Ed Rigsbee, CSP, CAE, interviews Tim Jackson, CEO, at Colorado Automobile Dealers Association on how his organization achieved 100% member market penetration.
Tag Archive for: member retention
Dr. Rick Goodman is interviewed on the concepts of his book titled, “The Solutions Oriented Leader” by Ed Rigsbee. Topics covered are: leadership assessment, positive thinking, hiring correctly, communication, feedback, mastering emotional thinking, organizational culture, and conflict. Contact Dr. Rick Goodman at https://www.rickgoodman.com/ or 888.267.6098.
Membership growth and member recruitment are not what they once were. Guilt is not much of a motivator in today’s world. In this new order of things, you the association or society executive must embrace the idea that member recruitment is no longer the exclusive responsibility of your membership department. Today, membership is everybody’s business. Yes, it is the business of all your staff, volunteer leaders and members at large. Everyone must pitch in.
In order to embrace this idea of membership being the responsibility of everyone, you will need to have implementation strategies in place to facilitate your new paradigm. Yes, life will be different for the CEO as this person must hold the mantle of responsibility to see that everyone embraces membership is everybody’s business to the fullest. Below are the ten strategies you must embrace…every day.
Strategy #1-The Will to Grow Strategy is book-ended with the will to change. What got your organization to where it is, most likely is not what will get you to the next level. This is where you scour your Bylaws, Policies & Procedures, and daily operation culture to discover hidden member value killers, resource wasters and anything that minimizes the ROI your organization delivers to members. Trust me, identifying is far easier than fixing, and fixing is what you must accomplish.
Strategy #2-The Build a Member-ROI-Centric Organization Strategy is built upon the foundation of the above. This is where embracing membership is everybody’s business is crucial. Every department in your organization must look upon itself anew to discover member value killers and make appropriate changes in their departments to better deliver improved member ROI. Sunset what’s not working and improve and/or increase what is working.
Strategy #3-The Grow Your Member Value Proposition Strategy is not as difficult as one might think. First to the qualitative research as outlined in The ROI of Membership—Today’s Missing Link for Explosive Growth to determine what your members believe is the current real-dollar ROI that your organization delivers to them. Now compare your organization to your competition. You do have competition if you look hard enough. Find what you do better than your competition that matters most to your members and start growing your member ROI from that point.
Strategy #4-The Member Retention Strategy is important and many organizations do not have a structured strategy in place for keeping members. Many believe that a membership turnstile in inevitable. Please…a modicum of energy in keeping your members pays off handsomely. First year members are most at risk and you will want to have a 12-month/12-touch system in place. You need a long-term system for all members and person in charge of the system. The system should consist of both staff and volunteer leader efforts. And, other departments can help. As an example, how about “Your membership has expired” belly bands on your magazine—printed or electronic? Other departments can help also.
Strategy #5-The Win Them Back Strategy is also something that many organizations have overlooked. Sure, you might send a reminder invoice or two but do you have a formal multi-touch system for regularly attempting to win back expired members. Recent and longer-term expired members should be on your target list. You need to do more than send a (passive) newsletter once a year; you need to engage expired members in a way that compels them to rejoin.
Strategy #6-The Member Recruitment Strategy is something that most organizations have in some form or another. Is it exclusively the membership department’s job to recruit…heck no…membership is everybody’s business. You just as much need member evangelists shouting from the rooftops about the ROI your organization delivers as you need an aggressive recruitment staff. You need to have your chapters involved and you need excellent member recruitment collateral materials that talk about the “what’s in it for me” and exceptional member ROI.
Strategy #7-The Components/Chapters Strategy can make or break an organization. Does the organization treat its chapters well? If not, why not? Think of chapter members acting as thousands of individual member recruitment evangelists…if only you give them a helping hand.
Strategy #8-The Alliance Strategy is where you find other organizations with whom your circles of interest overlap and you can develop mutually beneficial programs that deliver similar value to both organizations. I’ve been writing about successful alliances since the early 1990s and I’m here to tell you that it is both rewarding and difficult. Be certain to have your agreements in writing, even for the simplest partnering relationships. I’m not talking about vendor sponsorships but rather other associations or organizations where synergy can be developed.
