Many of us struggle to improve our membership growth and retention. Within our offices, and before our boards, we search endlessly for one idea that will reverse our membership fortune. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet.
To successfully attract and keep members, we must continually remind ourselves that membership marketing is a process. No single "super" idea will turn everything around. Until we face this fact, we will continue to repeat the mistakes of the past.
There are three distinct phases of membership marketing. First, you must understand your membership. Second, you must attract new members to your organization. Third, you must keep those members.
Understanding your membership
When building a membership recruitment program, getting bogged down in complex marketing theory and fancy ideas is easy. Before you commit your valuable time and resources to the buzzword of the moment, consider three questions:
Once you have answered these questions, you will understand how to target your membership recruitment activities. The individuals or companies that have already joined provide insight into what individuals or companies might join.
There are countless ways of studying membership. Begin by asking the question: What are the demographics of my membership? Demographic information could include some or all of the following: age, income, education, geographic location, title, length of membership and type of membership. While collecting many different types of information is possible, try to focus on areas that will help you identify and understand your current and potential members.
A common means of collecting this data is to include this information in your database or directory update process. Simple, inexpensive surveys can also accomplish this task.
Next, answer the question, what problems do your members face? The only way to understand your members' problems is to ask them. Traditionally, this is done every three to five years as part of the strategic planning process. Unfortunately, your members do not face a changing personal and professional environment every three to five years. Your members face these problems every day.
It is a simple process to distribute a small survey each year to your membership. Allow your members to identify and rank issues of concern. You can then adjust your programming and other activities to reflect the priorities of your members. Optimally, you will execute this survey with your budget process so that you factor changing program needs into next year's budget.
After determining the problems your members face, begin deciding how to address these issues. Once you have an accurate demographic picture of you membership and a strong understanding of the issues they are concerned about, you can assess whether the priorities, programs and services currently provided are consistent with your members' needs.
It is difficult to objectively review the program/service offering of your association. Many sacred cows exist. The historical precedent of certain activities may seem insurmountable. By understanding your members and their problems, you can provide a more fact-based assessment of each program's worth. While you may not be successful in changing the program mix, at least you'll know which programs offer the highest potential for marketing success.
Recruiting new members
There are many different tactics for recruiting new members. Tried and true methods include direct mail, telemarketing, member-get-a-member programs, etc. By focusing on how your organization addresses the problems of the potential member and by focusing on individuals or companies that fit the profile you have developed, each of these programs will be incrementally more successful.
The following 5-step process can be used to carry out major membership marketing programs.
Retaining your members
A common mistake in the association world is to focus on new member recruitment and forget member retention. New member marketing is exciting and appealing. You get to develop marketing plans, create brochures and write fascinating promotional copy. Existing members, while far more beneficial to the organization, get a generic thank you note with their dues invoice.
Your organization should invest more of its resources on member retention than recruitment. Your goal should be to increase the affiliation of these members.
How do you recognize declining affiliation?
You discover that the number of volunteers is decreasing. Your member retention rate is falling. Each of these are symptoms that the organization is no longer maintaining a relationship with the current member.
There are two areas that should take priority to retain members.
First, the organization must continue to adapt to the changing needs of members. Use the tactics outlined above to continually reeducate yourself on the problems and issues faced by your members and how the association can solve them.
Second, focus on improving your member service. The quality of your member service is one of the primary factors influencing the decision to retain a membership. Oftentimes, it is the only personal interaction between the member and your organization. Is this interaction enjoyable or convenient? Does the staff seem to care about their work and the problems they face? Are phone calls returned promptly? Are commitments delivered on time?
The world is full of people who attach their loyalty to an inferior product or service that displayed a higher level of concern and service. The customer service process is not a one-shot deal. You must commit to these activities and build these initiatives into your budget to the extent that your resources allow.
As the positive interaction between your members and your association builds, their affiliation with the goals and programs of the association will increase. Over time this will allow your association to try new initiatives or use this support for more intangible activities like government affairs or public relations activities.
The bottom line? As stated earlier, there is no silver bullet. You must pursue the marketing process methodically. If you make a commitment to this process, your reward is to sit back and enjoy the results!
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