According to social psychologist Abraham Maslow, everyone has the need to belong, to be connected to others, and to feel accepted.
In my consulting practice, I’ve seen that no matter how long people are at work, they want to feel valued and part of a community. When people feel that sense of belonging, they are more likely to be engaged, share their ideas and support the work of others.
Peggy Smith, director of marketing, membership solutions and community brands at YourMembership says, “Most people decide if they’re going to participate in your association long-term within the first months, days and even minutes of joining. The first interactions with your organization make a lasting impression on a new member.”
That’s why it’s essential that association leaders not only personally learn and practice inclusive leadership skills but integrate them into every system and process of the organization. From the time someone becomes a new member they need to feel welcome and valued.
As association leaders, you know that your members are busy and have choices about where they want to spend their time, money and resources.
I was recently hired to speak at an association’s yearly conference on attracting and retaining new members. Here are five of the inclusive leadership practices I shared.
Whether in person or remote, implementing these will help ensure maximum member participation and retention.
1. Create an ambassador team of long-term members and association employees who will contact new members to welcome them. It’s harder to engage and volunteer when you are new and don’t know anyone.
2. Educate volunteers or staff to look for people standing alone at meetings. Develop a strategy to engage in conversation and then introduce that person to other members.
Years ago, when I first started my business, I went to an association meeting in San Francisco. I know no one and was uncomfortable approaching others. I stood there for a while feeling awkward. When no one approached me, I left and went home.
The following week, I went to a meeting of another association for professional speakers. Several people came up to me and later called me to officially welcome me. Soon, I was an active volunteer.
3. Plan a time at meetings for structured networking. It can be asking other attendees specific questions, or a contest where they have to talk to each other. Have volunteers around the room pair people up so no one is alone. Some newer people need that additional nudge to interact.
4. Use an online learning management system where people can learn new skills and interact with other people, leave comments about the topic, and involve themselves in an online community.
5. Create an online forum for discussions in relevant areas where people can introduce themselves, learn from each other and share ideas for the association.
You can even develop a “Quora” type of platform where people can ask questions or share challenges and solutions. You can use gamification and have members vote on the best answers to questions and give out small prizes.
There are many more ways to incorporate inclusive leadership practices. Most important is that inclusion doesn’t just happen on its own. People join your association for different reasons. They bring different strengths and want support in different areas.
Your ability to build an inclusive environment whether remote, virtual or in-person will impact their individual success, the degree to which they participate and the ability of your association to not only sustain itself but to be seen as the “must-join” association.