Guest Post by Jake Fabbri, VP Marketing, Fonteva©2020

One of the most rewarding parts of being an association member is the community built with the other members. Professional associations, usually made up of those in the same career or a related role is a huge collaborative effort of individuals growing and learning from each other. 

If you help manage an association, you’re responsible for offering various opportunities for community building. You have to constantly brainstorm engaging ideas to facilitate networking opportunities, job advancements, and more! Now with the internet becoming a hub for many associations and their members, there are even more opportunities to take advantage of.

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How can your team work to build your association’s community, offline and online? Consider following these steps to  facilitate an engaging experience for your members:

  1. Host events.
  2. Promote online engagement.
  3. Encourage self-service tools.
  4. Individualize the member experience.
  5. Centralize member data.

Building your association’s community can be made easier with an effective association management software (AMS). As we walk through these community-building strategies, we’ll highlight the types of features in your membership software that can support them. 

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Host events.

Your association’s events are the main way to captivate members and encourage community building offline. However, as event tech continues to advance and your association’s membership keeps growing, how can you keep your next event engaging while preventing your team from becoming overwhelmed during the planning process?

The best association management software will also include event management capabilities. This ensures that you can plan and host an event that accurately reflects your members needs. Even better, your members can help contribute specific event ideas that they would like to see come to life.

With built-in event management software, you can:

  • Ensure a seamless registration process.Members can browse  association events within an event microsite, a branded external site that relates to your association’s official homepage. They can easily fill in a registration form and make payments all within your site. If they prefer, they can even download an eTicket to the event to their phone!
  • Feel confident that your event activities will run smoothly. Use an event agenda builder for a visual depiction of how all of your speakers and vendors will line up, and then share it with your attendees! They’ll appreciate knowing the schedule and being able to pick the sessions they’re most interested in beforehand.
  • Provide an event mobile app. With a dedicated mobile app for your event, you can share event schedules in advance and other relevant details. Attendees can download the app and use it to boost their event experience!

Events are a great place for your members to network and collaborate with other like-minded people. To encourage community building at your events, make sure they prioritize the attendees and reflects their needs. If you’re curious about how else software can elevate your association’s event, Fonteva’s guide to event management software can help.

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Promote online engagement.

While events are a great place for association members to meet and interact, a sustainable online community requires some sort of hub for members to congregate in. This goes beyond your association’s website. While there are a few solid ways to build an effective website and keep people coming back, that’s not necessarily enough to truly engage members.

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With your AMS system or membership management tools, you can offer an online member portal. Hosted on either a public or private microsite, this is a place where members can view a member directory, upcoming events, and more. 

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Along with a member portal, what else can your association provide to encourage engagement and community building?

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  • Online searchable directories. Allow individuals to search through the member directory easily. This promotes member engagement and encourages people to get to know each other. Browse through profiles and allow members to garner a sense of the community. 
  • Microsites for community segments. Often times, your association will also have multiple community segments. This can consist of chapters if your association is larger and nationwide, or of more specific committees within a chapter.
  • Message boards and forums. Empower your members to interact with each other through online message boards and forums. This helps facilitate general member engagement as well as collaborative learning through topics in the forums. For example, if a member has a question on a future event or course in the Learning Management System, they can post it in the forum and other members can help them out!
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In order to encourage online member engagement, your association needs to consider the online tools it uses. If you’re interested in upgrading your software solution, check out Double the Donation’s membership management tools guide.

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Encourage self-service tools.

As your association navigates how to best promote community building within your member community, you’ve probably already considered leveraging your association management software. Your AMS should focus on the needs of your members and be there to facilitate an enjoyable association experience.

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Give your members more flexibility and control over their members by offering self-service capabilities within the member directory. This helps keep your member directory accurate and up-to-date. It also saves your association management team’s time by eliminating the need to manually execute each home address change and membership upgrade whenever a member contacts them.

Conserve your team’s manpower and keep expenses to a minimum by letting your members take the lead on their own engagement. Members will love having control over their:

  • Member directory profile. Often times, members will have changes that require minor updates to their member profile, like their job title after a promotion. In order to start this change process, they typically contact your staff to manually make the change. Instead, let members self-edit their profiles to ensure that your directory is always up-to-date!
  • Membership status and tiers. To be a part of an association, there are certain membership requirements. After submitting an application (check out some samples here!), individuals need to pick a membership tier and pay dues on a consistent basis. Let members edit their own status and upgrade or downgrade without too much work.
  • Learning opportunities. Many associations will have a Learning Management System (LMS) along with their AMS to provide educational opportunities for members. These can range from an online class to in-person courses, and grant you official accreditations to further your career. For your own convenience, let members browse through your LMS and pick and choose which ones would most benefit them.
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These self-service capabilities will help attract more individuals and encourage members to engage more in their association’s online community. Empower your members and pave the way for a more cohesive member community.

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Personalize online member experience.

Encourage your members to connect with each other in your online hub by personalizing their experience as soon as they log in. With your membership management tools, your association’s team can learn enough about your members to anticipate their needs, and ensure that their online community experience is smooth and seamless.

Each of your members is unique, and their experience in your member portal should reflect that. How can your association take advantage of AMS features to personalize your members’ experiences?

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  • Public and private microsites. As discussed earlier, microsites can help organize and segment various association segments. Use your AMS to choose whether those sites are public or private. That way, microsites for selective association committees can be hidden unless you are in that particular committee.
  • SSO authentication. Single Sign-On (SSO) authentication allows users to log in once and access multiple accounts and applications, even for other domains. When your AMS offers a member portal, courses through its LMS, event registration, a searchable directory and more, SSO authentication can be a convenient solution to look into
  • Mobile accessibility. Your members may not always have access to a desktop or laptop computer. Allow them to access the member portal and more with their mobile phones. A platform that isn’t mobile-friendly or won’t load properly could turn members off and prevent them from feeling connected to the online community.
  • Language and currency. Associations are made up of a wide variety of people, especially if you have a larger association that spans different countries. Make sure the online experience appropriately reflects their preferred language and currency.
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With these features, you’ll provide your members with a curated and seamless online experience. The right AMS solution makes it easy to offer this and more.

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Centralize member data.

In order to ensure that your association’s member community achieves continuous growth, it’s important to compile and review your member data. The right data practices will give your staff valuable insights, as well as support all of your community-building strategies. With your database centralized in one convenient location, you’ll maintain more accurate data across all of your association processes—from events to your online member portal.With the right AMS system, you can easily integrate to your constituent relationship management (CRM) system. This ensures that member data from your events, your member portal, your LMS, and more, are all maintained in one database. 

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An integration can be a long and costly process, so it’s wise to explore AMS systems that are 100% native to your CRM and made to work with it. For example, Salesforce is a well-known CRM system with specific AMS platforms native to it, as well as other platforms that can integrate with it. If you want to expand your Salesforce toolkit, learn more here.

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With your association tools and event management software working with your CRM, you can also create data reports for your team to review which processes are going well and which processes can be improved. This ensures that your association’s community can only get stronger and more cohesive, so don’t forgo this step.

Your association’s members should be your top priority, so consider these best practices when building your community. Take advantage of both the offline and online space, and good luck!


Jake Fabbri is the Vice President of Marketing at Fonteva with over 18 years of experience working in marketing management. He has experience with lead generation, content marketing, marketing automation, and events.

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