Ashley Uhl, CAE
Ashley Uhl, CAE, is the founder of Association Think in Vienna, Virginia.
The American Beekeeping Federation saw an opportunity to create some buzz for member recruitment with a free one-year, digital membership.
Since 2010, honey bees have been frequently featured in the news and have received some celebrity support. While the publicity was great, the American Beekeeping Federation wanted to go beyond news clips and documentaries and actively engage busy beekeepers, who were not already members, in hopes that they may join its mission, encourage membership, and attend the annual conference.
ABF board members worked closely with Meeting Expectations, an event management and association management company, to brainstorm ways to attract new members at a low cost. They decided to offer complimentary one-year digital memberships, in hopes of gaining dues-paying members 12 months later.
Included in this free membership was access to an e-newsletter, digital versions of ABF’s magazine, and beekeeping and bee health webinars. These members were also given a discounted rate to attend the annual conference. However, they did not have voting privileges during the annual membership meeting.
Print and digital marketing elements gave the digital-only membership a grassroots feel. The beekeeping industry has a vast reach at the state and local levels. ABF state delegates reached down to local events and benefited from strong social networks, especially from Facebook’s highly engaged members.
To make it easier for state delegates to reach nonmembers, the marketing and creative services team created a boldly designed complimentary coupon. Social media came into play as the digital team devised several promotional postings throughout the year about this special membership offer. Many dues-paying members also shared the post with their networks, which helped to create “viral buzz.”
Through heavy email campaigns and phone calls made by staff, 250 complimentary members became dues-paying members.
Within a week of the campaign’s January 2016 launch, it attracted 1,500 new members. Over the next year, almost 4,500 digital-only memberships were added. Member webinar attendance (open to both dues-paying and complimentary members) increased by 90 percent, and more than 65 percent of those attendees brought in new complimentary members.
As the end of the complimentary membership period approached, the focus shifted from recruitment to retention of these members. Through heavy email campaigns and phone calls made by staff, 250 complimentary members became dues-paying members.
At its annual conference in January, ABF leaders hosted a new member orientation. From the 70 or so attendees in the room, more than half were new members from the complimentary membership campaign. Not only did these members join ABF, but they also saw the value to attend the conference.
In addition, several comp members became heavily involved in the association and now serve on committees. ABF continue to promote education information and membership options to the remaining comp members who have not yet joined and is regularly exploring opportunities to keep this strong network of prospective members engaged.