Tim Ebner is communications director and press secretary at the American Forest & Paper Association in Washington, DC. He is a member of ASAE’s Communication Professionals Advisory Council and a former Associations Now senior editor.
The US Composting Council created a sponsor-a-member program, where organizational members donate funds to underwrite the cost of associate-level memberships.
If you want to give a seedling a chance to grow, start with plenty of nutrient-rich soil and some sunlight and water. It turns out that same principle applies, metaphorically speaking, when it comes to new members.
This year, the US Composting Council is celebrating its 25th anniversary, and it’s marking the occasion with a sponsor-a-member program, designed to make it easier for associate-level members to join.
The program gives free access to students or those starting careers in composting. Each membership is underwritten by an organizational member or benefactor. The benefactors help review and approve new members, who then sign on to serve as part of the association’s young professionals committee.
So far, the campaign has been an effective way to welcome new members, says Linda Norris-Waldt, the US Composting Council’s membership and marketing manager.
Cost can be a big barrier to entry. Even at the associate level of $100 [annually] some people simply can't afford to join.—Linda Norris-Waldt, US Composting Council
“We know there are a lot of young people out there studying environmental sciences and excited to be entering the composting industry,” she says. “This year as part of our anniversary, our executive board placed a strategic priority on recruiting these young leaders.”
It’s not just students who are attracted to the sponsor-a-member program—some career changers in their 20s and 30s are applying. Norris-Waldt estimates that about 75 of the 700 members in the US Composting Council are under 40. “Cost can be a big barrier to entry,” she says. “Even at the associate level of $100 [annually] some people simply can’t afford to join.”
Meanwhile, the program has helped deepen engagement with current members. Benefactors dedicate time to network and connect with the young members they sponsor, Norris-Waldt says, and they see the program as an opportunity to listen, learn, and potentially recruit young talent.
“A lot of our benefactors are organizations or businesses that tap these younger members for market research, business trends, or career opportunities,” she says. “It’s turning out to be an even bigger benefit for them.”
The US Composting Council is starting to reap the rewards as well. The new associate members are playing active roles in event and conference programming, including a Shark Tank-style pitch session coming to next year’s annual meeting.
“This way, they can pitch their new business ideas to experienced professionals,” Norris-Waldt says. “I think young people are eager and looking for these opportunities to grow.”
[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled "Unearthing New Members."]