Strategy #9-The Non-Dues Revenue Strategy might not be seen as part of member growth, but it is. There has been a dramatic shift since the 1960s toward greater percentages of association and society operating budgets away from member dues in favor of increased non-dues revenue. You need money to develop high-value member products, services, events, and the like and member dues are not going to cover it. Additionally, you must offer the maximum, allowable by law, differential between member and non-member pricing to improve your member value proposition. Explore the possibilities.
Strategy #10-The Mosaic Strategy is all about how you put the above nine strategies into place. You cannot achieve any of the above in a vacuum so you will need to have your, let’s call it master plan in place. You as the CEO are the ultimate conductor or this orchestra called an association and it is you that must see that all parts, pieces, and departments are working collaboratively to achieve sustained membership growth within your association or society. Membership is everybody’s business.
The key to safeguarding your organization’s future…is to research, embrace, and maximize…your member ROI.
Ultimately yours like most associations and societies are looking for net-member growth and there is no better way than member retention through relationship bank deposits. Some do a great job keeping members but still lose many to attrition. Some are awesome at recruiting but tend to have a turnstile of members coming and going. Unfortunately, net-growth seems to be illusive to many.
Offense and Defense
To enjoy net-member growth, it’s obvious but frequently forgotten, that an organization has to be excellent at both recruitment and retention–every day. This is a challenge as many find it hard to continually focus on two things (1) how to get them and (2) how to keep them. Member Retention through Relationship Bank Deposits relies on the features of membership you make available to members. This can help with the hard part…communicating how the features make members’ life better. This is the Achilles Heal of most associations and societies—communication. Specifically, communicating value. Too many of the communication directors want to concisely communicate facts to save their readers time. That’s great, but in doing so there is a massive opportunity loss—opportunity to prove value, remind of value, and subliminally lock in the perception of value among the membership. This ability is excellent offense and defense.
If You Don’t Tell It Didn’t Happen
Early in my career I received a lesson that I have carried for life. Selling consumer goods (sunglasses) to the retail industry (drug stores), I was making my rounds when upon visiting a particular store I found the products of a competitor on my display. Upon asking the owner about his purchase he told me that he was told that the particular style was very trendy. I agreed and told him that that particular style had been on his display (from me) for several months already. He didn’t know because I failed to mention it to him, therefore leaving a competitor to wedge in. If you fail to tell, it didn’t happen and you are leaving an opening for another organization to sell their value.
Communicating value to your members is making relationship bank deposits. Two key places to look to determine the quality of your value communication is at (1) your “Member Benefits” page at your website and (2) your electronic communications. Are you “telling” members how your organization makes their life better or simply mentioning features of membership and expecting them to make the translation for themselves? This is crucial for Member Retention through Relationship Bank Deposits.
- Member Benefits page. First check and see if the text happens demonstrate features or benefits? Features explain what’s built into the product or service and benefits explain how the features make the user’s life better. You’ll most likely have to admit that what you have listed is features rather than benefits.
- Electronic Communications. Most likely your communication editor is keeping the copy “tight” in hopes that the reader will review the entire piece. Read through what is written and ask yourself this for everything you read, “Who Cares?” and “So what?” If your two questions are answered clearly, you might have benefit copy.
Every time, you want to communicate in as many methods as possible, “Because of your membership, this is how we are making your life better.” This kind of communication, continually, is how your organization makes regular relationship bank deposits with its members.
Relationship Bank Withdrawals
In order for your organization to make sufficient relationship bank deposits for the time of member renewal…when you do attempt to take a withdrawal, this effort must be CONTINUAL. In the cosmic relationship bank, consider that about a dozen deposits are requited for each withdrawal. This would mean that you would have to make about one deposit a month just to get a member to renew. Deposits come in all sorts of forms: awesome meeting, membership pins stating longevity, HQ staff helping with something, etc. The sky is the limit; you just have to remember that value is in the eye of the beholder. This means that just because you think something is valuable (a deposit) if the member does not think the same—it is not a deposit.
Everything as Separate
Bundling is easy, saves time and makes the life of your staff easier. But, doing so diminishes member-perceived value. Everything your organization does for a member should be delivered, regardless of the conduit, separately. Sending a new member package filled with stuff is one relationship bank deposit. However, sending each included item out separately—while it does take more work—is one relationship bank deposit per item. With a little more work, your organization can create vastly more perceived-value. This is Member Retention through Relationship Bank Deposits at its best. As we all know, it is about the member’s perception, not yours. Never offer two or more resources at no charge to members in a single email—break it up. If you extrapolate out this paradigm throughout your organization you will, yearly, deliver enormously more perceived-value to your members and they will reward you when renewal time comes and you request a relationship bank withdrawal.
