50 Ways to Increase Membership for Associations or Nonprofits

As a leader in your organization, one of your many responsibilities is growth. Sure, that applies to your bottom-line, but it specifically applies to boosting your member base. However, according to a recent Wild Apricot report, 68% of organizations have trouble with bolstering their membership numbers. 

According to the same research, using multiple outreach tactics can be more effective when it comes to moving the needle on growth. So to help you hone in on a few potent tactics, we’re rounding up 50 impactful methods to grow your membership.

Below you’ll find 38 ideas specifically for associations, plus 12 more for nonprofits of any kind. 

38 Ideas to Increase Membership for Your Association

1. Host a networking event

One way to build awareness of your association is with a single (or a series) of in-person events. And one of the best ways to take your recruiting efforts on the road is with a networking mixer.

Create and promote the networking event as a way to hobnob with other professionals from their industry. An open event encourages members and non-members alike to attend, which gives you the opportunity to share all your great membership benefits. Hosting it at a casual venue like a coffee shop, local restaurant, or brewery keeps the event low-key, so you can simply have a spontaneous conversation with prospective members.

2. Create a referral program

Research shows that one of the most efficient ways to boost your membership is through referrals. As a result, it only makes sense to get your members involved in spreading the word via a referral program

To encourage your current loyal members to participate, offer an incentive for those who send you successful new recruits. Providing a reward—a discount on dues, a gift card and handwritten note, a gift card for a fancy dinner—shows your appreciation for current members.

3. Host a “bring a friend” meeting or event

Another kind of recruitment event you can host is a bring-a-friend meeting. Again, you can get your current members to share all the advantages of your association by encouraging them to bring non-member friends or family to a networking event.

Create an event with networking opportunities for pros in your specific industry, complete with group introductions (like icebreaker activities). You can also take this opportunity to review all your membership benefits to pique the interest of any prospective members in attendance.

To help members get engaged, offer door prizes for people who bring a plus-one, or incentivize them with discounts on dues or other rewards.

4. Host a free luncheon or speaker series

Non-members are more likely to attend one of your open recruitment events if they’re enticed with the chance to network with industry influencers. One way to do this is to host a lunch event with a prestigious speaker from your industry.

Put together a free luncheon that allows prospective members to gain insights from an industry leader—this not only positions you as an authority in the space, but also gives you the opportunity to tell them about membership with your association.

5. Offer a discount or promotion

It pays (literally) to offer promotions—especially to would-be members. For prospective members who just need a little nudge to push them toward “yes,” a small incentive like a discount on dues or a new member gift can go a long way.

This is even more effective if you create a sense of urgency. Make the promotion or discount a limited-time deal. That way, prospective members are encouraged to make a decision to take advantage of the promotion.

6. Offer a free trial membership

Some prospective members may want to get hands-on knowledge of how joining your association can actually benefit them. One method to demonstrate the advantages is to offer newbies a free trial membership.

As with a test drive on a new car, give prospects a limited time period (two weeks up to a couple of months) to take your membership for a spin. Ensure they understand all the benefits they’d receive as fully fledged members, and highlight the advantages they’ll get to enjoy during their trial—whether that be free tickets to a networking event with other members, access to online learning modules, or temporary access to your online member community. Once they see first hand all the benefits you offer with membership, they’re more likely to commit.

7. Solicit feedback from existing members

When it comes to successfully recruiting new members, you already have a valuable source to consult for input: your current members. 

Ask your members for honest feedback via a member needs assessment. What are the best benefits of belonging to your association, and are there any gaps you can address? Then take those notes and incorporate them into your offerings. Listening and acting on feedback from your members can help your membership be even more appealing to prospects.

8. Include member testimonials on your website

Did any of your members leave any particularly positive feedback? Ask their permission to share it on your website and in other promotional materials. Prospective members would love to hear from real people about what it’s like to be a part of your association.

9. Ask members for recruitment ideas

In addition to asking your current members for feedback and testimonials, you can ask them for specific recruitment ideas. They were all prospective members at one point or another, so they know exactly what would entice someone to join.

Ask them to go back and imagine not being a member. What kinds of offers would they find appealing? What tactics would convince them to join? Have they seen any strategies used by other nonprofits or businesses that resonated with them?

10. Create a recruitment committee

You may have a few members who have lots of great recruitment ideas and are particularly enthusiastic about attracting new members to your association. If that’s the case, consider creating a recruitment committee. 

This will allow you to delegate some of your recruitment tasks to people who are passionate and committed to your cause. Prospective members will be much more likely to join if they hear from a peer, rather than a member of your staff. Not to mention, members of your recruitment committee will enjoy a special role and a deeper connection to your organization.

