Building Back Better

“Should Influence or Engagement be the Priority?”

Debbie Atkins asks the question…


As the country takes early steps out of lockdown, leaders are being called upon to lean in to reset and rebuild the economy in an unprecedented way that embraces change and creates a brighter better future for us all.  In doing so the place of strong and effective membership organisations could not be more central – utilising the collective voice of members to influence change through effective and well-functioning partnerships – addressing key issues within the social, economic, environmental, technological and business landscape.   

Well-functioning partnerships

Having a seat at the table of a well-functioning partnership affords the chance to take on and influence the big challenges which matter most to members and to act in the public interest: collaboratively delivering bold, visionary outcomes which lead the way - levelling up and leaving no one behind.  

For membership organisations to be able to influence in this way, this results from effective strategic engagement embedded in the culture and day-to-day behaviours of the organisation.  

This engagement manifests itself with members having a platform to share their views; progressed by members (and others) feeling empowered to develop the thinking by investing their time and talents as well-supported volunteers; leading to collaboration (externally) to share these findings and collectively influencing outputs as part of a well-functioning and effective partnership, which makes a difference.

Building engagement and effective and well-functioning partnerships are not just about collaboratively influencing external change, they are also about deepening the connections internally.  

Spring-clean your relationship with third parties

As we lean in to reset and rebuild the economy this is also an opportunity to reset and rebuild relationships with members and other stakeholders: including reviewing engagement with employers of members; and with those you partner with to deliver services to third parties.  

Many membership organisations will provide services to members and to others via arrangements / partnerships with someone else.  Is this relationship functioning to its optimum for both parties and strategically adding value?  Are they aware of all you could offer them?  When did you last step back and carry out a review?  Taking time out to better understand the experience for all involved can reap rewards.  Enhancing the relationship to provide a mutually beneficial well-functioning partnership which delivers a highly regarded experience, leading to a better service and an increased market share.  In the busy working environment, it is easy to only focus on process.   Many membership organisations develop more and more services over the years, layering up, without stepping back to examine how much of this is being lost in the noise and multiplicity of this range of non-integrated offerings.  Resulting in a lack of awareness and consequently missed opportunities for members, and for cross-selling.  Support your teams to lean in and embrace the chance to reset the engagement with members and other stakeholders and, through facilitation, to have a spring-clean.  

Much is known and has been written about the ingredients which make a well-functioning partnership.  Much has also been written about delivering a great “customer” or rather “member experience”.   What percentage of your members are truly engaged, and what creative and different methods of communication have you used to reach out to them?  

“…communicate with passion and passion persuades.”   

To build back better, use this opportunity to re-engage your existing membership base in bold, new, and creative ways.  Articulate why an individual should stay in (or join) your organisation.  How easily can they build connections?  How can they get involved?  Test how simple is it is for a member to see and access the resources you wish them to engage with. Being able to create compelling communications demonstrating common ground and the value of getting involved will always build engagement.  To quote Anita Roddick “…communicate with passion and passion persuades.”

This is a chance to re-engage with your membership base, to shape and build dynamic networks of members, promoting an inclusive and diverse platform for members to join the conversation and benefit from the value to them, while creating positive partnerships with stakeholders.   

The power of diversity 

The best boards are diverse boards and that also applies to organisations.  Embrace diversity of thought within your organisation and encourage a culture of constructive and supportive challenge.   Make space to hear and welcome the dissenting voices and differing views and experiences.   Build on strengths and differences, focusing on establishing an inclusive future while respecting the past.

Build back better through shared experience

As lockdown eases this is also a time to reflect on the changes we have pivoted to embrace – such as virtual meetings.  Cairnwood Consulting is collaborating on a project to identify what we can learn from our shared experiences of these meetings:  what should we retain and how can we best create a blended, inclusive approach, going forward.  To be part of this research please get in touch.

Securing the future

External influence and internal engagement are important in equal measure, but engagement is the foundation upon which influence can flourish.  Engagement must surely then be the priority: members are the essential ingredient for membership organisations to continue to function, and function well.  Without members (and volunteers) there will be no influencing.  At a time when finances are tight for all organisations (and many individuals) it is vital to lean in and revitalise engagement allowing you to retain, and ultimately grow, your membership base and market share.  Embrace this opportunity and be part of creating a brighter better future, taking on the big challenges which matter most.   

Please contact Debbie Atkins if you would like to discuss any of the above.

Debbie Atkins

Founder, Cairnwood Consulting - Building Engagement & delivering Transformational Change

Debbie is an experienced Business Development and Engagement influencer with over 30 years’ experience within the public, private and third sectors, including various Board appointments.  She has a reputation for helping organisations to achieve excellence while delivering their vision and goals.