The key to safeguarding your organization’s future…is to research, embrace, and maximize…your member ROI.
Member value proposition is what most new and current members want. Your member value proposition is determined by the beliefs, perspectives and emotional connection of members to the organization, its staff and volunteer leaders. The other side of that coin is how the industry, in general, perceives your organization. If operatives in your industry thought membership in your organization was a great deal, then they would already be members.
Member Communication: inform or influence
This is an area where every organization can improve. The vast majority of stories in your Member Communication fall short of influencing members as the stories mostly inform. The difference is in how a story is written, most of the stories are not written through the window of “what’s in it for the member” and therein we find the rub—this angle is what can cause a member’s perception of value to change for the positive—or the negative.
How to Write Benefit Copy
Just offering a superior member value proposition is not enough. Your organization must clearly communicate your member value proposition in order to attract new members.
- First determine what is being sold. It should be one of 4 things for your Communication: product, event, member recruitment or member retention
- Then determine which feature of membership (from your member benefits web page) the thing being sold is.
- Next determine which buying motive is at play: profit/gain, fear of loss, avoidance of pain, love/affection, comfort/pleasure or pride/prestige. Many times there can be more than one buying motive but pick one for simplicity.
- Now write copy explaining the “what’s in it for the reader,” why they should care and include a call to action statement.
- Last, write the title of the story or promotional copy using one of the following perspectives: shocking, ask a question, offer data, create a value statement or reveal a secret.
Qualitative Focus Group Research
To find out what your current members believe is the member value proposition that they receive in actual dollar numbers you will want to conduct a series of Member ROI Valuation focus group sessions utilizing qualitative research methodology. This is an excellent starting point for boosting your value proposition.
Strategy Mapping Exercise
The strategy mapping exercise is your next step of discovery as you want to compare your organization’s member value proposition to that of competing organizations. This exercise allows leaders to compare with the various competing organizations—those that also compete for membership dollars, mindshare and value perception of people in your industry. Ideally, in contrast to the below example, the lines would not track but rather demonstrate vast differences.
Features Framework Exercise
The third step is to conduct the features of membership framework exercise—first with staff—then with volunteer leaders and overlay the three pieces. This will create visual impact for staff and volunteer leaders as to what is helping and hurting your organization’s member value proposition. The step-by-step “how to” can be found starting on page 88 of The ROI of Membership.
Getting all the Departments in Alignment
Every department at your organization must use new decision filters. The important filter to add is the “decision filter” of how the actions considered will affect positively or negatively the organization’s member value proposition, return on investment, member retention and recruitment. Each department has to align toward making your organization more member-ROI-centric.
The Hard Truth
Accepting change and shifting your organization’s culture is something that will be difficult. Sure, the volunteer leaders and paid staff give the member value proposition idea lip-service and “embrace” the new but when push comes to shove, they fall back into their “non-productive” comfort zones and eschew the necessary change. This is the fulcrum point where you might be currently failing. This is where all the above work becomes mute, meaningless, and a waste of time as the players in your organization thinks they are changing but in reality is only getting ready to get ready. What most people in this situation are really saying is that they agree that others should change but they themselves want to hold on to control because they know better than the others.
Embrace Change Management
If you truly desire to push past the current “failure point” and move into a new era of high-level member value proposition, everyone from the executive director and president to the newest section leader needs to be on-board because membership is everyone’s business. Now here’s the difficult part of the equation, if there are volunteer leaders and or staff pushing back—there is no longer a place for them in the organizational chart. Yes, a staff member that is not willing to play the new game must leave the organization and for the volunteer leaders—they must give up their positions. Are you willing to go to these lengths to grow? Think hard before you answer as you will be held accountable—not by Ed Rigsbee—but by your conscience, integrity and morality.
The key to safeguarding your organization’s future…is to research, embrace, and maximize…your member ROI.
Oh how things have changed, where has the will to perform gone?
The association world was once filled with members that pretty much did everything…and if they were lucky, they could afford an executive secretary…mostly to keep the clerical in order. Today, that executive secretary, in many associations enjoys the CEO title. This is because they really do act as the CEO of the association. The chief staff executive runs the HQ office and directs the staff to achieve what members (volunteer leaders) once did themselves.
