Strategic & Creative Membership Recruitment & Retention
An association never has too many members. Similarly, an association never
has enough exhibitors or sponsors. Yet some associations are losing
members faster than they are gaining new ones. One comment I often hear
is, "We have just about everybody." Hogwarts! When Coca Cola thought they
had the market share of every cola drinker they invented Diet Coke, Cherry
Coke, caffeine free products, Sprite, Minute Maid, Mr. Pibb, Barq's, and
So how does an association recruit new members? Unlike the technical
industry, an association is not going to raid its competitors, curtail its
growth and development, or pay signing bonuses. No matter how good an
association's recruitment and retention efforts are, they could always be
better. The secret is to recruit strategically and creatively while
applying some of the unique recruitment techniques of successful technical
Let me share a personal case study. Recently I received a recruitment
mailing from ASTD, the new name of the American Association of Training
and Development. Three things within the mailing jumped out at me:
- Its color was boring earth tones from the 1970s.
- Its copy screamed, "Trash me!"
- Its offer of an $11 (the cost of a first run movie and maybe a box of
popcorn) discount off of first year dues - a whopping 7 1/2% - made me
respond, "Big deal!"
Let me attempt to revise that mailing:
- Color - go bright. Today's hot attention-getting colors are magenta,
mauve, and teal.
- Copy - find the most exciting, creative, dynamic, charismatic people
on staff - maybe the ones with the body piercing or tattoo - and give them
first crack at writing the first draft of the copy.
- Offer - give a lot to get a lot. It usually takes between two and
three years for a new member to feel comfortable, experience, and perceive
an association's value. Offer 50% off of the first year's dues on a three
year membership plan locking that new member in for a three year period.
This is what magazines like Time and Newsweek do.
To recruit new members and retain existing ones, an association has to
think Relationship Marketing. Often times an association places the
emphasis on recruiting new members while neglecting the retention of
existing ones. Likewise the reverse may occur, emphasis on retention while
overlooking a new generation of membership.
Has Your Association...
...Developed a recruitment and retention plan? Recruitment and retention
of members requires a formal marketing plan, another hat today's
aggressive and successful association executive must wear. Yet most
associations, despite a marketing director on staff, lack an overall
marketing plan in writing let alone one specifically for
recruitment and retention.
...Conducted a recruitment audit? An association has to analyze what it
has been doing up to now to use its three top strengths to overcome its
six weaknesses, ones of which it isn't even aware. The recruitment or
marketing audit researches the marketplace to determine what competitors
as well as noncompetitors are doing to recruit members.
...Considered the motivation factor? There is a psychology to membership
recruitment. An association needs to identify how to better market its
benefits to get a potential member to take immediate action and join. It
also needs to apply psychologically-proven methods and techniques to
strengthen the interaction between the association itself and its
membership. Further, an association needs to identify "hot buttons," those
things that turn-off and turn-on potential and existing members.
...Developed a variety of marketing strategies? An association's total
staff needs to develop that strategic recruitment plan to better position
itself among its potential membership.
...Created recruitment advertising? An association needs to spend its
recruitment dollars more effectively. A winning ad based on the
"Fear-Problem-Solution-Offer" model attracts members.
...Maximized it use of mailings, e-mail, and the internet? Each can
attract new members yet has its own unique benefits. An association's
website plays a critical role in an association's recruitment efforts.
Your website is open and working for you 24/7. Are you maximizing its
power and potential?
...Applied recruitment to all of your brochures and public
relations materials? Most of your printed materials aren't read. Do you
know why? Ask your staff and a select group of your members. A small
increase in readership exponentially increases membership.
...Trained its staff how to recruit at trade shows and conferences? You
probably haven't trained your staff how to "work" or recruit at a trade
show or educational conference. Simply standing at a booth or table and
handing out materials and application forms doesn't cut it. Notice that
credit card and cell phone companies, even back and foot massagers have a
presence at trade shows, signing up people on the spot. You can train your
staff to do so as well coming home with newly signed members, not just
...Developed and implemented an internal recruitment program? Your
existing staff and membership can be your best recruiter. Have you ever
trained them? Probably not. If your association has a staff of 50 and a
membership of 15,000, you have 15,050 recruiters whose "people power" can
be tapped. Add in educational institutions and allied professional
So, how'd you do? To recruit new members and retain existing ones, you
have your work cut out for you. The choice is yours: become action and
recruitment oriented now or whine later.