3 Keys to Building a Sense of Belonging.

Associations are really in the teambuilding business!

Most of my research over the years has been in the area of effective teams. In the past three years I have worked with several associations and have concluded that the elements of success for building highly effective teams are the same for highly effective associations. In order to have a high performing team or association, a strong sense of belonging must exist.

Like teams, associations must focus on this sense of belonging to enhance overall effectiveness and in the case of associations, membership value. Three key elements need to exist in order to facilitate a greater sense of belonging:

Include and exclude

Set boundaries that make membership exclusive to the extent possible and necessary. When the fans enter the “Big House”on Saturday afternoon to watch Michigan play football, there are generally 105,000 that are fans “members” of the Michigan group and 4,000 fans of the other teams. It is easy to see who is in and who is out.

A common language is also very important. Use acronyms, logos, certificates, levels of membership and encourage exclusivity.

A sense of belonging is enhanced through clarity of who is included and who is not.

Safety in numbers-

Humans naturally like to be, or feel a part of something bigger. Neighborhoods, churches, alumni groups, clubs and associations are few examples of organizations people can join and feel comfortable. But comfort commonly doesn’t last. Membership isn’t enough!

Just as in teams, associations and their members must share common goals.

Most people join associations to increase their “bottom line.” Individuals define that “bottom line” in many different ways and the more successful an association is at understanding their member’s “bottom line”, the more value they can deliver. However, if an association maintains a laser-like focus on increasing membership and revenue, it will become apparent to their members and the sense of belonging will be diminished.

Being part of a higher purpose engenders a powerful sense of belonging.

Input/ Output Ratio-

This element is most often misunderstood. People don’t just want more!

Research has shown that people are more satisfied when they feel their results are equal to or greater than their expense. In other words, the more they are involved…the more they get in return. Associations will create a much greater sense of belonging by increasing the input to output ratio. All too frequently, associations center activities around “serving” benefits to their membership while underutilizing their member’s willingness to be more engaged.

Now this is where you are thinking; “This guy is crazy!”

Look, simply asking members to volunteer to perform a task is not what we are talking about here. Doing things does not equal engagement.

In an effort to attain the highest sense of belonging, make sure your members believe they will get more if they give more.

This past Saturday in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the Michigan football program produced a very high sense of belonging. Just ask the other 104,999 Wolverine fans that were there.

Highly effective teams and associations maintain a high sense of belonging because they set boundaries, share common goals and are engaging.