Those who work in membership engagement put a lot of stakes in defining what “engagement” is. It’s funny, because there aren’t many agreed upon definitions. It’s something we can’t necessarily see or hear, and it’s difficult to measure. The quality of any given “connection” - especially in a membership organisation or related group - is mostly felt.
This is where we might draw upon the scholarship of psychology or social sciences, which is not always encouraged in the world of economics. Those who experience genuine connections, who remain part of teams, clubs and unions, almost always report feeling a significant raise to their quality of life, and feelings of belonging, often being less likely to experience loneliness or depression.
One study by the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research shows that “While past research has looked at the importance of social connections for preventing and treating depression, it has tended to emphasize interpersonal relationships rather than the importance of a sense of group identity.”
Within other kinds of teams, there are observable improvements too. Those membership organisations with stronger engagement - that is, more reliable contribution and participation by a large group of people - often report stronger financial returns as well.
It’s clear that sustained, long-term commitment to a group interest is what defines “engagement” - though asking what keeps people coming back is another question.