Membership Renewal Does Not Stop After Sending a Dues Renewal

Most non-profits still depend on membership dues as a primary source of income. Yet sending a dues invoice and/or reminder is not the end.

I am not going to go into how an organization should be/have been in contact with its members throughout the year so it knows who is solid when it comes to renewal, who is tentative, and who is not resigning. Nor will I discuss engaging members year round to insure renewals (you can find all that and more in other blog postings).

This is about what you show as the upcoming benefits when renewing. For many an organization, the major benefits are regular meetings, whether weekly, monthly or quarterly. Most associations send out their schedule for the next year in conjunction with their reminder to renew.

So would this be a major reason to rejoin if you got this along with your reminder to renew: “First meeting of the year. Program: How to get the most out of your membership followed by lunch?”

Given the myriad of topics that would appeal and add weight to the argument to rejoin, how high is “getting the most your membership” toward making the sell?

Is this the deciding factor that would make you rejoin? I may be in a minority, but I don’t think that members rate “how to get the most out of their membership” very high on the reasons they renew.

But that is exactly what a statewide education organization made as their value proposition to get me to renew.

Let’s make this a teachable moment. What are some possibilities as to how non-profits can use their meeting schedule to entice renewals? Here are a few ideas:

  •  Kick off your new membership year with a must attend program. Every association has hot issues that resonate with its members. Make the first meeting one that addresses those items.
  • Have a dynamite industry recognized speaker who is either hard to get, who is provocative, or who generates that “I must hear this guy in person.” persona.
  • Make the program cost free to attend for those who have renewed. That shows the non-profit values folks who have renewed promptly.
  • Give attendees something extra for attending. It may be a special report or exclusive opportunity to interact with a key leader or voucher to the Annual Meeting (or the like).
  • Pick an interesting meeting location. If you are always meeting in the same place, shake it up. Find a place that “sells” itself to hold that first membership meeting of the year. Then capitalize on that unique meeting location to build the program.
  • Hold the meeting at a different time of day. If you are doing mid-day meetings, then do a dinner meeting and pull out all the stops to make it elegant. Make it “THE” meeting to attend of the membership year.
  • Finally, have fun stuff to do and experience. Members love being in groups where they have fun and enjoy themselves. Not only include that in your planning, but let your membership renewals know what they will miss if they don’t attend.

Bottom line: Don’t expect members to just renew because you ask them. Respond when you get questions about membership…including your volunteer leaders. Be interesting in your programming especially at the beginning. Demonstrate in your first meeting what your organization is doing for its members for the rest of the year. Show them they can’t do without you.

Do all that and you will have a magnificent membership year.



Many a group puts on a trade show. It spends time, effort and valuable resources to develop, organize, sell, publicize and manage a trade show. In addition to charging the companies who are exhibiting, it then charges those who want to check out these companies a fee.

The days of double dipping are waning. Exhibitors want foot traffic and, more importantly, they want decision makers. They are willing to pay if a non-profit can bring those kinds of people to them.

On the other hand, potential association buyers have many ways to shop, not just via the internet, but by independent exhibits which do not charge a fee. Are admission based trade shows a relic?


(photo courtesy of



The long time model has been that to get useful and timely information, one must pay to attend meetings. Associations have counted on meeting registration as a major source of non-due revenue.  But the internet has upset the applecart because much of what can, could and would be found out in topic-specific meetings can be found elsewhere.  Or one person from a company or organization can attend and bring back all that info to the entire business.  Do non-profits need to charge to share knowledge and inform the profession/industry?


(photo courtesy of




For many a non-profit, charging some kind of dues goes without saying. Yet, in this age of so much information on the Internet, organizations are finding that many can find what they want without paying anything to an association.  There is life after eliminating dues as several organizations have found.  Just because your group has not had that reduction in membership does not mean you should not be ready and prepared to meet it with a new paradigm.


managing-stress-how-to-reduce-prevent-and-cope-with-stress-2-638With all that is going on, it is easy to be depressed about the future. The modern day 24-hour news cycle can provide a sense of depression about the future. The ability to receive up to the minute news updates usually brings about depressing news.

Add to that the fact that we are tied to electronic devices which enable our members, customers and even our bosses to find us at night, weekends and on vacation. No wonder that we are unhappy.

So what do we do? We can’t change what is happening in our world. But we can change is how we respond.


Believe it or not, you cannot control the world. If you have kids or pets or parents or siblings, you know that they will do what they do. How you react is under your control. That is true for your personal life, for work and for the world at large. I go for a motorcycle ride so that I can get away from all this.


