They tell stories like:
I remember the first opening session I ever attended. There was a panel taking about an issue near and dear to my heart. Suddenly I realized I wasn’t alone, I was surrounded by 500 professionals just like me.
Walking into the first conference, I felt nervous jitters. Who was I to be there? I just started my own business and had not succeeded in the way many of the other attendees had. I was waiting in line at registration and the author of the book I just read struck up a conversation with me. She immediately made me feel more confident. After that, I didn’t have any trouble introducing myself to other attendees. I later learned she was on the board. It felt so great that a rock star in the industry took the time to talk to me.
The community is great. Whenever I ask a question in the listserve I get ideas that work. I love seeing all my friend’s names and soon-to-be friends in the replies. This is unlike any other community that I am a part of; I feel very connected to my colleagues here.
Unengaged members don’t tell stories like this. In conversation, you will hear them hedge. They often say things like, “my manager recommended I join, that’s why I’m here,” or “I’m sure there’s a lot of value to be found,” or “I haven’t had the time yet to learn much about the association.” Unengaged members may even site a benefit they have not used or don’t often use, like “I know they do a monthly webinar,” or “I joined to receive the journal.”
If you want to measure engagement beyond the data in your systems, ask your members to tell stories.