The Seven Biggest Mistakes in Membership Recruitment

by Tony Rossell

“Why isn’t my membership growing?” We hear this question often in our consulting with associations.  When we investigate the concern, a consistent theme emerges. In most instances, the root of the problem comes down to issues with the membership recruitment program.

That is why in the book, Membership Recruitment: How to Grow Recurring Revenue, Reach New Markets, and Advance Your Mission, Tony Rossell explores the impediments holding back associations’ membership.  Here are the most consistent challenges we find in developing a successful membership recruitment program.

  1. Abandonment of Membership Recruitment – Perhaps the most significant problem holding back membership for associations is not consistently asking prospective members to join. An association may believe that they can grow their membership by merely increasing retention rates and that recruitment is too expensive or challenging. In reality, one of the best predictors of overall membership growth is a thriving recruitment effort.  Years of benchmarking data show a correlation between new member input and overall membership growth.
  2. Excessive Planning – A good plan is needed to grow membership. A plan includes defining your value proposition, identifying target markets, and developing a schedule and goals. However, many associations spend so much time developing a plan to answer every objection and contingency that they delay selling memberships.  They end up with a book-sized document that is out-of-date when and if ever implemented. Instead, consider a “ready, fire, aim” philosophy and do something now.
  3. Inadequate Special Offers – Membership is a push product. It is sold, not sought.  A prospect can likely join 24/7 on your website.  So, an incentive is needed to get someone to join now.  The fear is a special offer like a new member discount will lead to a less committed member.  But test after test by many associations demonstrates that a strong offer both in the near-term and long-term benefits membership growth.  For example, companies run sales promotions not because they like giving away money but because it grows the number of customers and their revenue.
  4. Overreliance on a Single Channel – Many associations have been damaged by relying on a single tactic to bring in new members. Those groups that depended on an annual meeting to attract members each year were hurt by pandemic caused cancellations. Others that were reliant on email acquisition efforts have burned out their email lists through overuse.  The solution is to develop a marketing portfolio using an omnichannel strategy that uses a variety of methods like mail, phone, social media, paid digital ads, and sales efforts to get potential members.
  5. Insufficient Frequency of Contact – Once and done is not an effective marketing strategy. Membership recruitment requires ongoing and consistent outreach.  Growing associations maintain digital ads throughout the year, consistently call members every month when they lapse, send out regular invitations to join, and build their prospect database with new content offers. 
  6. Lack of Testing – When carefully measured, even well-run recruitment efforts show dramatic variance between their best list, offer, and message. So, structuring statistically valid tests can determine what is working and what is not successful.  Some test outcomes impact results – even with minor changes — by well over 100 percent. Without a testing strategy, a recruitment program will substantially underperform.
  7. Neglecting a Call to Action – The first questions someone asks when getting a promotion is “what is it?” and “what am I being asked to do?”. Fortunately, marketers are typically very good at describing the benefits of membership.  But they often fail at telling the prospect what to do with the information.  Defining a Call to Action (CAT) needs to be the starting point in planning a promotion.  Start creating your promotion with the action you want your prospective member to do or the place where you want the prospect to go to join and work backward.

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