Saturday, June 27, 2009

22 Ideas to Help Grow and Retain Your Association’s Membership

I am a big believer in creating member communities around causes. There is so much evidence to suggest that creating a groundswell and affinity around an issue is likely the most powerful way to accomplish significant change. Many associations and member communities today, despite their origins, lack the vitality and activities to keep people interested and engaged in their causes. Here are 22 simple, low-tech, and powerful things you can do to grow and retain your community members.

Featured member profiles

Create a book profiling members and how the association has helped them. Treat this like a newspaper or magazine article. Use member photos, highlight their current employment situations, their accomplishments and credentials, and why they became members of the association. Make sure to focus on how they are better because of their membership. Include contact information for those people so that readers can reach them with questions.

Pre-program slideshows

Create a PowerPoint or other type of computerized slideshow that runs before each and every program you offer. This is a background item that people can watch or read at their leisure before a program or during a networking time. It also helps people see who is who if you have photos of members with their names (e.g., group shots, board members). Have some music playing in the background and put the show on repeat so that it runs by itself. Although the length of a show will vary, try to have enough slides so that the show only repeats twice. Make sure you have someone handy with a digital camera during each program taking pictures for the next slideshow.

Featured benefit: In each printed publication put a special box that regularly highlights a member benefit.

You likely send out many different types of communications to your membership and prospects each month. In all your communications, whether they be print, electronic or broadcast (voicemails, multimedia) make sure to highlight a specific benefit of membership. Make the benefit quantifiable in some way, perhaps through a statistic or a testimonial from a member. The greatest impact of this practice happens over time by limiting yourself to one benefit in each communication and frequently varying which benefit you highlight.

On various pages of your website, have spots that highlight specific member benefits. Rotate these frequently.

Just as you want to have specific membership benefits highlighted in your publications, so too should you have specific benefits highlighted throughout your website. Listing them in one place is a good idea. But it is also a good idea to weave them throughout your web pages. This helps to remind visitors to your site about key advantages they might have if there were members.

For each new membership application received on a specific program day, provide a free audio CD of the speaker/program. Or send out other special audio CDs to new members as a gift.

This is an inexpensive way of providing an incentive for taking immediate action. If a prospect is enjoying the day’s program, and you couple that experience with targeted reasons (benefits) to join, the free audio CD can provide an added reason to join. You can also provide a “free gift with membership” to new members by giving them an audio CD of a different program you’ve offered. No matter what program you provide them on CD, make sure it is something that has real and lasting value. You want to make this something that they’re going to want to listen to again and again, or perhaps share with a friend. Make sure to label the CD with your association’s name and contact information, and put a short commercial in the CD as well.

Send birthday cards to members.

One reason why people join associations is for the affinity benefit. People join communities because they feel good when they are recognized and remembered. Many member applications ask for birthdates (or at least they should – month and date only, no year). Capture this information and put it into your database. Then, on a regular basis, send members birthday cards with a handwritten note or signature. People will be amazed you remembered – especially when others did not!

Send anniversary cards to members on their renewal dates.

Each year members receive their renewal notices and a request for money from the association. Anniversary cards are a nice way of recognizing and honoring those members who have demonstrated loyalty to the association. Celebrate the first, third, fifth, seventh, tenth, fifteenth, and every fifth year after that. Honor these people by adding a ribbon to their nametags, sending cards, or putting their names in the newsletter. Basically, do anything that recognizes them and says “thank you.”

Staff a resource/information table.

Many associations have a display table at their programs. This table has information on it that people can go to and get if they want it. But many of these tables are stuck in the back corner with no one staffing them. Keeping the table is a good idea and making sure it is full of current and targeted information is imperative. Putting this table in the way of traffic is an even better idea, and having some of your most outgoing people staff this table creates a powerful tool for capturing new members and reinforcing the value proposition to existing members. Make sure the table staff do not get into social conversations. Their job is to provide information, make connections for people and help answer questions.

Have greeters/ambassadors at every meeting.

Many visitors to your association’s meetings may feel a sense of anxiety or discomfort if they don’t know anyone or are unsure as to how things work. They may not know where to sit or know anyone to talk to. Having a greeter at the door who shakes hands with everyone in a warm and friendly manner and notices visitors is a great way to help people feel welcome. When visitors do come through the line, they are immediately matched to an association ambassador (who is waiting nearby). This ambassador can walk them through the room, introduce them to people, and sit by them during the program. This ambassador is also prepared with a membership packet and is well versed on why membership is of value. Spending time with the visitor to answer questions and even guide them through completing the membership application can have a positive and immediate impact on membership growth.

Personal notes/cards

There are few things that help to make prospects and new members feel more welcome than a personal note or card from an association or chapter president. A handwritten card with a few welcoming words can go a long way toward helping to increase member engagement and loyalty. Sending cards on a monthly basis to new and renewing members is one way to help members feel that they’re important, they matter, and they’re more than just a number to the association.


Yes, they’re popular again, and rightfully so. Calling people on the phone to let them know you’re thinking about them and their future is a very positive way of growing and keeping your membership. Phone-a-thons should be staffed by members who really understand the value of the association’s benefits and have a personal story they can tell about how the association has benefited them. This type of activity works well for recruiting members and getting members to renew. These don’t have to be big to make an impact, either. Having a group of ten volunteers make 10 calls month each means you’re hitting at least 100 people each month – 1200 people a year.

