Membership Engagement: Getting to the Heart of the Matter

22nd Mar, 2021

Members are the lifeblood of an association. When they’re fully engaged, our associations thrive – creating progress, meaning and impact for all involved. Alas, it can be difficult to build or sustain membership engagement – and when it dips, members leave, morale sinks, finances drop and the association is put into question.

We are investigating the associations' engagement strategies – what is 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?

Patricia Brunner speaks with Jeffer London about telling stories that recognise member’s positive experiences. As the managing director of the International Au Pair Association (IAPA), Brunner brings more than 170 organisations and their members into partnership. With a mission of cultural exchange and service, IAPA has a personal touch that engages young people and families, as well as institutions.

PURPOSE How do members make sense of your raison d’etre?

Patricia Brunner: Our work is inspired by the mission to be the trusted and caring voice for the global Au Pair community. For families and young people, we support them in having an experience that shapes their life. An Au Pair experience often transforms people’s views of the world, and themselves – opening their eyes to what is possible, and giving them the confidence to take on new challenges later in life. Our members see us as an advocate, a partner, a matchmaker and a sign of quality.

PARTICIPATION How do your members get involved?

PB: The experiences of Au Pairs and the families they care for are wonderful, intimate and private; we help to put these stories into the public. Many individuals had to change their plans due to COVID-19, which led us to do our #NeverGiveUpOnYourDreams participatory video starring our member agencies around the world. Creating media like this, through people’s goodwill and volunteerism, embodies the heartfelt message of our membership. This has been the year of webinars and online panels, including our Annual General Meeting which had its widest participation ever thanks to the remote format. The agencies we serve vary in size and needs. While we are always their partners in establishing protocols, each relationship is unique: some countries like the USA have systems in place and we are more of a seal of approval, while for China, Au Pairs are a new phenomenon and there was a lot to establish to ensure safe and satisfying experiences. Whereas Britain has Brexit issues and each country has their corona/travel regulations.

PLATFORM How do your members connect and collaborate?

PB: The International Au Pair Day has been a great connector for our community. We established the idea and an independent website last year, and now our partners use their creativity to show their talents. We provide a media kit, which helps people stay aligned, but when one group makes cupcakes with “Au Pair of the Year” on it, of course that kind of photo gets likes and shares, that we could have never imagined. For the Au Pair of the Year and the agency that places it, the IAPA certificate, prize and publicity is a huge boost. Believe me, the jury has trouble deciding amongst the candidates, who are nominated through personal letters from the host families. These testimonials are our best awareness makers, and better than any marketing campaign could do.

"Let your members tell the story. Their authenticity will go farther than any marketing campaign."

PROGRESS How do your members move things forward?

PB: Naturally, we inform and educate Au Pairs but we also give guidelines and orientation to host families, governmental bodies and other stakeholders. We lobby the Au Pair idea worldwide and support national associations in their work to grow and improve this cultural exchange programme. An example of our advocacy is in our co-signed letters to official bodies. We have templates to follow that highlight our core messages, and adjust it to the local conditions; being signed by both a local insider and global expert gives the message more weight. We also act as a multiplier for individuals and small agencies, reposting their social posts, and giving them a voice in our events.

PROMOTE How do you recognise member’s talents?

PB: As the only global organisation designated to support businesses and people involved in the Au Pair industry, we are the official voice for Au Pairs. However, the voice that people most like to hear is that of the Au Pair. The ‘IAPA Au Pair of the Year Awardees’ are our ambassadors; they do us all a great service by promoting the quality of au pair programmes all over the world. By showcasing heartwarming stories of all Au Pairs, through photos, videos and stories, we inspire more families to consider bringing in an Au Pair, and doing so with the qualities and processes IAPA promotes. Most of us had extraordinary Au Pair experiences ourselves, so we know the characters, challenges and joys involved. All the elements of a great story!

POSTSCRIPT Any other advice for creating engagement?

PB: Make it personal. We are lucky to have a special story to tell, but no matter your sector, look for the people's story. If you are trying to influence others, you need real people to tell the authentic story. Our members have a burning desire for what they do. These are the people you need to find, and let them share their ideals and rich experiences.


Jeffer London is on the board to the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) and hosts the Facilitation Impact Awards. The IAF promotes facilitators and all who use facilitation to help people work together effectively. Looking for better facilitation? Check out or talk to Jeffer directly about facilitating leadership teams and association-wide engagement initiatives – see and @jeffer- london.





Patricia Brunner is the managing director of the International Au Pair Association (IAPA) which is the leading global trade association representing organisations active in all aspects of au pair and cultural exchange programmes. They are dedicated to supporting au pair and cultural exchange opportunities for young people, protecting the rights of all au pairs and host families and establishing internationally approved guidelines for au pair exchange programmes.

Other Articles

About Us

Supported by the Union of International Associations (UIA), the International Association of Professional Congress Organisers (IAPCO) and the Interel Group, the global public affairs and association management consultancy, Headquarters Magazines serve the needs of international associations organising worldwide congresses.