How can membership organisations build a successful community?

Membership organisations and community

If you’re a membership professional, you probably need to build and maintain a successful community. As a B2B marketer, I’ve spent the last three decades helping membership organisations, information providers, and training companies grow revenues. In doing so I’ve seen the importance of communities.

The last year has been challenging for communities. Without being able to physically meet, how could they continue purely online? The answer comes back to something fundamental. We all yearn to be connected, gain energy and learn from each other. So whether face-to-face or online, communities have an important role in this human need for connection. Here’s my guide to building and maintaining a successful community.

Membership organisations and community

Create a sense of belonging 

To do this identify the passion point and reason to come together. You can then build a place of shared values, purpose and experiences, and a clear purpose for your community. Whether it’s upholding professional standards, enabling shared learning, or increasing collaboration, providing access to experts through events and content will help fulfill this purpose. The sense of belonging can be elevated to an emotional attachment. Organisations that stand up for the community, often in times of adversity can create this. This emotional attachment can also be created by my next point.

Reward and recognise

People like to be recognised for their service to a community. Communities formed based on attachment to a particular brand are often extraordinarily good at this. I’ve seen this first hand with leading customer relationship management (CRM) provider Salesforce. Users who undertake training get digital badges for each stage they complete. Those most active can become a Salesforce MVP., considered an honour in their community.

Professional bodies do this by bestowing status such as ‘fellow’ for members who have shown extraordinary commitment to their community. Awards charging for entries, sponsorship and table sales are not only incredible money-spinners, but are also very effective for building community spirit. Who doesn’t want to shout about the award they’ve won?

Offer extraordinary value

It’s vital to understand the worth, importance, and usefulness of what you currently provide, and what you could offer in the future. For some communities, it may be vital training that improves performance. For others, it’s helpful resources, networking opportunities, or access to experts. It may be all these things. But some services you provide might be of less value. Only by being close to your members and having regular dialogue with them will you know. That comes to my next point.

Understand what your members need

Keeping in touch with members is essential for any membership body wishing to build a strong community. This can be done both informally and formally. Membership leaders should regularly speak to members, ask what’s on their minds and feed this into the organisation. Both qualitative and quantitative research can be used to understand the needs of your community. So, bring groups of the community together to discuss their needs. Survey them to check your services are relevant and to identify new ones that could be.

Encourage engagement

Advances in online technology have enabled online engagement during the pandemic. Communities need to adapt to use these. Technical platforms are enabling better interaction. For example, Hopin makes it much easier to host large virtual events, Zapnito enables expertise to be showcased, and Guild enables you to host community interactions.

Of course, these need human facilitators to make them work. Having a friendly, knowledgeable host for an event makes it much more appealing, and keeping presentations live at events ensures better engagement. Whatever tools you use, check user journeys - is it easy to join a webinar, sign up for a conference, or become a member? Where are the points of friction and how can you reduce them?

Learn from other communities

If you’re a membership professional, one of the best things you can do is to belong to other communities. I’ve learnt a lot from my children’s clubs, informal networking groups, and professional organisations. For some, the sense of purpose in the community shines through, and often that’s down to great leadership. So, be part of other communities too, you’ll be surprised what you’ll learn! 

Doug Marshall is managing director of Achieve B2B Marketing, a specialist agency dedicated to driving growth in membership organisations, information services, and training companies. You can contact Doug at, follow him on Twitter at @achieveB2B, connect on LinkedIn at and visit his website