10 Overlooked Tactics for Growing Association Membership


Membership recruitment is a never-ending project. Every year, members leave your association—they retire, change jobs or professions, go out of business, lose their professional development budget, or just vanish for unknown reasons. As members go out the back door, you have to keep new ones coming in the front.

What strategies will guide your plan for recruiting these new members? And what tactics will you use to achieve your recruitment goals?

How to create a membership recruitment strategy

The easy way out is recycling membership recruitment tactics of the past. But the most successful associations do it differently. They encourage staff and volunteers to bring their creativity to the planning table. They’re willing to try out new ideas and experiment with new tactics. The world is changing, people are changing, and your association membership tactics must change too.

Creating a membership acquisition strategy gives you a way to move forward with intentionality. Your ever-changing potential membership base needs engaging ways to get interested in your group, and you need the right plan to reach them. Keep some of these new member recruitment ideas in mind when creating membership recruitment and retention strategies.

Understanding your members

To get started, do some in-depth research on your members and understand who you’re trying to reach. Segment your audience, identify their motivations and preferences, and find ways to connect with them. Take the time to get a comprehensive picture of the people interested in joining your association, and determine what benefits they want from membership. Once you have some reliable information on your audience, analyze how to use it to grow membership in your organization.

Understanding your mission

Having a clear mission is critical to effective and compelling communication with your audience. Develop a holistic picture of what your organization cares about and is trying to accomplish. Share your association’s mission and articulate your short- and long-term goals to attract new members to your organization.

Understanding your value

Know the value of what you offer, and communicate it engagingly during your membership recruitment campaigns. Identify what your audience wants and pinpoint the ways you can meet their desires. Whether it’s your empowering mission, a vibrant community of like-minded individuals or industry-specific certifications and exclusive programs, broadcast the value of membership with your association.

Understanding your resources

As you decide how to grow your membership, carefully evaluate your resources and capabilities. Determine your funding, expertise and technological capabilities and assess how you can most effectively use them going forward.

Planning your process

Once you know your audience, mission, value and resources, it’s time to create the right plan. Give yourself time and resources to develop strategies to grow membership that fit your capabilities and resources. Create a process that integrates stakeholders and keeps the end goal in focus.

Are you looking for even more ways to bring in new members and delight your current ones?

Check out the complete list in our latest ebook,
“50 Ways to Boost Your Association Membership.”

10 Tested Ideas to Grow Membership in an Organization

These five under-utilized member recruitment tactics will result in faster association membership growth. As a bonus, the practices and mindset you develop by implementing these tactics will improve the association experience for your existing members.

1. Provide Targeted, Valuable Content That Increases Lead Generation

Instead of relying on membership promotions, provide content that helps you develop relationships with membership prospects. What’s the first thing to do in any relationship? Get to know the other person.

Identify and research the different segments of your target membership market, for example, students, early career, mid-career, executives, and professionals in transition. Here’s what to ask to identify their content needs:

  • What do they need to know to advance their career or do their job better?
  • What do they need to know to improve their bottom line?
  • What issues trouble them? What challenges do they encounter?

If you provide valuable content for prospects, they’ll keep coming back to you for more. They’ll begin to think of you as a reliable source of information and a partner who helps them reach their goals.

By adding inbound marketing to your recruitment strategy, your content takes on a new role as lead magnets. Lead magnets are pieces of content—for example, a tip sheet, report, or ebook—that a prospect finds so valuable they’re willing to provide their email address in exchange for downloading it. Prospects let you into their email inbox because you’ve proven your value as a source of relevant information.

Your content becomes the catalyst for converting website visitors into prospects (leads), and then, converting prospects into new members.

2. Simplify the Path to Membership

When a prospect is ready to join, no barriers should stand in their way. Make sure the joining process is quick, intuitive, and frictionless.

Start by testing your website and blog.

  • Will a first-time visitor know they’re in the right place?
  • Can they immediately see the value you provide to members?
  • Is it obvious what impact membership will make on their life?
  • Is it easy to figure out how to join?

Make joining as brainless and painless as possible. Lengthy forms are a turn-off. Don’t give prospects the chance to second-guess their decision. Ask only for what’s absolutely necessary in your online membership application–the data you need now to process their membership. You can ask for more data later.

Price is another barrier to joining. Consider a budget-friendly monthly membership plan. Paying initial monthly dues of $25 is easier to swallow, especially for younger members, than paying annual dues of $300.

3. Incentivize the Decision to Join

Sometimes, an alluring incentive breaks down the last psychological barrier to joining. Promote these incentives on your home page, in your blog sidebar, in email campaigns, and on social media. Offer new members a special discount toward a future event, online learning, or webinar registration. Choose an incentive that deepens their membership experience.

