7 Proven Ways to Grow Your Membership

By: Tony Rossell

Are you reaching your membership goals? If not, consider these tried and true tips.

"Why isn't our membership growing?"

When your board asks this crucial question, what will your answer be? Yes, the economy has perhaps made growth more challenging in recent years. But that answer will only do for so long.

The real reason may be that one or more of the foundations that support a growing membership marketing program has gone missing at your association.

Here are seven sometimes overlooked strategies that have a big impact on whether your membership is growing or not.

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1. Make recruiting new members a priority. You cannot retain your way to growth. No matter how effective your retention program is, members will still leave your association, so building a thriving membership acquisition program is fundamental. Survey results in the 2010 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report indicate that associations that put a higher priority on acquisition than retention are more likely to be growing their membership numbers.

2. Do not reinvent the membership marketing wheel. Every organization has unique challenges, but that does not mean that time-tested membership marketing strategies and tactics do not apply. Take time to understand and use the best practices that have grown membership for hundreds of associations over the years.

3. Give membership marketing adequate funding. A member generates a predictable dues income stream over time for an association: For example, an association that charges $200 a year in dues and maintains an 85 percent renewal rate will hold onto a member for an average of 6.66 years and receive $1,332 in lifetime dues revenue alone. How much would you spend to receive a $1,332 income stream? Fund your membership marketing with a view toward the lifetime value of a member.

4. Build your awareness of prospects by obtaining opt-ins. Some associations have adopted a concept that I call "trading content for contact," offering a free article download or e-newsletter subscription in exchange for granting permission for further communications. These opt-ins are prime prospects for membership and can provide a high-response complement to outside list rentals.

5. Engage new members by encouraging a second interaction. Survey data indicate that the more personal your follow-up interactions are with a new member, the more likely that member is to renew. Another key is to encourage additional interactions between the new member and your organization. For example, one organization's data showed that members who placed a product order in the past year were 28 percent more likely to renew than those who had not made a purchase. Eliciting almost any interaction from a new member, from having them complete a survey to simple phone contact, increases the likelihood of renewal.

6. Deploy multiple channels and higher frequency of contacts to renew members. The days when three renewal notices got the job done are over. A renewal system today should include mail, email, and phone, with a total of 10 or more renewal contacts to achieve optimum returns.

7. Track and measure every membership marketing activity. All the right membership marketing in the world will not make a difference without tracking. Even with well-run programs, the variance in results between the best and the worst marketing effort can be 1,000 percent or more, depending on timing, copy, lists, offers, and marketing channels. Carefully measuring results allows the proper allocation of marketing funds and best return for each dollar spent.

Tony Rossell is the senior vice president of Marketing General, Inc., in Alexandria, Virginia. He is coauthor of the Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report and Membership Essentials and also blogs on membership marketing at http://membershipmarketing.blogspot.com. Email: [email protected]