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Membership Engagement: Get to the Heart of Your Story

14 Mar 2022

This interview was first published in Headquarters Magazine in February 2022.

Members are the lifeblood of an association. Fully engaged, they make our associations thrive, have impact and offer a meaningful experience. But having active involvement can be hard – and when it dips, so does membership, morale, finances & results. So, how to boost engagement? We’re investigating engagement strategies – what’s your association doing to ensure members grasp your purpose and are able to participate in your causes? Do you have a platform in place that makes collaboration easy? Are your members making progress together? How do you promote their contribution? Borjana Pervan speaks with Jeffer London about members humanising data. As communications director, at the World Heart Federation (WHF), Borjana empowers the global cardiovascular community to speak with a unified voice. Her team works closely with members to shape a common narrative about how to achieve heart health for everyone.


How do members make sense of your raison d’être?

As the only global umbrella organisation for cardiovascular health, the WHF has the responsibility to unite, inspire and advocate for change at the international and local level, through its members. We exist to serve 200 groups spanning national and regional scientific areas, academia, patient groups and various civil society organisations. If we are to achieve cardiovascular health for everyone on this planet, regardless of who they are and where they live, we need to be trusted and valued by our members. To do this on a global level, we depend
on strategies and activities that are backed by our members and can be applied locally by them.


How do your members get involved?

Our strength stems from the combined results of the work of our members. Without their involvement in our strategy, plans and ways of communications, our success would be short-lived. An example of this, is our “2021 World Heart Day” campaign, “Use Heart to
Connect”, which won a prize for Best Campaign from the International & European Association Awards. Less visible is the process of keeping the members engaged, inspired and empowered to contribute. Virtual and in-person meetings, emails, newsletters, surveys, public and member-only events, all these come together to ensure that members participate. This participation is what lets us share the ownership
of campaigns and events – and most importantly, the involvement keeps us aligned on the strategy and why we are doing it. Campaigns like this get a boost from us in the form of a WH Grant. In giving these grants, we look at their strategy for including people who will benefit from
the activity, how are they monitoring change – and potential for improving people’s knowledge of heart health. The grant supports them financially, so they can do more of what they are already doing.


How do your members connect and collaborate?

Our community is very diverse, and this is where its strength lies. Our power comes from being able to unite the membership and mobilise their support and resources. The flipside of this diversity is that we are often faced with the need to compromise, and our messages could lose some of their initial intensity and clarity. We put our energy into a congress and summit to showcase members’ work, a journal for sharing
knowledge, and our campaign playbook. These platforms allow all our members to have the same resources – whether they have the strength
and finances of successful organisation, or the independence and individuality of a one-person show. Our goal is to nurture the exchange between members and give voice to those with limited resources for awareness raising and advocacy. Our publication – Global Heart – is a good example of how we share and validate members’ research, developments, trends, solutions and public health programmes.


How do your members move things forward?

Being a unified voice for heart disease makes it easier for institutions like the World Health Organization to listen. It would be hard for them to reach out to all our members; we make it easier for our members’ positions to be recognised. This recognition leads to awareness (e.g. the impact of air pollution), changes in policy (e.g. taxation of unhealthy products to underwrite universal healthcare) and regulation (e.g. front-of-pack labelling that informs consumers about products impact on health). Our members have a lot of scientific data. Our role is to bring all their facts together and shape the story that brings the data to life – to make it useful and compelling – for all our members, as well
as the audiences our members want to reach.


How do you recognise a member’s talents?

Besides featuring the articles of members, we offer awards for prominent cardiologists as well as for campaigns. The campaigns are driven by members or teams of members who we match-made, and use the playbook that we created for all to use. The Awardees apply their own creativity to make the campaign take off in their area; and when we see potential in their initiative we provide them with funding for the
following year. Sometimes, we have been deeply involved – for example, we worked with BBC to run sessions on storytelling in my native Bulgaria which heightened the credibility of our members there, and brought about a whole new level of media coverage. Other times,
we are happily surprised by member’s initiatives, like when Indonesian members used one of the five senses for each of their campaigns – making issues accessible through visual arts this year. Brilliant. In all these cases, we had 3 key ingredients: a strategy we built together; a playbook they could pull resources from; and a platform where we could celebrate their results.


Any other advice for creating engagement?

Align messages to strategic goals. Keep it clear and simple. Don’t just think about outputs; elevate your work to strategy. Nurture your community. Help people get in touch with WHY they are doing this work, and HOW to tell the human story about it. The WHAT is often already known, it is fundamental. Don’t hide behind data, transform your information into a compelling and memorable narrative. Put the heart in your story.