Member Recruitment Strategies For Associations

Membership turnover is inevitable, especially as Boomers retire. You can never stop recruiting, which means you’re constantly trying to attract membership prospects and nurture them along your recruitment pipeline.

 But today’s members don’t always join for the same reasons Boomers did back in the day. While their logical mind compels them to seek and verify value, their emotional mind just wants a place to belong.

Membership prospects can find information and education from many sources elsewhere. They know your association lobbies for them whether they’re a member or not. They’re looking for something different: value and experiences they can’t easily find elsewhere. Your membership recruitment efforts must convince them they’ll find what they’re looking for—and maybe even what they didn’t expect—at your association.

Member recruitment strategies

Keep this marketing principle in mind when developing member recruitment strategies: to persuade a potential member to join, you must appeal to both their emotional and logical minds.


Refine your value proposition based on member feedback.

If it’s been more than a year since you’ve reviewed your association’s value proposition, it’s time to reevaluate it. You need to understand why people are joining now and what they’re finding valuable. You definitely want to talk to members who joined recently because they can provide clues about current market conditions.

Know which of your benefits are attracting the different segments of your membership. The value proposition changes for existing members over their career. For example, early-career members are more interested in career resources and professional development, while late-career members are more interested in advocacy and information.

To find out what members find valuable, ask them frequently via survey and pulse polls. Gather intel through behavioral data too. What are they searching for, reading, opening, clicking, downloading, and talking about? When you have all the data you need at your disposal, you can recruit new members based on what you know your current members find valuable. The definition of value keeps changing as a member’s needs change and as the economy, technology, and workplace around them change.


See the membership journey through the prospect’s eyes.

It’s nearly impossible for staff to see the joining decision through a prospective member’s eyes. You know too much. But you can get close. A new member journey mapping exercise provides you with illuminating insight about the joining experience—from learning about membership on your website to completing the application and receiving the first welcome email.

Besides the mapping exercise, ask current members who recently joined about their decision process. Whom did they talk to about it? What caught their attention when reading about membership on your website? What made sense and what didn’t? What influenced their decision? What closed the deal and what caused hesitation?

Find out what they thought of your membership application and payment process. Note the differences in perspectives among different membership segments.


Treat prospects like they’re already one of your own.

As prospects get to know your association, you want them to see it as a community of people like them, not as a faceless organization. Treat prospects less like prospects and more like someone on a trial membership.Take the risk and anxiety out of the joining decision by giving prospects a taste of what it would be like to be an association member. Send them weekly or biweekly newsletters segmented by defining characteristics, such as career stage, size of business, or industry professional vs. partner. Include information they can’t easily access elsewhere. Promote relevant programs and dive into membership benefits.

At in-person events, assign each nonmember a volunteer “buddy” who shows them the ropes and introduces them around. Give nonmembers a distinctive badge so others can spot them easily. After the event, add them to an automated email campaign that solicits their feedback and suggests related content or programs.

Become indispensable to membership prospects by bringing them news, opinions, education, and insights. Help them stay informed, discover opportunities, and find solutions to problems—the same as you do for members, just not as all out. Leave something in reserve. Give them the what, not the how, otherwise there’s no incentive to join. Make sure they know what they miss out on as a nonmember.


Ask and reward members for referrals.

When deciding whether to join an association, people listen to the recommendations of friends and acquaintances. One study found that 91% of B2B buyers are influenced by word-of-mouth when making a purchasing decision.

Many associations have long-standing successful year-round referral or member-get-a-member programs—the third most effective recruitment event type, per Marketing General Inc.’s (MGI) Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report. Personally ask active members who get value from their membership to talk with colleagues, associates, clients, and connections about joining the association.

Prepare them for the recruiter role. Encourage them to reflect on membership’s impact on them and other members they know. Go over common objections to joining and offer advice for lessening a prospect’s anxiety about joining.

Occasionally schedule competitions to fire up your troop of recruiters. Reward their success in membership growth with credits they can apply to purchases and registrations. Celebrate them at an exclusive event at your annual conference.

Some members aren’t comfortable serving as recruiters. That’s okay. Set up a system for referring prospective members, allowing the member to remain anonymous, if they wish.


Focus on membership retention.

You don’t always know why members don’t renew unless they respond to an exit survey or call. In the MGI survey, association executives believed members didn’t review for these reasons:

  •         Lack of engagement (52%)
  •         Forgot to renew (34%)
  •         Lack of value (34%)
  •         Left the field, industry, or profession (33%)
  •         Employer doesn’t pay dues (25%)

You can find non-renewal clues in a member’s record, for example, their engagement history and demographics (career stage, size of business).

Try to earn back the attention and trust of lapsed members with a re-engagement campaign. The road back might take a while. Segment your lapsed member list so you only send them relevant information. Your first goal is connection: ideally, they open your email, click on links, and see the value you provide.