11. Distribute merchandise

Members, both new and old, enjoy a little bit of free swag. You can offer new member items like branded gifts (pens, T-shirts, stationary, water bottles, etc., with your logo). Then, you can also sell these items on your website and at events.

Not only does branded swag offer an additional revenue stream, but everyone who carries or wears these items acts as a billboard for your association. And who can say no to that kind of free advertising?

12. Offer perks to new members

As we alluded to earlier on our list, incentivizing prospective members can sometimes be enough to tip the scales in your favor. And providing a few perks to new members can certainly catch their eye.

A few perks you could try include:

  • A discount on dues (like a “new member promo” of 15% off annual dues)
  • Free tickets to a conference in your industry
  • Entry into a giveaway for all new members 
  • Gift certificates to local businesses, cafes, restaurants, etc.

13. Offer a positive, engaging welcome series

New members want to feel welcomed, acknowledged, and valued. One of the best ways to do this is with a welcome program. Here are a few ideas:

  • Send a welcome letter, email, or card
  • Send a welcome package with everything new members need to know
  • Host a welcome event for new members
  • Spotlight new members on your website or in a newsletter
  • Give new members a chance to introduce themselves at your next meeting

14. Call prospective members

There’s nothing wrong with relying on older forms of communication to try to boost your membership. Get on the horn with a targeted list of prospective members to discuss the benefits of joining your association.

This old-fashioned way of chatting can feel more personalized than other digital means, like emails or social media posts.

15. Reach out via direct mail

Direct mail is another underrated form of communication for new member campaigns. More than 76% of younger members said that direct mail they’d received from their organization was somewhat or very effective.

In a time when most means of communication are digital and our mailboxes are mostly bills, direct mail can actually help you cut through the noise. So consider creating tailored flyers, postcards, or one-page mailers to send to prospective new members on your list.

16. Segment your communications

The key to effective communication is sending the right message to the right people at the right time. Rather than sending each of your prospective members the same message, split them up according to how you first connected with them, how long they’ve been on your mailing list, their demographic information, and their interests. Then, personalize your messages as much as you can. 

When you do this, your prospects will feel like the message was written just for them, and will be much more likely to take action.

17. Optimize your website to drive new memberships

Your website is one of the cornerstones of any new member campaign. After all, our recent research found websites and email were the top two mediums to boost your membership. It’s crucial to make sure your website makes it as easy as possible for prospective members to find everything they need.

For example, ensure that your member application is easily accessible. If possible, add a link to the application right on your homepage. Also, try to keep the application form as simple as possible—don’t request info that isn’t necessary.

18. Focus on enhancing your site’s SEO

Make it easier for your prospective members to find you online. You can do so by focusing on search engine optimization (SEO) for your association’s website.

Using a tool like Google Keyword Planner or Ahrefs, determine what crucial keywords your site already ranks for and then search for related keywords you can incorporate into your site to further increase traffic. Make sure you also do your homework on local keywords (i.e., “chamber of commerce near me”) to take advantage of those opportunities as well.

Finally, ensure your organization’s info is up-to-date on your website and your Google My Business page. Learn more about boosting your SEO efforts with our guide.

19. Demonstrate membership value via social media

To catch the eye of prospective members, it helps to demonstrate your membership benefits online—particularly on social media. Create posts for your branded social channels that highlight members being awarded continuing education certificates through your organization, photos of member-only events and conferences, and so on.

20. Host a membership drive

A membership campaign, also known as a membership drive, is a strategic, concerted effort to get your organization (and your many benefits) in front of as many new prospective members as possible. 

This kind of concentrated drive comprises of a multi-pronged plan where you promote your membership across channels, including digital outreach, recruitment at events, and incentivizing current members to refer new members.

21. Partner with similar organizations

When working to boost your membership, you don’t have to go it alone. Instead, partner up with other organizations to send one another prospective members or customers.

You can partner up with non-profits, other associations, or businesses to hold events, member drives, and build awareness with both audiences. For example: A chamber of commerce can team up with a neighborhood BIA to co-host a networking event for local business owners.

22. Host a conference

To speak to a larger audience of prospective members all at once, try creating and hosting a conference. This could take shape as a single or multi-day event, with opportunities for networking, speaker panels, and keynote speakers from your respective industry. 

This kind of conference that’s open to the public is not only a way to highlight your membership benefits, but it can also serve as a revenue stream for your organization.

23. Add a job board to your membership benefits

Make your membership even more valuable to prospect by creating a job board members can access. Members can pay a small fee to post open roles on the job board where candidates in your industry can find these jobs all in one central place.

This kind of job board is valuable for both members and job seekers, of course, but it’s yet another potential revenue stream for your organization as well.

