Ever feel like you’re reacting to low membership numbers rather than working through an established, proactive plan to recruit and retain your members? Do you know why you do the things you do as they pertain to reaching out to new members for your association?
Before you stick with the same, tried-and-true (or maybe not-so-true) methods for membership recruitment, keep the following strategies and tactics in mind:
1. Young or old, membership recruitment is a sales process
No matter if you’re concerned with engaging new, younger members or if you’re reaching out to Baby Boomers, you need to understand the purchasing life cycle of your potential members. And although we may not want to think about membership as a “sales” process, when you take away all the fluff, that’s exactly what it is.
But, you need the fluff because without it, you’re just like all the other associations out there.
Here’s what I’m getting at: There are a list of things you should be doing before trying to seal the deal. In fact, before you even start recruiting new members you need to be sure your information and message is getting out loud and clear in order to create a sense of awareness about your organization.
Understanding your members’ purchasing phases and your methods for bringing them in (creating awareness, recruiting, engaging, renewing) is all part of the membership recruitment or membership sales process. Your association’s marketing, branding and recruitment/sales teams should always be working in tandem to create cohesive messaging at every stage of this process.
It may be sales, but it’s not always directly about the dollars. Membership recruitment is about creating long-lasting relationships, engaging your prospects and proving to them why they would benefit from your association.
2. Understand your association’s niche
Even though you may want to be, you can’t be the association for everyone. You need to buckle down and determine, realistically, who your target market is and where you’ll reach new members. Make a list of prospects and a list of competing associations in order to understand your market and determine the general availability of potential new members.
Use your competitors as a way to research what’s missing in your industry and carve out niche services in those areas. Look at your current membership base’s demographics–if you had to categorize them with a broad stroke, what would you say?
Stay away from “we serve everyone” and be specific: “We are the professional association for young entrepreneurs between the ages of 25 and 35 living in downtown Chicago.” Kapeesh?
3. Research members’ needs
What’s the saying? “Ask and you shall receive.”? This is precisely what you need to do as an association. Ask your members and the community at large what they want. What are they missing from other organizations? What are the reasons they choose not to join and what would change their minds?
Gone are the days of push marketing and selling what organizations want their members to have (or think they need). You need to continuously know the answer to “what’s in it for me?” from your members’ point of view. Be able to provide relevant answers to the problems or situations your members/potential members have.
For instance, younger recruits may voice concern about the lack of social media presence or lengthy print information. And as an association, you may be hesitant to make that leap or aren’t fully aware of how you would make those changes happen. Do it anyway.
You need to shake it up when your members tell you to; they’re the driving force and the answers to the services you can ultimately provide.
4. Know your association’s value
When you get to the point of talking to prospective members, do you know what you’ll say? No more touting that networking is your greatest value.
Based on the research you now have in your hands about what members want and what they aren’t getting from similar associations, you can provide! Incentives to join (free month of membership, discounted dues) will not sustain your membership numbers. Sure, they may be nice perks in the beginning, but unless you are prepared to offer them endlessly (and then what kind of perk is that?) you won’t see retention.
Figure out what your value is and communicate that effectively. What will make others talk about you? No one talks about the ordinary; you want to be extraordinary.
5. Test, track and repeat (or revamp)
Metrics are an important part of any membership recruitment strategy. Set up methods for tracking your recruitment processes, stages of engagement and how (and when) members make the decision to commit.
Look at things such as website traffic, social media engagement, click-thru rates on e-newsletters, event attendance from non-members, etc. This information, compared with different times of the year and types of content and communication your association is generating will give you insight into what’s working and what’s not in way of membership recruitment.
And if it’s not working? Change it up! In this age of real-time information and face-paced media, there’s no reason to hold on to a membership recruitment strategy that isn’t proving its worth over a few months.
Getting them is the easy part, keeping them is the challenge
Once you’ve proved your success at recruiting new members, the hard part is retaining them. So as an added bonus, my sixth and final tip: Make it a no-brainer for new members to renew.
Once you’ve found your groove for recruiting new members, make it easy for them to want to renew. And I don’t just mean by online renewal processes.
Your current members are just as important, if not more so, than the prospects. Once you have them hooked and interested, they’ve paid their dues and they want more. Show them that what they signed up for is legit and that you’re true to your word about making your association the best fit for them. Interact with them, engage them at events, ask them to serve on committees and give valued feedback. Show your members how much you appreciate them.
Without them, your association will not survive.