Look at your AMS for their engagement history. Highlight relevant benefits they’ve lost access to or didn’t exist when they were a member. For example, remind them about the 12,000 potential clients in the Northern VA area who won’t see their profile in your consumer directory.

Only start promoting membership after establishing a connection with the prospect. If they’re not opening or interacting with your emails, try a phone call or mail first. Keep in mind, some may never rejoin. But keep them in your community as a prospective member.


Use AMS data to craft emails that build relationships with prospects.

Your goal is to build credibility and trust with prospects. Prove you will never waste their time. When they open and read your emails, it will be obvious that you get them.

Emails are the most effective recruitment channel for associations, per the MGI report. But first you must learn about your prospects so you interact with them in a knowing way. Use a variety of methods to collect data about their interests, career stage, type of business, position, etc. For example, track their email clicks and tag their interests in your AMS, or send pulse polls on hot topics and throw in a demographic question too.

The more you know about a prospect, the more relevant your emails and other outreach will be. Develop email nurture campaigns for different segments of your prospect list. For example, give early-career professionals content related to navigating their career (value) but also describe your virtual meetups, mentoring program, and digital badges for young professionals (membership benefits).

You’re not just selling membership. Your campaign will be more effective if you focus on providing valuable information they can use on the job or to get ahead in their career. Gain their trust, keep them opening emails, and eventually they’ll see the value in joining. A great member recruitment strategy is the foundation of excellent member retention

Learn how Impexium can help you and your colleagues eliminate guesswork about prospects and help you deliver personalized experiences that drive membership conversions.


Better understand prospects by creating member personas

Member personas are descriptions of the various groups within your target market. Because of their different characteristics, these personas seek different things from membership. For example, a core (professional) member might join for education or advocacy, while a supplier member seeks business development opportunities. Students and early-career professionals have different needs than mid-career and C-suite professionals. Personas can also be based on professional specialties or the size and structure of a member’s business.

Going through the exercise of developing personas deepens your understanding of prospective members. You learn to rely upon the analysis of demographic and behavioral data, instead of assumptions, to drive your digital marketing efforts. Because you only send relevant information to prospects, your emails help nurture a relationship with them and pull them closer to the association and, hopefully, a positive membership decision.

Ask a small group of member volunteers representing different member segments to help you develop a limited number of personas. Keep it simple by sticking to details related to the persona’s professional life and desired membership experience, for example:

  • Job, career, and/or business needs and challenges
  • Interests
  • Goals and aspirations
  • The role of the association—how you will solve problems, satisfy interests, and help them achieve their goals

Don’t get too into the weeds. Stay focused on the purpose of this exercise: helping you understand different prospect types so you market membership effectively to them.


Create a home base for prospects on your website

When prospects click on email links, send them to landing pages on your website created specifically for them. These pages deliver what the email promised: information or resources relevant to the interests and needs of their persona. Always promote a ‘next step’ you want them to take to connect deeper with your association. Don’t hard sell them on membership too soon. Let them explore and first see how you can make a difference in their life, starting right now.

Website copy—in fact, all marketing copy—must always focus on the benefits and impact of membership, not the features. For example, don’t list “networking in our online community” as a membership benefit. It’s not; it’s a feature of membership. Instead, describe how that feature plays out in their life. How will meeting and developing relationships with peers, mentor types, or prospective leads enhance their life, career, or business?

Sprinkle member testimonials throughout the website pages visited by prospects. Make sure these testimonials represent different demographics, personas, and segments, for example, young professionals, vendors, small business owners/employees, and CEOs.


Take full advantage of relationship-building at conferences

Prospects who attend conferences and meetings are warm leads who have already invested in your community, which is why conferences are the second most effective recruitment marketing channel, per the MGI report.

Some associations offer a new member registration package that includes a discount on the registration fee and membership dues. Increase the chances of their renewal by adding them to a specially designed new member onboarding campaign so they immediately see how to take advantage of their new membership.

Use what you learn from AMS data to enhance the conference experience for attendees. For example, host an exclusive networking event or set up a designated lounge if you have a large group of first-timers, students, or international travelers attending.

Your association membership team—staff and volunteers—should have a noticeable presence in a membership hub or lounge in a prime location. Make it obvious to anyone who wanders by that this area is all about the association community. Attract attention by offering a distinctive activity or service available to all.

  • Invite attendees to sign up for a 10- to 15-minute session with coaches who explain how membership or association resources can help them in their job, career, or business.
  • Host a series of talks on hot industry or career topics.
  • Encourage hanging out with tempting amenities, like a variety of furnishings for comfortable conversations while sitting or standing, refreshments, snacks, and photo booths.

After the conference, add non-member attendees to a follow-up email recruitment sequence with a special campaign for first-time attendees.

Learn how Impexium can help you and your colleagues eliminate guesswork about prospects and help you deliver personalized experiences that drive membership conversions.

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