5 Ways to Grow Your Association’s Membership

This month, let’s talk membership growth—more specifically, five surefire ways to grow and maintain your association’s memberbase. If executed thoroughly and adhered to strictly, these tactics should yield solid returns for years to come.

1. Understand your members’ needs. 

Now this may seem simple (if not obvious), but many organizations act on what they think members want, not what they know members want. The needs of your members will change regularly, so talk to them on a regular basis. Don’t just interact with them at your events. Also visit them in their environment.

And remember—don’t just conduct formal and informal surveys. Take action on that data. Let your members know when you make changes based on their input. It can be as simple as a “You spoke and we listened” update in your monthly e-newsletter. Members want to know their voice is being heard. The quickest way to lose a member is to ignore them when they speak up.

2. One size doesn’t fit all.

Rather than offering a one-size-fits-all membership model, consider offering a tiered model that aligns with your various member segments. For example, offer a free membership to those who are current students. Or consider working with schools to offer an academic membership to students (subsidized by the school).

Keep in mind though—these discounted or free entry level offerings will require you to develop a nurture and upgrade strategy prior to launch in order to get these free or discount members up to regular (full-paying) levels. But I’ve seen this approach produce excellent results for organizations who are able to make these members feel valued, while making a strong case to upgrade a year or two later.

3. Take social media seriously.

Recognize the power of social media. Too often I see organizations hand over the keys to their social media properties to an intern or a fresh out of college new hire that has no marketing experience. Remember, just because a young adult knows how to use social media for personal purposes does not mean they are qualified to manage your organization’s social media properties. Would you hand over the keys to a non-dues revenue program or direct mail program to an intern?

I didn’t think so.

Social media is one of the most powerful tools in a marketer’s toolbox, but you must harness the power it provides. If you don’t have a seasoned social media marketer on staff, then look for strategic support externally. It’s actually quite affordable and I promise, it’s worth the investment. But if you insist on handing your social media programs over to someone less than seasoned, here are a few tips:  

  • Build content calendars that are platform specific (i.e., don’t post the same message on across all properties)
  • Build a 12-month content strategy plan
  • Create content that is contextual
  • Be a resource for your fans/followers
  • Share information and facts that are engaging and will therefore encourage reposting/re-tweeting
  • Respond to all questions/comments in a timely manner
  • Establish business rules as guidelines for managing each platform’s community
  • Explore paid social media advertising to amplify your organic social messaging. This will allow your brand to reach a larger audience and recruit new members

4. Turn site visitors into members.

As you probably already know, the majority of visitors to association sites are not members. They are individuals seeking career opportunities or career guidance. Thus, associations must develop a strategy to turn site visitors primarily interested in career opportunities and/or career guidance into members.

For instance, have you considered making the career / job section a resource prominently featured on your homepage to increase engagement and time on site? Why make them dig for the info they seek?

Are you aggressively collecting email addresses for unknown site visitors? If not, consider using a light box while offering enticing content (e.g., new job listings) in exchange for their email address. By doing so you can convert site traffic into prospects and leads.

Are you nurturing prospects into leads? If not, consider exploring marketing automation or an advanced email service provider (ESP).

Are you tracking site visitor behavior? If not, be sure to set up Google Analytics to track onsite activity properly. Doing so will allow you to optimize your site based on your prospects’ online behaviors.

5. Members are your best recruiters.

If your association is like most, then you host several large events throughout the year. Be sure to ask members to bring a friend. Referrals continue to be a top source for bringing in new members.

But often times you must incentivize. Maybe it’s a free upgrade or a discounted membership. Or maybe it’s a branded promo item or a special VIP event for the top referral producers. The possibilities are endless. One great way to determine the perfect referral incentive—just ask your members what it would take.

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Kris Murphy

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