Success Through Member Recruitment

Andrew Cronin Finn, MSc, MBA, CAE, Executive Director, McKenna Management, Inc.

Membership recruitment is the key to building a truly sustainable membership base for your association. That was a key takeaway from one of the many educational sessions at the American Society of Association Executives’ 2020 Annual Meeting, held virtually in August.

Several members of the McKenna Management team participated in the virtual meeting, with the goal of learning new strategies to help our association clients remain successful during this challenging time.

The session titled “Your Membership Marketing Playbook: Game Changers for Driving Membership Growth” was presented by Elisa Joseph Anders, Senior Account Director at Marketing General Incorporated (MGI). The session presented data from MGI’s annual Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, as well as tips for maintaining membership numbers and minimizing slowdowns in membership growth, especially in this challenging economy.

As associations navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and potentially experience membership declines, an important activity to ensure membership sustainability is recruitment. While retention is important, ongoing recruitment is even more vital to an association’s success. That means associations should keep marketing their membership opportunities to new audiences, even during these challenging times.

Anders described three “game changers” for membership growth:

  1. Get Everyone on Board

    An easy way to get all of your association’s stakeholders “onboard” is to link growth to your association. Anders suggests that you should ask yourself – “can your association solve a problem by growing its membership?”

    It’s one thing to have this conversation with your Board of Directors and committees – it’s easier to get them on board. But, how do you get the rest of your members onboard?

    One way is to “get everyone on board” is to demonstrate the economic power of their membership. You should show them the value of their membership to themselves (what they get out of their membership), the value of their membership to the association (how their membership keeps the association alive) and the community at large (how their membership affects the world).

  2. Build a Best Practices Recruitment Program

    Anders described that “membership is a push product; it is sold, not bought.” This means that in order to get members to join your association, you have to ask them, and you have to sell the membership to them. Joining an association may not be a priority for prospective members right now, but if you get out in front of them and let them know that you can help them solve a problem, or that you have a resource that meets their needs, they may consider joining.

    A best practices recruitment program has the following characteristics:

    • The Who and the Why have been identified – who would benefit from membership has been clearly defined and the compelling reason that they should join is spelled out.
    • Using the Right Channels – being in the right place at the right time – repeated exposure through a variety of channels – social media, email, print mail, phone calls, and in-person connections. Anders also discussed a unique new approach to advertising – retargeting. Read more about this emerging marketing technique here.
    • Ongoing Testing – trying different messages and images with different audiences, taking risks, and trying new ideas. Then, seeing what sticks and communicating accordingly.
    • Evaluation – looking at performance data to gain an understanding of which recruitment campaigns worked, enhancing their performance, and making the most of your marketing budget by focusing on what is successful. Don’t spend your time on things that just aren’t working! 

  3. Innovate to Drive Growth   
    The last key for membership growth is innovation, which means looking at new markets and membership possibilities, expanding the reach of your association, and building upon your existing membership base. It can also mean considering new membership models to engage a larger number of people, including organizational memberships, tiered memberships with different benefits, etc. By increasing the number of potential members, you increase the pool of people you can market to, and hopefully the number of members you can serve.  

Read more about innovative ways to grow your membership during a pandemic.

Thank you to Elisa Joseph Anders from MGI for leading this engaging session, and to Marketing General Incorporated for your ongoing research in this space. Access the 2020 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report here.

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