host something casual
  • a paint or other creative-type party for your group
  • a regular running/yoga/biking activity
  • team-building fun activities (ropes courses, scavenger hunts, etc.)
  • or even a daybreaker event

Also, re-think howyour events take place. Are any of these events virtual? Are there ways to connect with other local members that don’t require you to attend another happy hour or meetup? Can networking and mentorship have a complementary virtual component

3. Recruiting. A large number of millennials and Gen Z association members said that word of mouth drove their decision to join an association with almost half saying that “the decision stemmed from a conversation that took place at an event” according to a membership benchmarking study done by Personify

Authentic, face-to-face personal interactions are important, especially for recruiting new members. Including incentives to encourage these types of engagements, such as referral rewards and ambassador programs, may even enhance involvement and thus belonging.

4. Onboarding. A successful onboarding of new members is critical to their long and continued involvement. But with email fatigue a real thing, what are some other ways you can reach members and make them feel welcome? 

A multi-pronged approach is best here:

  • welcome letters (preferably personalized)
  • mailed welcome kits
  • actual membership cards
  • personalized swag
  • tagging new members on social media
  • onboarding webinars
  • live onboarding events
  • new member groups online
  • mentorship program inclusion 

5. Learning. Do you already have online learning or continuing education opportunities? Consider MOOCs (massive open online courses) that allow members to do their virtual learning together. This would make the learning environment more like a classroom, facilitating enriched learning through real-time discussion, debate, and Q&A with other people. This is more than just an online forum – it is real-time interaction with other real people. And, it helps hold learners accountable since they’re working with real people and not just a screen.

6. Online Spaces. Whether it’s an online community you host and facilitate or a social media group, online tools make creating authentic community easy, particularly when complementing some face-to-face interactions. The most important thing with these groups is to openly encourage and practice authenticity. Tell your story, encourage others to tell theirs and listen and engage. Feeling heard and understood, as well as included, is a critical part of feeling like you belong. 


Need additional ideas to help kickstart your community?

We’ve got ideas aplenty over here and can help you come up with some of your own as well!

Drop us a line and we’ll customize a workshop or strategy session just for you!

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