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?”
“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.