There’s no silver bullet for accelerating your associations membership development efforts. Rather, a range of efforts varying in purpose, timing, format, and style will combine to raise your membership performance. Here are 12 ideas to add to your repertoire.

If you were looking to find some good tips on membership recruitment, engagement, and retention, where would you go? Would you email a colleague? Call a friend? Look through the ASAE Collaborate discussion groups? Or would you just Google “membership tips?”

Lauren Hefner and I tried the Google route recently and were amazed at just how much information is out there. We sorted through the overwhelming list of resources for our Learning Lab at the 2015 ASAE Marketing, Membership & Communications Conference titled, “The Ultimate MarComm Cheat Sheet” [PDF], and here are 12 of the top tips we found.


1. Prospect in your own backyard. Organizations often focus their prospecting efforts on external activities such as tradeshows and list rental. But the easiest way to recruit is through your own events, publications, and member referrals; people who already engage with you are already buying into your organization even if they haven’t yet converted.

2. Frequently review the path to join. Regardless of how great your recruitment messages are, if prospects can’t figure out how to navigate your website or understand your dues calculator, they’re likely to give up out of frustration.

3. They want to know, “why join now?” Answer them. Tests show that one of the best offers continues to be a time-limited introductory dues discount. Ideally, this discount will bring the dues down to a psychological price point ending in a “7” or “9” (for example, a discount from $150 to $139). Also focus on benefits such as events and resources they’ll miss out on if they don’t join now. Make it worthwhile for them to join today, and keep discounts in your back pocket.

4. Create an association in a box. Send your ambassadors, staff, member volunteers, and those attending tradeshows a packet of applications, FAQs about the organization, and generic “info” business cards. This makes everyone a membership expert and helps them get members instead of just sending names and numbers to headquarters.


5. Create volunteer opportunities for members at all stages. Create and publicize volunteer opportunities for members at all stages of their careers. Most organizations have the same opportunities year-over-year, which draws in the same members. Create publicized volunteer opportunities for ad-hoc and virtual task forces and consider audiences such as young professionals, senior executives, and specialty-specific opportunities.

6. Understand why members join and welcome them properly. This might seem like a recruitment tactic, but retention begins the day the member joins. The best way to keep members after the initial year is to make certain that they feel that, in addition to the programs of the organization, there is a place for them to participate and provide input. Send a welcome letter to each member, or better yet have your membership committee do outreach to tell them you’re happy they joined or came back to the organization. Ask them what they’re looking to gain from their membership, and tell them how they can get started right away.

7. Be consistent with your activities. Member engagement is a year round activity. You do not need to literally communicate with your members all year long, but communicating with them consistently—so they get the perception that you are communicating with them all year long—goes a long way toward making them feel part of the association.

8. Determine resources needed. Before you implement an engagement plan, make sure that you have the staff, the money, and the technology to implement your plan. Great ideas are great but if you can’t implement them they will remain ideas and nothing more.


9. Reconsider early renewal discounts. We know, we know. Discounting membership is a no-no. And we don’t disagree that it can reduce the value perception. But targeted early renewal discounts can help you for your budgeting and planning and keep renewal top-of-mind for busy members.

10. Consider conversion. Almost always, first-year members are the least likely to renew. That’s why the first year of membership is called the conversion year. Focus time, effort, and budget on these first-year members. This has a budget implication too: As long as you’re not spending more to renew members than to acquire a new member, you’re doing fine.

11. Examine payment options but think them through. There are a number of ways that members can pay you for their membership. It is good to consider all of them, as your goal is to make it as easy as possible for members to renew their membership. Different payment options will have different impact on your association. Make sure to look at the options from all sides to make sure making things easier for your members does not make them too much more difficult for you.

12. Personalize the message. Members want to feel like you know them and value them. If you do not personalize your message with accurate contact information, applicable benefits, appropriate pricing based on membership category, and so on, you will give members the message that their time is not as important as yours. Make sure to use your technology to personalize their renewals as much as makes sense for your organization.

The internet is packed with resources that can make your job easier if you know where to look, but sorting through them can take valuable implementation time. While some tips are simpler than others, sometimes a refresh of the basics can reenergize your membership teams and be a good refresher for those who aren’t in membership, so that they can be ambassadors of your value proposition. For more, check out the full list of tips shared at our MMCC session [PDF].

This article was co-authored by Lauren Hefner, CAE and was originally published in AssociationNow Plus