But, what about the members, are they still doing their share? In too many circles, an observer would have to answer with, no they are not. Today everyone’s world is compressed—we are all trying to do too much in too little time. It is common to hear among the volunteer leaders, “The staff will do it; it’s their job. “ This sentiment is heard across the association-sphere, regardless of how full the staff members’ plates are.
Let’s bring this discussion to membership. While we all “mouth” that membership is important and it is the life-blood of an association…our actions do not always demonstrate this. In too many associations, and let’s be honest, membership is an afterthought or the department gets far less than necessary resources, attention, and prestige.
While the above can also be said for other departments in associations, membership in my experience is the most egregious.
What can we do? First, we must embrace that in today’s world of associations—there must be a partnership between staff and volunteer leaders in each silo/department of the organization. This is where the Will to Perform is most crucial. If either side of the partnership does not perform, trust is lost and the partnership is ineffective. Staff has to abandon the, “I have a life” as well as volunteer leaders must abandon the, “I’m just a volunteer; I have a job or a company to run.” Neither of these excuses for lack of performance is acceptable.
While this idea can be extrapolated throughout the organization into all silos/departments, specific to membership, we must communicate to our volunteer leaders and staff alike that, Membership is Everybody’s Business. We are all in this together and together we will resolve all issues. Members of today, unfortunately, have been trained by staff to expect everything to be done by staff. Moving forward, this must be changed.
Give your members a precious jewel. All volunteer leaders need a reason to perform before they can muster up within themselves the Will to Perform. What is the core value to them and the organization for them to desire to perform well? In the membership silo/department it is this—membership is a good business, financial, and career decision. If the association’s CEO can broadcast this message in a way that staff and volunteer leaders accept as a precious jewel that membership is a good business decision and held close to the heart—then it can and will be shared with others—the uninitiated.
If you are an association CEO, Executive Director, Executive Vice President—the chief staff executive, your job is to demonstrate in deed, more than in word, that Membership is Everybody’s Business and that membership in your organization is a Good Business, Financial and/or Career Decision. (c) 2017
Learn the Rigsbee Member ROI Valuation Process for non-profit membership growth.
For trade associations and professional societies, identifying the value your members want without the Rigsbee Member ROI Valuation Process can be a bit like threading a needle in the back of a Jeep, while crossing granite boulders, at 40 miles per hour—but it doesn’t have to be. Associations and societies exist to serve the interests of the participants or stake holders in their industry or profession—it is that simple.
Yet, extenuating factors, erroneous or not, frequently muddy up the waters of association or society focus. A very good argument could be made for the idea that too many association or society activities serve merely the vocal few in leadership. A convincing argument could be made for the idea that associations and societies focus too keenly on self-perpetuation. I am not going to make arguments in this article for these ideas but rather share my observation from two decades working with trade associations and professional societies.
Large associations tend to have a turnstile of employees. Young wide-eyed graduates with diploma in hand, go to work for associations or professional societies with dreams of making a difference. Then, they either become disillusioned or move somewhere else for career advancement. Frequently these young staffers start in member services department. Hence the problem—by the time they learn their job, they have moved on. The Rigsbee Member ROI Valuation Process can solve this problem by having stable and usable member value numbers for all staff and volunteer leaders.
Conversely, in the small associations, run by the executive director and perhaps a couple part-time staffers, there just is never enough time to follow up on those inquiries of potential members. Either the interested party must join on their own accord by filling out the membership application found at the Web Site by clicking the “Join” button or move on. This two decade old observation was painfully reinforced recently. The example I’m about to share, believing it or not, did occur.
One of my avocations is being the CEO of an IRS recognized non-profit public charity https://cigarpeg.com/. I recently decided that it would be good for me to join a related association so I called two California State Associations, one for association executives and one specifically for non-profits. As of the writing of this article, I have joined neither.
One of the two, I called and left a message with the membership person; she returned my call and left a voice message. That was the last time I heard from that association and it has now been a while. The second, I chatted with their membership person and am still waiting for an information package she promised to “get right out” to me.
In the situation with the first association, would it not make sense to you that the director of membership make a second attempt to contact a prospective member that called for information about membership? I just got busy and didn’t call her back. Had she called me back a second time, I believe I would have joined instantly.