24. Host a job fair for the community

Take the job board idea a step further and host a job fair. Invite your members and other employers in your industry and promote the event to job seekers in your area (particularly new and upcoming graduates). 

With proper marketing, word will spread about your event and you’ll see lots of potential new members in attendance. Be sure to send a communication to every attendee or chat with them in person about your association and the benefits of membership.

25. Sponsor a local event

If you aren’t up to the task of hosting your own conference or major event, you can sponsor an ongoing event instead. Sponsoring a local networking event or even sponsoring a booth at an existing conference gets your organization’s name out locally and in the industry without having to put together an entire event yourself.

26. Host a philanthropy event

You can also give back to your community while increasing your association membership. To achieve this, plan and host a volunteer event or fundraiser in partnership with a nonprofit or charity. Promote the event and open up participation to anyone in the community.

This kind of charitable event builds awareness of your association, and demonstrates that you’re active with philanthropic efforts within your area.

27. Reach out to lapsed members

You don’t always need to reinvent the wheel to boost your membership. Don’t just recruit brand-new members—it also pays to reach out to previous members.

Members lapse for a variety of reasons, but sometimes they just need a reminder that they can still rejoin your organization. Create a targeted campaign to re-engaged these once-active members with email marketing, direct mailers, and/or phone calls.

28. Put up flyers

Don’t solely rely on digital outreach to bring in new members. Design and distribute one-pagers and flyers at popular meeting spaces within your community. 

Depending on where your prospective members might normally congregate, you can post flyers on bulletin boards in your local library branches, community and recreation centers, grocery stores, cafes or coffee shops, and other relevant businesses.

29. Connect with colleges and universities

While partnering with businesses is a common (and effective) way to boost membership, you can also lean on colleges and universities to find prospective members.

Call up deans and the heads of your local post-secondary institutions to discuss how you can connect with current students or recent alumni who are studying subjects in your industry. For example, if you’re an association for architects, you can reach out to local architecture programs.

Ask whether you can come to speak to a class or participate in any upcoming career fairs. This is a way to recruit young members who might spend many years ahead enjoying the benefits of your membership.

30. Offer membership tiers

Give prospective members more options. While it might be easier from an administrative perspective to offer just one membership level, providing multiple tiers can remove a barrier of entry for some potential members.

Offer several membership tiers so that people have more choices when it comes to their level of involvement. This provides more flexibility so that prospective members can engage at the level they’re most comfortable.

31. Offer memberships by donation

Sometimes thinking outside the box when it comes to prices for your membership can be the nudge prospects need to commit. Try offering a lower membership tier by donation. Let potential members determine the amount they want to pay for access to this membership level. 

Creating a membership-by-donation model puts prospective members in control and allows them to pay based solely on perceived value. This pricing model can also boost your recruitment in the process.

32. Place ads in local media

Lean on local media to get the word out about your association. Try doing a small media buy for ads in your community’s newspaper, radio, and/or broadcast station. Placing media ads can help you promote the advantages of your membership to a broad audience—and you can run the same ad whenever your membership numbers need a boost.

33. Ensure existing members are satisfied

Keeping your current members happy can pay dividends—even compared to recruiting new members. According to Bain and Co. research, increasing member retention by only 5% can boost profits anywhere from 25% to 95%. Plus, happy members often tell their friends. So, don’t lose sight of keeping your current members satisfied.

To do this, make sure member appreciation efforts are top-notch. Communicate regularly how much your members are the lifeblood of your organization.

34. Automate membership renewal reminders

Make it as simple as possible for current members to stay involved with your association. Rather than relying on members to remember to renew their own membership plans, send them reminders to help them to stay current.

And to make renewals easier on you and your staff, leverage your membership management system to automatically send renewals.

35. Enhance your organization’s online community

Networking is a common reason people join associations—so make it easy for members to connect. Create an online community that allows your members to chat with one another and discuss industry trends and issues.

36. Start a mentorship program

A mentorship program is one of the most valuable member benefits you can offer. Simply match interested mentors and mentees and provide them with a structured process to help them develop a mutually beneficial relationship. 

For young members, mentorship is a great opportunity to learn from experienced and knowledgeable professionals in their field. For mentors, it’s a chance to give back, help shape the future of their industry, and develop their own leadership skills.

37. Offer a valuable continuing education program

Many industries require ongoing education and training, which is a great opportunity for you to provide value in another area for your members. And when prospective members see you offer valuable education that helps them upgrade their skills or maintain their certifications, they’re more likely to consider membership.

Create and host continuing education in various forms—webinars, courses, training—for your members to stay current with their skills. You can use a learning management system to create your courses and promote your program as a great value-add for members.