Active people are happy people. If you do not have interests, activities, or hobbies that have nothing to do with your work, you are doomed to be a very unhappy person. It is not unusual for me to break up my work day by going to the kitchen and go to the garden to pick and prepare what I will be serving for dinner. Embrace and make time for those things which change your demeanor.


We know that negative people bring everyone down. So why do we spend time with them? Conflicts in the workplace and in personal life are to be expected. But constant harassment from fellow workers or life mates adds little to your life. When I divorced, I made sure I surrounded myself with positive people to make sure that I had the emotional support to tackle every day.


Just as no one likes a negative person, it is important to live just the opposite. No matter what kind of day before my dogs had, they greet every day with a bark of joy, a tail wagging and an enthusiasm that all people should embrace. Make sure you radiate such a demeanor. You will suffer fools much easier and your day will go much better.

As the old cliché says, “You won’t get out of this life alive.”, so it paramount for you to invest in yourself. Whether you live in city apartment or country cottage, we are the only ones responsible for our happiness. My parents were big believers in not owning things, but having experiences because no one could that way. There is so much we can do to help others that any idea of depression or anger can easily be lost when involved with others.

Get busy living … or get busy dying. Your life. Your choice.


My neighbor recently commented on my backyard. “How do you get all those plants to grow and flower? Your backyard has so much color and you are already harvesting vegetables and spices. My garden is struggling. How do you it?”beautiful-lawn

“Preparation,” I replied. “Preparation.”
So if you want 10% membership growth or 95% membership retention for the next membership year, NOW is the time to lay the foundation. Here are some tips:
MEET WANTS & NEEDS. Successful organizations know that you have to have what people want if you expect them to join or renew. So how does your association measure up? Analyze your programs and services to determine are they meeting the needs of your audience. How do you answer the quintessential question, “What keeps your members up at night?”
KNOW YOUR MARKET. Every non-profit has a clientele that it seeks to serve. Yet there are always changes that influence those folks. Are you tuned into what is going in the profession, trade or cause? Is some other group coming along to handle those changes? As an example, many an architecture group kicks itself for letting the green building movement form its own organizations and compete for loyalty of the same members.
STAY IN TOUCH. Don’t you hate it when the only time you get a telephone call from a group to which you belong is to remind that it is time to renew? So it is with your group’s members. From the moment they join or renew, you need to be communicating with them. Called “touches,” your organization should be in frequent contact using a variety of methods including mail, telephone calls (often overlooked), email and personal contact.
PERSONALIZE YOUR APPROACH. Most associations use a “one size fits all” approach. Every member gets the same mailings, the same newsletter/magazine, the same emails, ad nauseum. But not every member signs up for the seminars or the webinars or the endorsed services. So why approach them all the same way? Current technology allows non-profits to track member involvement in the group’s various activities thus allowing customized contact.
ANSWER THE CALL. In these times, I am still amazed at how many associations (particularly larger ones) do not use a live person to answer the telephone. Regardless of size or finances, why on earth would any voluntary membership group want to emulate the same contact system as behemoths like Comcast and Verizon who are constantly rated as one of the most customer unfriendly organizations? Technology allows call forwarding to even cell phones these days so there is absolutely no reason why any call can’t be answered by a live person regardless of staff size.
LISTEN TO YOUR MEMBERS. Often your members alert you to important developments that can make or break a group. It may not come directly as a request, but more like comments or questions. Now is the time to review what mechanisms are in place to generate input and how effective they are. Also check into who is reviewing input, to whom does it go and what is done about it. This has important ramifications because it can not only affect the future, but make your group more attractive to a new niche of members. I was able to recruit a new niche of members for an association just based on the kind of inquiries that were coming in over a 6-month period.
BE INNOVATIVE. It is easy to fall into a pattern of regularity and assume that as long attendance is constant, or readership continues, or dues are paid, that the future will take care of itself. Such a pattern, while easy to administer, leads to complacency and neglect. In my backyard, I am constantly taking out plants that don’t grow well or run rampart while introducing new items to see how they complement what I already have. Sometimes I even dig up decades old trees to make room for something which I hope will be better. So it must be for those who lead associations. Failure to change and innovate dooms any organization.
ASK FOR HELP. Many times those working with associations get so focused on the tasks at hand and meeting deadlines that it is easy to get overwhelmed. That is why it is important, especially when dealing with membership recruitment and retention, to seek assistance, not only in carrying out the work, but also to make sure that your services and programs and even your approaches are relevant. This might be done by getting input from current and potential members. Check out what other organizations are doing in the area of membership. Even ask your colleagues in other associations to provide a critical review of your marketing.
ARE YOU FUN? One of the main things I remind volunteer leaders and staff is that it is important to have fun. Is what you are doing enjoyable? Do you like being part of this association? How often do you smile and laugh while participating? Members and potential members want to be part of something that not only meets their needs; they want to be part of something that is gratifying. It may be fun events or a weekly contest or helping out a needy charity. How you define it is up to you and your organization’s culture, but it best to have it in place because it goes to the root of what you are all about in this world.
Going back to my back yard, I am happy to report that the tomatoes are ripening, the flowers on the weigela are attracting bees and butterflies, the firebushes have grown another foot and I tried a new planting, lantana, which has added lots of color. I think I am well on the way to another great growing season. I hope you are too when it comes to membership.