Advertise calendar in local papers.

Most local newspapers have some type of community calendar section. Your association’s meetings for the month/week should be sent to the calendar editor of the local print media approximately two weeks in advance of the meeting date or the publication date.

Send out press releases to companies.

Unless your program or association activities are really “news”-worthy, most local media are not going to pick up the story. But that doesn’t mean you can’t send out press releases. Just send them to local area businesses instead. You’ll want to have a list of actual prospect names to send information to, and you’ll want to write each press release to be enticing: o one is going to care that a new board was elected, but someone will care if that new board has a plan to help the person advance his or her career. Try to limit press releases to once a month or quarterly. If you send them out too frequently, they’ll lose their impact.

Give a commercial to new members and make them really big stars for a day.

At each meeting, celebrate new members by having them stand and be recognized. You can even offer them a self-promoting, 30-second commercial as they introduce themselves. This is a great way to help them engage with their new membership community and also network, promote their business, or look for an employment opportunity. You can also have them write two or three sentences about themselves and put this information on your website or newsletter. This is also a great way to “celebrate” anniversary members.

Hold prospective member orientations.

Many times a regular member meeting is not the best place to help prospects or visitors learn everything they need to know about your association. Holding a separate prospective member or new member orientation is a positive way to recruit and retain. You can have these orientations just prior to your regular meeting (not after – people want to go home or back to work), or on a separate day. Make sure to show the value of membership, identify all the different benefits and how to use them for maximum results, and make it fun by allowing people to network with one another and make new friends.

Create specific, national and local value.

Every association that has a national organization and local or regional groups has the challenge of integrating the value from each level and helping members engage with that value. The national organization has to think about the big picture credibility and brand recognition of the association – and it can often provide bigger value items that are difficult for the smaller, local groups to generate. At the same time, local groups must provide value specific to their areas. Neither can survive without the other, and neither can survive by relying on the other to create and deliver value to members. Both must participate. Both must offer a value proposition. Both must engage the members in an integrated manner.

“Every Member One Member” local level contest

This contest is known by many names, but its purpose is the same. Each member is charged with getting just one new member during a specific time period. Hold this contest two times each year for a 45-day period (have one contest period just before your national convention). Give prizes and recognition to those members who achieve the goal of bringing in one new member – and give over-the-top recognition to those members who bring in more than one new member. Prizes and awards are always a good idea, but be sure to recognize everyone. Even be sure to recognize the new members. One way is to have their nametag say “PERSON told me about ASSOCIATION NAME!”

Create special business cards with coupons for boards.

It isn’t expensive these days to have business cards created for board members, and the payoff can be significant. Not only does this get your association’s name even further into the marketplace, but it also helps prospects and new members connect names with the association. This is also a great networking tool for board members who are in the community. When the topic of the association comes up, they can use their association- business card to encourage follow-up.

Put ads in your own newsletter.

Most associations have some type of newsletter, whether it is electronic or print. However, many associations will write an article about their news items or events when an advertisement will do the job much better. Don’t limit advertising to your sponsors or vendors; use this space to create ads that promote your events, programs or benefits of membership.

Partner, and participate in all national/local activities.

There is no doubt that local associations rely on their national organizations to some degree for credibility, infrastructure and member benefits. In the same manner, the national organization relies on the local groups to convey information and provide local support for its efforts. Unfortunately, however, some organizations fail to communicate with one another and each is left not knowing what the other is doing. It is important not just to inform, but also to create partnerships between the national and local bodies. This provides prospective and current members, the media and the community a unified voice for the association’s vision. And it engages the best each group offers for dynamic and powerful efforts.

Link sponsorships to membership.

Many associations promote the importance of members buying from and working with other members. This is a good message to send to sponsors and vendors as well. Where it is appropriate, tie in memberships to sponsorship agreements. This has a two-fold benefit. First, it can increase the value of your sponsorship benefits package (thus increasing your request value). Second, it grows your membership.

Single-shot volunteerism opportunities.

Volunteerism in associations is likely the most important factor when it comes to member retention and satisfaction levels. Associations are unique in that members have to both pay and work for their membership value. Providing members with meaningful service opportunities is a great way for them to find deep value in their association. “Meaningful” is the key word, though. Don’t limit yourself to static committees and long-term positions. Create short, single-shot service opportunities. Someone to pick up a speaker from the airport, and someone to drive him back. Someone to stuff envelopes next Tuesday. Someone to staff the registration desk this month. Someone to work on a task force or lead a focus group. There are often people in an association who are willing to help out but never get asked, or never see the right fit for them. So when you run out of ideas, ask your members what they’d be willing to do and let them at it.

-- David Kinard, PCM

[photo credit: DPM2/Flickr]


Jocelyn Harmon said...


Thanks for this great list re: how to make your organization more member-centric. I think that NTEN (Nonprofit Technology Network) does this exceptionally well.


David Kinard, PCM said...


I agree that NTEN does a great job of helping non profits better connect with their communities. A true resource for those who want to mingle with practitioners doing the work in real time.

If others are interested in more information about NTEN, the org is located on the Web at

-- David