I spent seven years in commercial printing sales. It was often a difficult job that required visiting corporations and businesses many times before I even landed one sale. I had to keep in regular contact with my clients to make sure they remembered me when they needed printing. If there was a problem with the project, I was the one who had to figure out what happened, negotiate with the press department, and ultimately, preserve the relationship with the client.
Now that I am in nonprofit management and consulting, I realize that membership development isn’t much different. You still have to do all that; it’s just that the product is a little different. In nonprofit or association sales, dues paying members, event registrations and sponsorships are your products. So, here is a new way of looking at membership development.
Finding Prospects: It is very important to buy or build a list of potential members, past or lapsed members. If a prospect list is not readily available, you might check with your licensing board, use other organization directories (Chambers, etc.) or even purchase an industry list from a service. A solid internet search process will likely be necessary every couple of years as businesses come and go. Another source is your current members. Often, they will say to me, “I see so-and-so all the time in the field. They should be a member!” Follow up on those leads. Better, ask that member if they would be willing to contact them. Always, “member to member” contact is the best way to get leads.
Contacting Prospects. Be perfectly clear, almost no one decides one day, “Hey, I think I’ll join an association! I have nothing to do and plenty of money.” This is a job of a calibrated measure of both persuasion, logic and to some degree, guilt. This is where many associations go wrong. You can’t just send one letter or one email and give up. You need to make many contacts (research says up to seven) using multiple platforms. Contacting is simply exposure, you will need to have compelling, personal contacts with your prospective members.
Making the sale: Many associations just assume once you present your fantastic mission and programs your prospect will be compelled to say YES! Odds are you will be rejected a lot. No time, too much money…. So how do you make the sale? First, remember your prospect is a person. Listening is essential to determine needs and wants. Once you do that, now you have an opportunity to share ways your group can meet their needs.
Public Relations: Show what your organization is doing for the members, for the community and for the causes your organization supports. Tell your story because people remember stories that are well told. That’s often the deciding factor for people who make the decision to join.
Research: A research study called “Why Members Belong,” conducted this year by AssociationMetrics studied the reason why members belong: They found these top reasons in order of importance:
- Network and build relationships
- Stay current on information
- Get member benefits
- Attain or maintain certifications
- Get more business
- Attend events
- Have access to professional development
- To show they are professionals.
Understanding, and on occasion, adjusting, your association’s benefits is critical. Holding discussions around the items above is a good start. Make the sale: people need to be asked. Will you join us? Will you attend our event?
So, think of member recruitment as a combination of marketing, public relations and sales. Know that both current and potential members need to be “re-sold” on their membership every year. Have a solid plan, strategy and tactics and you will succeed in keeping and recruiting members.
Harvey Gail is president of Spire Management, an Association Management and Event Planning Company. www.SpireManagement.com @HarvGail.