top of page

How Segmentation Can Boost Members' Engagement

Segmentation of Membership Data by Associations


As a director of a professional association, you know that competition for your members has serious consequences for retaining current members as well as adding to your membership rolls.

And if you follow my blogs, you get that the one critical factor that acts like a magnet for membership is engagement. In this article, I underscore the importance of having strong database segmentation in order to improve communications, participation, and ultimately engagement.

Boosting Engagement Via Segmentation Of Your Database

Have you ever received a mailer or email that had no relevance? Of course you have! I do all the time. Now you ask, what's the best practice to boost engagement? Good question. Well, apart from the obvious example above. It turns out that the answer is straightforward: segmentation.

What is segmentation?

In the context of professional association membership, it simply means organizing your members into groupings of shared interests. Examples include members who joined to land a new job, or members whose main interest is attending social events.

Interestingly, I read that segmentation is a concept coined in economics and now used commonly in marketing. In the ancient past (you define your own ancient), most of the ways we used to connect with members were broad-brush push strategies.

Segments were hard to define and expensive to reach. Segmentation works best when the categories, or segments, you choose closely fit the profiles of your members.

  • Create definitions for each of your segments. If your membership includes a wide age range, one way to segment might be Gen Xers, Millennials, and Boomers. Another way to segment might be employed, retired, and seeking new jobs. Yet another may be seeking a mentor and willing to mentor.

  • It’s best not to assume you know your general membership profile. Research has shown that it pays to poll members on what they seek to gain from membership in your association.

Identify the Data you Have (and Don’t Have)

It doesn't matter if you have the best query tool on the market, if you don't have good data. You can’t measure engagement if you don’t have the data to measure it. So the first step in this process is identifying all the data your association currently manages (whether it’s in your primary database or elsewhere) as well as data that you’re not collecting that you should be. If your database cannot store demographic information beyond the standard fields, limits your ability to create your own fields, or puts a cap on how many fields can be created, look for another one. Good Segmentation starts with good data.

Know Your Constituents Preferences Too

I cringe when I hear that some associations are still sending out their newsletter to their entire database. Today, it's imperative to know what your members care about and how they prefer to receive your message too. Today, many membership and donor databases have built in communication capabilities to communicate the right message to the right people at the right time. In my opinion, when your members signed up to join and or contribute to your cause, you made a promise to deliver service based on what they cared about. You should be able to query your database based on the attributes of interest of your membership.

The Research Proves Segmentation Works

I recently reviewed an eBook from the software firm Abila. In this eBook, Abila undertook a recent study that peels back the layers underpinning member engagement. They asked:

  1. What matters most to members when they join an organization?

  2. What makes members feel involved and engaged?

  3. How can organizations better communicate?

  4. Are professional member organizations engaging members in a segmented, targeted, personal way?

The study results, found here, serve up these headlines:

  • Jobs matter. Abila found that “today’s new members join organizations – first and foremost – for job opportunities. Socializing/networking and professional development also rank close to the top.” .

  • Attracting members early in their careers—within the first five years—works best.

  • On the value of some member benefits, it may be ships passing in the night. Here’s why: “Professional organizations put too much emphasis on meetings and conferences, as well as advocacy. And, they put too little emphasis on job opportunities, credentialing, and certifications, as well as standards and ethics, based on what members say they’re looking for in a membership organization.”

  • If you are not targeting age and career stage in your messaging, you may be missing key engagement opportunities. The study revealed: “There are stark differences in the way younger and early career members like to be communicated with versus older, more established members.”

Generally speaking, members view their associations as valuable—with a key caveat. The caveat: segmentation—“know thy members”—makes all the difference to members’ engagement.(Emphasis added.)

You can't know what's important (Careers, Generations, Preferences etc.) and how to get the information to your members, if you can't segment your database.

Does Your Database Have the Query Abilities Needed for Segmentation?

Interesting analysis. I believe that any modern database should be able to store unlimited attributes (what school did they attend, who is their spouse etc.) But, it should be easy to query too in order to create and maintain lists dynamically. If you are struggling to know what could be, contemplate the following questions:

  • Can the database manage multiple segmented queries & lists?

  • Can it create list segments based on behavioral history or other attributes?

  • Does the platform consolidate all information (characteristics, behaviors, actions, etc.) about a unique member into one dynamic profile?

  • Can membership, development, & the executive director share this information? In real time?

  • Can the database integrate with other systems, sharing data back and forth seamlessly and dynamically in real time?

  • Does it share critical time-sensitive information with various departments via some kind of notification?

  • Does everyone have the capability to enter and update information pertinent for segmentation?

Your Constituents Demand Better Personalization

Your members demand and deserve value-based interactions across all points of engagement. In the world today, customer centricity is the driving force of meaningful, mutually beneficial engagement.

No longer can nonprofits state that they do not have the access to the right tools. The tools you need are there. They aren't out of your reach for any reason including dollars and cents. To engage with your constituents in a significant way, you have to be aware of what they care about and query the information quickly to send out messages. There is no excuse!

Do You Have the Best Database for the Job?

Now all you need is the best software that supports you on your path to boosting membership. We can help you sort out the software options out there and find the perfect solution for your new member engagement strategies.

Please contact us to learn more. Until then, keep SmartThoughts in mind.

Free Nonprofit Software Lists for NGO Executives


bottom of page