As for the second association, I was amazed that when I asked the membership person about the value I would receive from being a member, she asked if I was joking. I was not, and was less than impressed with her lack on knowledge as to the benefits of membership. I have been even more unimpressed with her lack of follow through. I really did want the prospective member package to help me decide which association to join.
The issue is twofold, first how association and society membership departments track their prospective members. Many folks just need a little nudge, and they will join. However, when ignored they will put membership on the back burner, frequently forever. The second issue is knowledge. If a staffer has no idea as to the value that the members derive from their membership, how in the world can they influence industry participants to join?
Today, the model for business and professional persons is that they are looking for a return on their investment (ROI) rather than participating in their industry simply because they should. Yes, times have changed.
Conduct the Rigsbee Member ROI Valuation Process for determining the yearly sustainable real dollar value of membership at your next meeting? The American Society for Quality did so, three years in a row, at their annual meetings and discovered that their members receive over $50 in benefit and value for every one-dollar invested in membership. For anybody, that’s huge ROI! The National Air Duct Cleaners Association learned that their members benefited to the tune of $17 received for every dollar invested. For the National Frame Builders Association we revealed that their members received $10 in value for every dollar invested in their membership. It’s all about return on investment, that’s something no association or society executive, staffer or volunteer leader should ever forget.
The most significant reason for my belief in the need for urgency—urgency for every association and society, globally, to conduct the Rigsbee Member ROI Valuation Process at their next meeting is recruitment. Why wait to plug up the leaking dike of member loss when you can do something about it now?
The Rigsbee Member ROI Valuation Process is, or should be, the cornerstone for your next member recruitment or member retention campaign. The single most important activity, resulting from the Rigsbee Member ROI Valuation Process, is for your association or society to develop a marketing brochure for your members to handout. This brochure will easily demonstrate why it is a good business decision to join the association or society based on intelligent ROI.
The number one reason, in my experience, why marketing and recruitment collateral materials and campaigns are not successful is because real benefits are left out. Too frequently, when I review the marketing materials of associations that are intended for use in gaining new members, all I can identify is features, rather than the bottom line benefit to the prospective member. As I stated earlier, most people that join an association or society in today’s business environment are looking for ROI, and not the warm and cozy feeling of serving their industry. However, too many paid association staff and volunteer leadership are still stuck in the old warm and cozy paradigm. Read my lips, it is ROI!
Follow the below listed steps and I assure you that you will not be sorry you did.
- Conduct the Rigsbee Member ROI Valuation Process at your next meeting. For more information on how to conduct this process, there are several articles at https://rigsbee.com/articles/association-growth/
- Association or society board of directors and paid staff review the specific value line items resulting from the process. Determine if more service and value can be offered to members under the most valued categories.
- Board then approves the changes and allows paid staff to implement. (Important note here, volunteer leaders need to “keep out of others’ rice bowls” and tend to their own, or nothing will ever get done.)
- Member recruitment brochure is to be developed based on the Rigsbee Member ROI Valuation Process results. These brochures should be held for the next membership meeting, like the annual convention.
- Keynote presentation on industry collaboration should be scheduled for the meeting where the brochures are distributed. The job of your keynoter is to get your members excited about what is possible for their business through accelerated collaborations resulting from increased association or society membership.
- Keynoter announces the new membership recruitment campaign and asks for a commitment from each member to personally give out 10 brochures to colleagues and industry participants.
- The question of prizes for membership recruitment is frequently posed by association leadership. I am neutral on the subject; however I would recommend that you consider this: Do you want your members recruiting for tangible prizes or for the benefits they will receive through increased industry collaboration?
They are called the disenfranchised! Within a trade association or professional society’s membership; the disenfranchised are also referred to as the grumblers, the fringe, the disconnected, the malcontent, and the contrarians.
Warning: this article is bullet-hole riddled with clichés; however that was my disposition the day of writing. Nonetheless, this article is absolutely worth the read for all association and society paid staff and volunteer leaders.
In my professional association, many have classified me as one of the above. However about 10 years ago I did something about it and formed a community within the association that draws about 20% of the attendees to my annual event which is held in conjunction with the association’s convention. Now many of the association’s members also considered to be in my same disenfranchised category receive heightened value in their convention experience through my event. However, most associations do not have an “Ed” doing something for the outcast members. This is now the time for me to break my arm patting myself on the back.
