To provide meaningful engagement opportunities, associations need to help members master “connectional intelligence.” It’s less about chalking up connections and more about putting them to good use.
Member engagement strategy comes with many questions: When should we connect with a new member? How can we retain a member long-term? And what should we do when a member starts to lose interest?
Erica Dhawan has studied the behaviors of membership-based communities and says those that succeed best with engagement have one thing in common: They understand and leverage “connectional intelligence.”
“It’s a new connected mindset that I think is here to stay,” says Dhawan, a Game Changer at the ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition in Columbus next month. “It’s about thinking differently about how we engage in a relationship or network in new and different ways to unlock value.”
Dhawan is founder and CEO of Cotential, a consulting agency that helps businesses of all kinds, including associations, to accelerate the connectedness of employees, teams, customers, and clients. What she’s found throughout her career, which has included stints on Wall Street and at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is that successful organizations almost always apply a strategic level of thinking about people.
Simply having a big network doesn’t lead to measurable change.
“We all know that building relationships is about making smart connections. Simply having a big network doesn’t lead to measurable change,” she says. “Connectional intelligence is a 21st-century skill to maximize the potential of all of our connections and put them to significant use.”
That’s the focus of her latest book, Get Big Things Done: The Power of Connectional Intelligence. She says tapping the potential of relationships has quickly become a priority for businesses if they want to collaborate well and solve problems in a hyperconnected world.
Associations can use connectional intelligence to unlock member engagement opportunities, Dhawan says. Here are three ways she says it can be put to work:
Spotlight member voices. “It all starts by providing unique opportunities for people to engage in new and different ways,” Dhawan says. For instance, spotlighting members who are demonstrated leaders can help elevate their voices and connect them to new people within an association community, whether it’s a young member new to the organization or a long-standing member with a track record of service.
“To find connectional intelligence champions, or super-connectors, start by taking a look at who’s already doing the work,” she says.
Host a challenge. Member-driven events like hackathons bring people together to co-create something in just a few hours or days. These events tap into creative energy and innovative thinking and can offer an alternative structure to a conference or more traditional meeting.
“These challenges allow people to contribute new ideas and solutions to issues that associations may already be facing. And it connects individuals based on their skills and talent,” Dhawan says.
Create task-based volunteering. When a member joins, she says, there’s a high likelihood the person might be willing to volunteer with a small-scale task. However, associations don’t always provide enough micro-volunteering opportunities to new members.
Tech tools can help meet the demand. Dhawan recently consulted with an association where many new, young members were asking how to get involved. The association created an online portal that looked and felt a lot like TaskRabbit, an online marketplace where gigs are matched to freelancers. It worked well because many young members likely had used it before.
“It was for small things, like planning a monthly event or orienting a new member, and it allowed anyone to raise a hand to volunteer,” Dhawan says. “Just the simplicity of showing people how and where they can contribute really changed the engagement level of members.”
And while new technologies are often seen as great tools for building connectional intelligence, she cautions that human connections still matter most.
“It’s only natural to want to add more technology without thinking about what is the purpose or best use for how we make connections,” she says. “I think the ability to effectively collaborate and connect ideas, people, and resources together will never go away, and it’s a truly human skill. No AI or robot or technology will ever take that over.”