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What the NRA can teach you about member engagement

Peter Murray illustrates the secrets non-profits and other organizations (like the AARP) remain relevant to their members in piece in the Stanford Social Innovation Review

The NRA’s services and programs have made the organization a trusted brand with its members. Building on these relationships, the NRA activates its members for advocacy and civic engagement. Through its local clubs and “Activist Centers” (often hosted by gun shops), the NRA carefully shepherds members into deeper and deeper engagement as volunteers and activists for the organization. This active member base, coupled with heavy political spending, places the NRA among the most powerful lobbying forces in the United States.
...Large-scale membership organizations have all developed a set of benefits and services that are relevant to the daily lives of their members. These benefits and services attract new members, keep old members engaged, and most important, build member relationships that the organization can activate for social and policy change initiatives.

Many organizations try to collect and keep members through issue advocacy, like environmentalism or women's rights. But these groups must think like the NRA -- or Megachurches -- which remain in peoples' lives long after Sunday morning. 

One might think that having millions of members would make it difficult for organizations to sustain deep relationships. It turns out, however, that members of functional organizations often access benefits, services, and information weekly or monthly. In contrast, members of many issue organizations rarely interact with the organization more than two or three times a year.
This significant disparity reflects starkly divergent approaches to member engagement. Issue organizations constantly ask, “How can we get this member more engaged in our issues?” whereas functional organizations constantly ask, “How can we get more engaged in this member’s daily life?”

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