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How Thinking Like LEGO Helps Boost Your Member Engagement

Jumble of Lego piecesLast night I was making my rounds around the house before bed, turning off lights and checking locked doors, and then out of nowhere—ZING! I stepped on a LEGO brick. Why do those darned things hurt so much? Like many parents of elementary school-aged kids, I have a hate/love relationship with the expensive, colored plastic bricks. But the evolution of the LEGO brand is fascinating to consider—and it could help your nonprofit keep members coming back year after year.

Think back to your childhood. Did you build with LEGO bricks? As a kid, I could build whatever I wanted (as long as it had 90-degree angles). LEGO was a good-quality product, and back then, producing a good-quality product was enough to be reasonably successful.

Now, LEGO is so much more than colored plastic pieces. Consumers can buy kits, watch one of the movies or TV shows, play the video games, or spend the day at a regional LEGOLAND Discovery Center. There are LEGO characters with personalities, backgrounds, and seemingly real lives.

Decades ago, LEGO just produced quality products. Now, LEGO provides quality products and amazing experiences. Focusing on making bricks is easier, so why do they go through all the trouble and expense of creating experiences? 

They do this because experiences are engaging, and customer engagement is good for business. Engaged customers not only play with the products, they also ask their parents to see the movies, write letters to Santa with the desired kit’s brand name, and tell their friends about the awesome kit they just got.

LEGO is not alone. If you look at your favorite consumer brands, you will most likely see an evolution toward providing not just products but experiences as well. The brands that are adding experiences to their repertoire are smart because they’re building engagement, and engagement keeps customers coming back and encourages them to bring their friends.

The evolution of experience we’re seeing in the for-profit world is also happening in the nonprofit world too. For years, it was enough for nonprofit organizations to offer good-quality benefits. Back then, members didn’t have so many organizations and messages competing for their time and attention, and they readily engaged with our nonprofits. But things have changed. Recently it has become harder to attract members, engage them in our products, and retain them.

The organizations that are engaging members now deliver both great benefits and experiences. When I talk to members, they more readily recall great experiences than they do great value.

So, what does it mean to offer great experiences in the context of not-for-profit organizations? Does it mean we have to film movies and open an amusement park? You will be relieved to hear this is not the case: there are ways to build great experiences into every member benefit, and do this in a small-organization budget-friendly way. 

Here are three ideas to get you started.

1. Smile

Whenever you get the chance, look a member in the eye and give them a big smile. Engaged members often say they noticed how friendly staff and other members were the year they joined. Be sure to smile at attendees during event registration, and, if there’s time, make small talk. Or you could try scheduling virtual meetings with new members on platforms like Zoom to welcome them face-to-face.

2. Prepare your newest members

New members are often unsure what the norms are of the membership group. They’ll probably be wondering what the culture is like, whether people are nice, and if they’ll fit in. If you help them with this transition, that’s something they’ll really remember.

If you have an online community, you can prepare members by not only letting them know the rules but also giving them examples of the kinds of conversations that generate the most active threads. On the other hand, you could also share if there any conversation starters that your members don’t like or don’t respond well to. 

Do you have an event coming up? Make sure new members and attendees get the scoop on what to expect, what to wear, and how to get the most out of their trip.

3. Encourage connections

During one interview, a member said, “I knew this was a great association when a board member went out of her way to introduce herself to little old me [at the annual conference].” New members often find it difficult to make connections in the first year of their membership, so they love associations that make the extra effort to help them.

You could encourage volunteer leaders to reach out to new members, or help long-time, more experienced members connect with new members. You can also find ways to connect members working on similar projects or who have similar niche interests. 

Learn more

There are tons of ways to build inexpensive but impactful experiences into your association’s offerings. I’ll be covering this and much more in a free webinar I’m hosting with Wild Apricot on Monday, June 24, 2019, at 2 p.m. ET/ 11 a.m. PT. Sign up now to learn the new world approach to building member engagement through experiences.

Amanda KaiserAmanda Kaiser is a member engagement specialist for the professional and trade association industry. She has conducted more than 385 in-depth member interviews and counting. Through these conversations, she has come to understand members’ goals, challenges, and worries. She translates these insights into strategies that improve member engagement. Amanda writes a weekly blog about member engagement at

Topics: Membership Associations Membership Organizations