Ed Rigsbee, top speaker on Membership Growth

Member Recruitment: Grass Root Volunteers Vs Paid Staff Driven (1170 words)

It’s an association or society executives’ perpetual question, “Which group is best suited to lead the charge in new member recruitment?” What is your answer; the professionals, the amateurs, or both? Today, this question may be more crucial then ever before.  Let’s explore what each side brings to the member recruitment, assimilation, and retention table.

Paid Staff (Professionals) Driven Benefits:

  • Stuff gets done; since member recruitment can be part of their job description there is a strong motivation to get the job done. One will rarely hear the excuse for non-performance; I have been busy running my own business.
  • Consistency; when member recruitment is one’s job, or part of it, there will generally be more of a consistent outreach effort and a decreased likelihood that things will fall through the cracks.
  • Dedicated resources; the professional staff will always have access to all the latest and greatest brochures and other member recruitment tools that your organization produces. They will also have a predetermined amount of time that they will dedicate daily to make recruitment sales calls.
  • Clear message; the professional staff will regularly communicate a clear, and hopefully scripted, recruitment benefit message. Making multiple calls daily will allow the professional to hone their sales message taking it to the simplest common denominator.
  • Knowledge; generally a staff person, working with member recruitment daily, will have a greater depth of the organization’s membership features (even beyond board members) and how the prospective member can utilize those features to become benefits of membership.
  • Outsider looking in; this offers a different perspective from the functioning industry member that holds membership in any given association or society. This different perspective, clear of industry jading and erroneous perceptions can be of substantial benefit in member recruitment activities.

Volunteer Leaders (Amateurs) Driven Benefits:

  • More authentic; because the volunteer member’s recruitment effort will come primarily from the heart rather than the brain, the emotional connection to an industry colleague will be dramatically more powerful than an office staff person with their highly scripted message that might come off too slick.
  • Peer-to-peer value; members will have better access to colleagues within the industry and also command a high-level of credibility.
  • Word-of-mouth; members in an industry can create a buzz through their suppliers and customers. The active functionaries in any industry, geographically dispersed, interact more frequently and intensively than can a bureaucrat.
  • More people available; if you look at it from a numbers game perspective, hundreds of volunteers geographically dispersed and talking to colleagues will deliver more industry in-person touches than would be possible of staff.
  • Personalized examples; there is unequaled persuasively power in the personal success story. Members can explain from doing, rather than observing, how their trade association or professional society helped them to solve a problem, access a business opportunity, or delivered membership features that created high level ROI (return on investment) to them personally or to their business.
  • Industry jargon; naturally someone that is actively participating in his or her industry will have a deeper understanding of insider industry speak. The exception is a long-term association employee. However, they will generally by that time, be in a top executive position and most likely not involved in daily member recruitment efforts.
  • More passion; for the member that truly understands and appreciates the value delivered by his or her association, they will have the propensity to become a true member recruitment evangelist.

The challenge for many organizations is that very few paid staffers will ever become member recruitment evangelists for their employer the way volunteer leaders and members might.

Member Retention

You want engaged members rather than simply numbers. When an organization relies on commissioned staff to recruit members the motivation is simply getting numbers. What comes with those numbers is high-quantity drop-off. This is because there has been a minimal effort to assimilate new members. Conversely, when an active member recruits a new member, the likelihood of that member helping the new member to assimilate into the organization is very high. My personal recommendation is for active members to only recruit one member a year. It is very manageable and very likely that the member that did the recruiting will help their new colleague to assimilate into the organization by inviting them to the coming annual meeting, take them around, and introduce them to other members.

Membership Evangelism; What’s It Take?

  • When an individual member understands how a larger membership organization might serve them better, they become passionate about spreading the word. They do this for two reasons. First, they want to share the wealth with all the members in their industry and second, they desire growth so they might enjoy additional benefits.
  • Effective recruitment tools are an absolute must for members to become evangelists for their organization. These tools are not used as a crutch but for credibility builders and roadmaps to tell others their story.
  • Recognition at any level, and for any task, delivers reinforcement that their actions and results are appreciated. And for some, recognition is a bit like a life’s scorecard. It never hurts and always helps; so why not do it?
  • Emotional ownership in organization is developed through an unwavering belief that the organization serves their industry, their company, and themselves in a way that no other could do. When a member believes in their organization’s delivery of highly valuable member benefits, the organization effectively “owns them.” The member can’t wait to shout from the rooftops how their association serves them. After all, they made the fabulous decision to join, didn’t they?
  • Association staff and volunteer leaders should pay attention to the members that are highly-engaged in your organization, even though they may not select to be part of the leadership. These highly engaged members should be encouraged, asked about their opinions, and in all manner appreciated and recognized for their passionate effort to spread the word about your organization; even if they are contrarians!
  • Membership evangelists, above all else, desire to help others. Get out of their way—even if they do not follow all of the rules to the level you desire. You are not looking for well mannered church mice to spread the word. Rather, you are looking for risk-takers that truly desire to make a difference, to do your membership recruitment bidding.

My Preference

If you are truly looking to recruit new members that will be engaged in your association or society, and if the choice was mine—I’d have the volunteer leaders in charge of the member recruitment effort with the support staff highly engaged in the process. I’d have the volunteers sell the idea of membership to their colleagues and have the professional staff do the follow up paperwork, answer additional questions, and collect the dues. I believe this to be the best utilization of members and staff. However, if you are just looking for revenue through numbers, go ahead and have the commissioned office staff lead the effort.