Evoke a sense of urgency in the incentive you offer. For example, members who join before a certain date get an exclusive invitation to a special in-person or virtual educational event. Make sure the event is truly exclusive and special.

Incentivize your built-in network of recruiters—your existing members. For every successful membership referral they provide, give them an incentive as a thank you, and recognize their contributions in publications and at events.

4. Step Up Your Social Media Interaction

Social media provides another channel for attracting the interest of prospects. However, don’t spread yourself too thin. Find out what platforms your prospects and members use and how they use them. Develop a social media strategy that’s aligned with your organization’s membership and marketing strategies, and with the needs and interests of your prospects and members. Let that strategy guide your efforts so your time is invested wisely.

Use social media to demonstrate your value as an association membership resource. Help followers manage information overload by being an information curator for them. In addition to sharing your own content, select interesting and informative content from other sources to share as well.

Let followers know about the membership experiences you provide—events, online learning, publications, and other resources. Provide a preview of membership value, for example, snippets of online community discussions. Consider using Facebook ads for highly targeted promotional campaigns.

But, remember, it’s called social media. Differentiate yourself from other organizations and brands by being personable, conversational, and responsive.

5. Find co-marketing opportunities

Partner with other businesses and organizations in your industry by marketing each other’s services or offerings. It’s mutually beneficial, and these opportunities have the potential to exponentially expand your reach to possible new members!

Choose co-marketing opportunities that fit your mission and target audience. Whether you have a cause or value in common or you’re offering complementary services, develop relationships that will help you and the other organization move forward. For instance, if you’re a trade group, you could partner with a commercial industry within the same business sector.

6. Optimize your website for new member conversions

When a potential new member lands on your website, make sure there’s a clear and compelling path for them to become a member. You never want confusion or difficult navigation to deter someone from joining your association. Give special attention to user experience. Is the user interface convenient and accessible? Is getting the right information straightforward?

Think through what potential new members want to know, and ensure you’re making that information readily available on your site. Whether that means adding new member-specific content or enhancing navigation on the site, create an experience that’s welcoming and user-friendly. From accessibility for a visitor who’s exploring your site for the first time to a clear onboarding process, think through all the steps a new member will take to join your group. Then, ensure your site optimizes that process from beginning to end.

7. Put on events that aren’t just for members

Members-only events are great as membership benefits, but there is also great value in putting on events that non-members can attend. This allows you to show the value of your association to potential new members before they join. Show that your organization is dynamic and inclusive so everyone will feel welcome and engaged, whether they’re a member or a new visitor. Also, find ways to offer potential members a glimpse at the benefits of joining with events that provide value.

There are a variety of ways you can offer engaging events for your recruits and membership body. Consider webinars, conventions, networking events and other opportunities that will help members and nonmembers alike. Create opportunities to provide your guests with informational and professional value while helping them learn more about your organization’s operations and mission.

8. Add a job board to your website

A job board is a simple and easy way to add even more value to your members. Adding one that non-members can have limited access to can help drive traffic to your website and get you seen by more people in your industry. That way, you can get people interested in the networking and professional opportunities you offer and attract new audiences.

A job board meets a practical need that many people will want to take advantage of. It’s also an ideal way to position yourself as a leader with members who contribute to the industry. Optimize your website and job board so people can easily find and navigate it.

9. Use existing business networks

If your association and/or your members are involved in local business networks, these are great ways to get the word out about your association and its benefits. Take advantage of speaking opportunities or sponsorship opportunities whenever possible! It will give you the chance to broadcast your mission and demonstrate your organization’s expertise in your field or industry.

Help potential members understand how your organization offers value to the community and encourage them to experience the benefits. Whether you partner with a local business network for sponsorship or plan a speaking engagement, find ways to share your mission throughout your activities.

10. Enhance the Member Experience with Modern Membership Management Software

Association membership recruitment isn’t the only never-ending project. You can never stop learning about your prospects and members. The more you know about their needs, interests, preferences, and habits, the better decisions you’ll make about the content, products, and services—the value—you deliver to them.

Take full advantage of your membership software to collect and analyze data on the interests and engagement of prospects, new members, and existing members. When you integrate your AMS with marketing automation or email marketing software, you can also learn more about their preferences and habits, for example, what they read, open, click, and download.

For example, while wooing a membership prospect, you can track their interaction with your website and emails. Their online behavior gives you a sense of their interests.

When it comes time to onboard a new member, ask them questions about their reasons for joining as well as their needs, challenges, and aspirations. Launch an automated series of onboarding emails that introduces them to the resources, upcoming events, and educational opportunities that fit their interests and needs. Targeted content will help you deepen your relationship with them and tie them closer by encouraging them to take advantage of association benefits.

Now you have ten new tactics to help you increase member recruitment. And, you can discover 45 more in our downloadable ebook, 50 Ways to Boost Association Membership.

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