38. Give members more opportunities to participate in your advocacy campaigns

If your association does any advocacy work, give your members a chance to participate and advocate on your behalf. After all, they joined your association because they’re deeply passionate about your cause. Their involvement will help spread the word about your work within their networks and inspire others to join their efforts.

12 Ideas to Increase Membership for Your Nonprofit

If your nonprofit is not an association, but a different type of nonprofit — for example, a charity — your membership program is likely just one of your many other activities, such as providing services in the community and fundraising. 

Even if membership is not your main focus, there are still lots of ways to grow your membership program and use the extra income to help advance your mission. 

Here are a few ideas:

1. Brand your membership program

For charities, membership is about much more than providing member benefits in exchange for member dues. Members join because they share your values, care deeply about your cause, and want to help make a difference in your community. In that sense, their member dues are almost like a donation, and the member benefits are simply a nice add-on. 

In order to attract new members, try to appeal to them with clear messaging about your mission, vision, and values. Create an inspiring tagline and use it in all membership related materials.

2. Explain what your membership program helps fund

Asking prospective members to pay member dues is not too different from asking them to donate. The key is to be as transparent as possible about where their money will go, what it will support, and what impact it will help to create. 

People who are passionate about your mission will happily support your organization, as long as they can be certain that their contributions are needed and will be used in the most effective way possible.

3. Promote your membership benefits

If, in addition to having a mission worth supporting, you offer amazing membership benefits, you can use them to entice people to join. Remind prospective members about these benefits in your communications, on your website, and on social media.

4. Promote your membership program at your nonprofit events

Another great place to promote your membership program is at events. Your organization likely already puts on fundraising, stewardship, educational, and advocacy events, and there are probably lots of non-members in attendance. Use this opportunity to set up a membership booth at your event, talk to prospective members about joining, and include membership information in your event materials (event program, registration website, goodie bags, etc.)

5. Create an outreach cadence for prospective new members

Hearing about your membership program once probably won’t convince someone to join. More often than not, they need to be exposed to your messaging a few times before they will start considering becoming a member.

To help make this happen, create a communications plan for direct mail and email, as well as a content plan for social media. Plan out a strategy that will allow you to gently remind your prospective members about your membership program through different channels and at regular intervals. 

6. Segment prospective members for better communication

Because your membership program is not your only focus, your community is likely made up of all kinds of people — donors, volunteers, partners, etc. They all have the potential to become members, but the key thing to remember is that they shouldn’t all receive the same message. 

When sending communications to your prospective members, segment your mailing lists and customize messages to reflect the prospects’ involvement with your organization.

7. Use CTAs on your nonprofit’s website

One of the easiest ways for people to learn more about your membership program and to sign up is through your website. Take advantage of the traffic your website gets and streamline the sign-up process by including calls-to-action (CTAs) wherever you can. Include prominent buttons on most pages and place a button in the header that will stay there no matter which page (or which part of the page) people are viewing.

8. Offer an opportunity to sign up for your membership program on your donation page

You likely already put in a lot of effort to send people to the donation page on your website. Maximize the results of these efforts by including an option for people to sign up for membership. 

People who visit this page already care about your cause and are ready to show their support with a financial contribution, so there’s a high chance that they’ll seriously consider becoming a member.

9. Launch a membership drive social media campaign

Social media continues to be one of the most effective marketing tools for organizations and businesses across all industries. Use it to grow your membership by launching a special campaign to attract new members. You can run social media ads, create a content strategy that will reach potential new members organically, or even recruit your existing members to become peer-to-peer influencers.

10. Offer a range of membership tiers

When you offer just one membership tier, you create a barrier to entry for people who can’t afford the member dues or aren’t interested in the benefits you’re offering. To make membership accessible and valuable to more people, consider offering multiple membership tiers, potentially even including a free option.

This way, people can choose the level they’re comfortable paying for and the benefits they’ll actually take advantage of. This also allows members to upgrade over time or downgrade instead of leaving the membership completely.

11. Offer exclusive events for members

Incentivize more people to join by offering exclusive events for members. Alternatively, you can host events that are free for members but paid for non-members. Either way, once people see the value in joining your membership, they’ll be more likely to sign up.

12. Provide incentives for referrals

Referrals are one of the best ways to attract new members. Simply ask your current members to refer someone they know or bring a friend to one of your events or meetings.

When the recommendation comes from someone they know and trust, people will be much more likely to listen and take action. Not to mention, since these prospects are identified by your current members, they likely share the same interests and values, and will turn into engaged and long-lasting members. 

To incentivize your members to refer their friends and acquaintances, offer them something in return, such as an additional benefit, more access, or entrance to win a prize. 

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