As I read comments on member-get-a-member ideas by association membership directors at a Linkedin Group discussion, I can’t help from wondering if they are even considering member retention. An important thought for association and society executives is; do you want the instant gratification of a membership spike or the satisfaction of sustainable organic growth?
Incentives for Member Recruitment
Giving current members an incentive for recruiting new members can be a great way to temporarily boost membership numbers but is a poor method for true organizational organic growth. This is similar to a sales person that is only interested in making the sale and not interested in developing long-term customers. Instant gratification is rarely the best course of action for sustainable organizational growth.
What’s the true long-term organizational value derived from an aggressively competitive member recruiting new members solely for his or her ego and need for the instant gratification of winning a contest? Can, or will, this aggressively competitive recruiter also aggressively help to assimilate the new recruits? I don’t think so, and without successful assimilation, there will be no retention.
The Recruitment Myth
Turnstile membership recruitment is a waste of valuable resources and ultimately damages an organization’s reputation. Rather than having advocates and evangelists in the marketplace, praising the benefits of membership; turnstile member recruitment fosters disgruntled ex-members that extol the perceived indifference that they experienced while holding membership. In this situation, your organization would have been better off not having them as a member in the first place.
New Member Assimilation
You know this, your new members receive huge value from attending your conventions and conferences—when they have a guide and mentor serving as their pathfinder. The challenge with the above mentioned aggressive recruiter is that said recruiter has no time to be a pathfinder for several freshman members. Sometimes organizations are sophisticated enough to assign first time conference attendees a mentor, however this is only minimally effective because of no prior relationship.
The absolute best is for a member to get a member—only one per year—urge the new member to attend the organization’s upcoming conference and be their pathfinder and assimilator throughout the meeting. The new member feels included, benefits from educational and networking opportunities, and develops an emotional ownership in their membership of your organization. This is the crucial foundation for any long-term member.
The reason that so many member-get-a-member campaigns fail to deliver long-term members is because the foundation upon which the new members were sold their membership is one of sand rather than bedrock. What’s missing is a credible member recruitment tool that explains in real-dollar terms what the member gets in return for their investment into the new organization. Without this critical link, member recruiters can only arm-twist or offer hollow promises of the benefits of membership. Member recruiters must be able to prove in real-dollar terms that membership is a good business decision.
Changing Member Recruiters Motivation
To transform your members from aggressive recruiters that are motivated solely based on the instant gratification of wining a contest or filling their pockets with incentives; to advocates and hopefully, evangelists, does take smart planning and implementation. Your current members must truly understand and believe, to their core, that their association or society delivers an excellent return on their investment of both money and time. They must have a strong emotional ownership in the idea that membership is a good business decision. They must also completely understand how a larger and stronger organization will have the capability to deliver even more measurable value to every stakeholder. There is always the fear that if the organization grows too much the intimacy will disappear. The organization must also demonstrate through its long-term planning strategy that there are future programs being developed to sustain the valued intimacy.
Evangelists or Detractors, the Choice is Yours
How your organization approaches growth will largely determine results. If the instant gratification of an immediate membership spike is important to your organization, you will ultimately develop more detractors than evangelists. However, if your organization is willing to adopt an organic grassroots approach to growth, the benefit received by the organization and its members will be transformational. Take this path and your organization will enjoy in its ranks, legions of member recruitment evangelists. Your organization will also enjoy higher than normal member retention—evangelists stay, while detractors leave.
Do you really need to give your members a $25 Starbucks card to motivate them to tell a colleague or competitor why it is a good business decision to hold membership in your organization?
Ed is the Founder and CEO of the 501(c)(3) non-profit public charity, Cigar PEG Philanthropy through Fun, and president at Rigsbee Research which conducts qualitative member ROI research and consulting for associations and societies. He has been called “the dynamite that broke up our log jam” by association executives—rarely politically correct and almost always provocative—and from a dozen years as a United States Soccer Federation referee, Ed calls it the way he sees it. Exceptional resources at www.rigsbee.com.
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