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Membership Recruitment & Retention

"Recruiting New Members"
By Bill Norton, Vice President of Marketing

"What value does membership really provide?"
It is critically important to any membership recruitment campaign that you answer this question first before all others. If you are not able to explain or quantify the value of membership you will be unable to develop a successful recruitment campaign. One might argue that if you are unable to answer this question, your organization has bigger problems.

You should begin by evaluating the programs and services you provide, the number of members that use each and the value each program brings to those members. Is your membership value in the educational resources you provide, continuing education and accreditation and tradeshow or conference discounts? Affinity programs that cut costs off a member’s corporate bottom line or their state and local advocacy efforts?  What are programs and services that set your organization apart from others who provide the same or similar programs or services? If you can determine this, it will allow you to create a more compelling message, write strong promotional copy and clearly articulate the value of membership.

Why do members join when they do?
One way to help you answer this question is by asking those who have already joined; your current membership. What was going on in their professional or personal life that enabled them to see the value of membership? If you are able to get enough of your membership to answer this question you will likely see a pattern that allows you to focus your campaign development in a way that addresses a certain position or situation.  

For example, companies entering a new market may seek out membership opportunities when an association that manages the leading tradeshow in said market offers exhibit space discounts to members. They would need to attend industry tradeshows to gain exposure anyway; the additional benefit of qualifying for a discount when exhibiting is a bonus. For individuals interested in advancing their professional careers, they may be looking to join an association or professional society to earn credits toward their industry certification. There are many situations that would warrant a company or individual to consider membership. The key is to identify others who will be facing these situations in the near future as your target audience for prospective membership efforts.

How do you build awareness with key prospects?
The best approach is to have your current members spread the word. Companies or individuals who are not familiar with the association/society and the value it provides will certainly appreciate referrals from someone they know and trust. When you have happy members, who see and experience the value of membership, they will be willing to help you recruit new members. Current members can be your best sales force if you are able to organize and focus their efforts. Promoting your list of current members can also be a good source to establish credibility. Example: If all of my competitors are members, there must be value for me.

Companies around the world are asking the “How do you build awareness with key prospects?” question when they develop their own company marketing campaign. While the question is the same for companies and associations/societies, the approach is slightly different. What you have to ask yourself is this – How do I make my message compelling enough to compete with all of the other direct mail pieces ( e-mails, advertisements, etc.) when the person we are targeting has so many different messages in front of them?  The best message is one that helps an individual or company solve a problem. Knowing what keeps your target audience up at night will allow you to develop a message that includes association programs or services that will “ease their pain”.

From the prospective members perspective.
As you develop your membership recruitment campaign, you must also consider the process you have in place for when they submit their dues check. What are the steps they go through once they become a member? How easy or hard it is for them? What questions or challenges will they have throughout this process? How long does it take before they are experiencing a “Return on their Investment?”

We need to build a process that is easy for prospective members to follow – developing a message that gets their attention which includes an offer that elevates their interest and a value proposition that addresses their needs and the means to easily join and start reaping the benefits. If we take time to think through all stages of the membership process from their point of view, we will be able to apply resources in those areas where our best prospects may lose focus and fall out of our new member process.

Example: Associations that have simplified their membership applications have taken one potential obstacle out of the process. Look at your applications and determine what information is essential at the time new members apply and adjust your application accordingly.

Make as much of the membership process as easy as possible. What you think is a minor change in the process may turn into a significant change to your prospective membership outreach process producing improved results. When possible, test your changes to ensure you are heading in the right direction.