A Major Way Non-Profits Can Save Money

Many non-profits and associations, especially all volunteer or small staffed ones, are looking for ways to cut or save money these days. And one place to do that may be staring you in the face at your desk.Telephone connection pic

It is your telephone. Specifically, your land line telephone.

Everyone (almost) now has a cell phone. Volunteers. Officers. Staff. When we are away from the office, we still want to be in touch. Many organizations pay or reimburse the cost of these cell phones for their workers.

Why does your organization still pay for land lines in the office? If my experience is any guide, they are not used as often as cell phones are. In my organization, landline costs were averaging over $300/month. That was $3600 a year plus what was being paid out in cell phone plans.

If you need a central number for members and/or the public to call, consider outsourcing that to call center which will receive inquiries and then route them to the appropriate person’s cell phone.

For more on this topic (including pros and cons of such a move) check out this article by Thursday Braum @thursdayb:

And here is what the General Counsel to Federal Communications Commission has to say about the future of landlines:

In the meantime, check out the feasibility of saving your group some serious money that can go to programming and member services instead by cutting that landline.

Make Your Attendees Successful

conference-seatingAnyone who has put together a meeting, seminar or dinner knows that seating setup is one of the key parts of how successful the event will run. Put the head table in front of the doors leading into the room and everyone will be distracted when latecomers arrive. While there are lots of guides to the various types of seating, are almost no lists to tell what to avoid and what works in reality.

Here is a list of dos and don’ts when it comes to event seating:

* Do leave a center aisle and side aisles when doing theatre-style seating. People will be late, have to take a call or need to stretch their legs. Make it convenient for them to do so to minimize disruptions when the meeting is going on.

* Don’t put chairs right next to each other (nor lock them together) in a row when doing theatre-style seating. Conference chairs are rarely large enough to comfortably fit the rears of today’s attendees. Doing this kind of seating will mean that people will sit every other seat or stand in the back rather than be hip to hip in that kind of seating.

* Do block the back rows prior to the meeting beginning. People choose to sit in the back when there is plenty of seating available (ever watch how church pews fill up during a Sunday service?). By blocking the back rows, you force people to fill in the seating closer to the front and hence closer to the speakers. This is also true for rounds used either for a meeting or dinner as well. Just mark the table as reserved or don’t put chairs out until you need them.

* Don’t place two seats at the corner of u-shaped seating. This forces both occupants to fight for the same space to put their materials or food. Instead, pick one side or the other when placing seats at the u-shaped corners. Then space appropriately on the adjacent table to keep space clear for all occupants.

* Do set limits on the number seats per table when doing classroom style. Either do two seats per 6 ft length table or three seats per 8’ length table. This gives everyone room to sit and set up laptops and/or meeting materials without bumping into their table neighbor. More importantly, it reduces the chances that someone is seating where the table legs are making it unable for the participant to stretch out his legs.

* Don’t put chairs around the entire round table if you are having a program. Doing that inevitably makes it so that half of each table can not see the dais or the speaker or what is going on in the front of the room. Instead, set only half the table facing the when the program will be presented. Or use half rounds to so you will not have wasted meeting space.

* Do set up comfortable seating when doing rounds. Since most dinner events are held around a round table, avoid trying to cram as many seats as possible. People are there for social reasons and want to be comfortable while they eat, not bumping elbows trying to drink their coffee or cut their meat/fish. Usually 8 seats per 3 ft rounds works well (not the traditional 10 seats).

