Dr. Elliott B. Jaffa


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Strategic & Creative Membership Recruitment & Retention

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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 Surge.

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 companies.

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:

  1. Its color was boring earth tones from the 1970s.
  2. Its copy screamed, "Trash me!"
  3. 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:

  1. Color - go bright. Today's hot attention-getting colors are magenta, mauve, and teal.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 leads.

...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 organizations.

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.

Dr. Elliott B. Jaffa
(703) 931-0040