Let’s talk about your association or society. How do you reel in the self-exiled members before they quit your organization? Below I have listed a few of the questions that I ask of boards of directors when facilitating strategic board planning retreats. Regardless of your position; paid staff or volunteer leader, asking the questions below at your next board meeting will cause an honest discussion around the topic of member engagement.
1. Do you know what really matters to the disconnected and have you attempted to deliver what they want?
Let’s face it, how can you deliver value, at any level, to a person if you have no idea as to what they consider to be valuable? I can’t tell you how many “happy sheet” surveys I’ve completed that asked the wrong questions; I believe for fear of hearing what people really think. What’s a happy sheet? A questionnaire that is written in such a way to elicit only one answer—yep, everything’s wonderful. As you know, when the ostrich’s head is in a hole, its rear is quite exposed—not the intended result. You can only improve the right things at the right time when you know what urgently needs to be fixed.
2. Are the disenfranchised members really grumbling contrarians or do they simply want different kinds of value—value that is not as easily delivered?
What do you do when you’ve picked all the low laying fruit—go away, or get a ladder? For many in association or society leadership, going the course is always the safe direction. However, to grow your organization, you must consider the needs of those that fall to the wake of the mainstream.
You are either green and growing or ripe and rotting. Many mature associations have had to merge with others that are involved in their industry. First, perhaps there shouldn’t have been multiple associations. But, I’m quite sure the genesis of the newer organization was out of discontentment from particular segments of the original organization’s membership. A new organization was formed and some time later dissolved, or the original organization met its demise. At the end of the day, to keep members engaged in an organization, they must receive value. The value might be that of, being valued or that of other more tangible issues—regardless, the value must be received.
3. Do you allow your organization’s Past President Good Ol’ Boys’ Club to be the organization’s puppet master?
Let me count the ways I’ve seen this, and let’s be clear on what really is, a puppet master. For this article, I define the puppet master as the person or persons behind the scene that pull the strings controlling the puppets. Am I calling your elected board members and paid staff puppets? I’ll just say this, if the shoe fits…
I realize this discussion will anger the good ol’ boys, but shouldn’t the elected board, in concert with the paid staff, run the organization? The insidiousness of this puppet master dynamic is that for many who want to make a difference, they would just as soon not make waves. And, for the single blade of grass, or member, that does try to rise above, the puppet master acts as a lawn mower and chops that blade, or member, down to the level of the rest. So why go through the trouble? Let the puppet masters pull the strings.
4. Are your board members continually seeking to deliver more perceived value to the organization’s members?
Wow, you mean improve? Sorry for being so cynical, it is just that I have worked with so many associations that are riddled with volunteer leaders that want the privileges and stature of a board member position but are unwilling to accept the same responsibility and perform their duties in a timely manner. Also I have seen plenty of paid staffers that are on cruise control, enjoying the comfortable ride. To continually deliver more member value means to get off cruise control and take some risks.
5. Why are you being so resistant to change?
What is it about this particular sacred cow that makes it so untouchable? This is the touchy question that gets many “doers and risk takers” chopped down to size and most aggravates the good ol’ boy puppet masters. Want an example? Try discontinuing your golf tournament—never you, mind that it has lost money the last five years in a row! Damn it! We’re not giving up the event! Now that’s settled!
The hard question for many trade associations or professional societies is this, are we trying to serve the members or are we trying to perpetuate the association’s legacy (the past president’s good ol’ boy club)? As a writer and professional speaker, I live in a glass house and will admit to being part of the good ol’ boys’ club in organizations of which I have once been a member. Fortunately, I realized when it was time for me to leave—I was just too stubborn to change.
An analogy I’ll draw; back in the days when I taught mostly sales training. I would tell a sales manager that they would have to fire that star sales person that left a wake of excrement behind and demoralized the rest of the sales force with his or her behavior. While they were the top sales person, they greatly damaged the sales department and the organization by their unacceptable behavior—that was being accepted. As such, this greatly flawed top performer became a heavily weighted ball and chain to the department and organization rather than a stabilizing anchor. At some point the sales manager was going to have to let go—in my opinion—the sooner the better. This opens a door for the rest of the organization to improve. It’s just hard to let go of what is comfortable—no matter the damage that’s being done.
Yes, the larger your membership, the better your organization can serve your industry. Might it make good sense to give up one member if you get ten in return?
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.
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.
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.
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?