* Don’t create a seating set up that invites the speaker to move “into” the seating to connect with the audience. Many meetings using either theatre or classroom- style seating can be so massive in length and width that the presenter starts moving down the center aisle to connect with everyone in the audience. This leaves those in the front and front sides with a nice view of the speaker’s back. If you are going to these many seats, it is time to get a camera and screens on either side of the room to help everyone see (even in the back) what the speaker is doing while they hear his words.

That is a list of dos and don’ts that have become evident over time. What suggestions would you add? Send them to so we can do a follow up post. Or put them in the comment section which follows this posting.

Remember, there are no hard and fast rules to good seating at events. The goal is to provide a superb experience for the attendee. Put yourself in his/her place when planning and you can usually eliminate most problems by sensible planning and set up.

Making Unhappy Members Lifetime Members in 3 Easy Steps

criticismIt seems that we have become survey happy. Anytime you make a purchase, you are encouraged to do a survey for a chance in a drawing. Or you get an email with a link to which to respond.

Associations are no different by sending out surveys after meetings or education sessions or even after renewing one’s membership.

But what happens to all these survey results? Are they actually tabulated? Does someone look them over? Are they used to improve programming? Or do they just go in the file cabinet so the box “Asked for Feedback” can be checked off?

More importantly, what does an association do with negative feedback? In my experience dating back of several decades, the answer is “very little.”

Most organizations offer a survey thinking that it is pabulum to keep discontented members quiet. If an unhappy member has a chance to vent, the thinking goes, s/he will probably feel better and nothing has to change.

I recently had a incredibly bad experience with a Fortune 100 company. I decided to call and let the manager know about what had happened and who was responsible. Three times I was hung up on. When I finally got the manager, he told me, “This is not a conversation I want to have.” Talk about a company that fears criticism.

I suggest to any non-profit who surveys and does not have a specific action plan to deal with discontented members, is one which will not only earn a poor reputation in the association community, but will be blasted via social media and become the textbook example of how to kill a good organization.

If your group does surveys, this is what to do to insure that you get full value for the effort and build lifetime members:

1. Have a reason(s) for doing it in the first place. Is it to pinpoint problem areas? To use for evaluating staff people? To benchmark for future programming? Establish why you are going through the effort in the first place.

2. If you ask for suggestions, such as areas of improvement or to list things that did not work, let respondents know what you did about their input with follow up. Don’t keep your actions to yourself (that is if you have plans to do something with responses). Otherwise, they will think you are just a data gathering organization.

3. Don’t let criticism go unacknowledged nor acted upon. People who articulate a complaint deserve and demand a response…usually via a telephone call to explore the problem in depth. And, if a complainant calls you and leaves a message, do not make this person wait for a response. No one, regardless how high up the non-profit leadership chain of responsibility is too important not to speak to the members.

Remember, complaints should not be taken lightly nor brushed aside. They are your window into how to improve and strengthen your non-profit. When you let members you actually value and act upon their input, you build relationships that can result in lifetime members.

As a wise mentor told me many years ago, “You learn more from your failures than your successes.”


volunteeringLife is busy and busy people are generally involved with non-profits.  They like the challenges, the work and the people.  But they do not like being overwhelmed.  One thing that most people who volunteer or work with non-profits have in common is that there too much to do and not enough time.

Whether you are a volunteer or employee, there are simple things to do to help handle the madness.  Here are few that have worked for me:

  • Surround yourself with positive people.   Working with members is tiring and their problems and complaints can get you down.       If you have people who have a positive outlook toward life and work, you have a network with which you can rejuvenate.
  • Strive for getting it done, not getting it perfect.  There are only so many hours in the day and days in the week.   As much as we want that brochure or meeting or website to be  perfect, there are deadlines to meet.   Focus on getting things done in a timely fashion and then let go.
  • Focus on what you do well.   We all have special talents that put us head and shoulders above others.       Make sure you use them.  And for other things that you are not as good at, seek help from friends,      volunteers or hiring to complete.
  • Ask for help.  Working with associations is not a solo  job.  Don’t assume you will get assistance.  Reach out and request it especially for things that have a definite beginning and end.
  • Have a plan.   Doing a major fundraising event is daunting.  But when you break it down into pieces and lay them out in order, the work involved is easier to manage or recruit assistance.
  • Celebrate success.  Often those in associations are so busydoing that they don’t stop and look back to see what has been accomplished.  Take time to do that and enjoy what has been accomplished.

Stop overwhelming yourself.  Non-profit work is pleasant and rewarding.  But a balanced approach to it will make it and your life more enjoyable.

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