A Holistic Approach to Membership Recruitment
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By Darrin Hubbard, CAE, Account Executive

If membership is the lifeblood of an organization, then significant resources need to be devoted to maintain the health of the organization. Say you have 500 members and have an excellent membership retention rate of 95%. Without supplementing your organization with new members, after three years your membership will be 429. Membership recruitment needs to be a priority in any membership campaign. Use this article as a resource to add new strategies to your membership toolkit.


Your approach to recruiting new members will only be as effective as the priority that it is given. Can your staff articulate the keys benefits of joining? Can your volunteers? Can you? Carve out some time at staff and board meetings to brainstorm opportunities and strategies for recruiting members. Keep the topic top of mind and it will pay dividends. Lead by example. Take some initiative and volunteer to personally be involved in recruitment activities and people will be more inclined to join you.

If a personal touch is more impactful than a faceless email, common sense would tell us to focus on those efforts. Each activity during the fiscal year is an opportunity to recruit new members – are you taking advantage of it?


Many organizations use key events during the year to recruit new members. This is a common strategy, as the difference in registration fees between member and non-member rates at large events can sometimes cover the membership alone. Are you pricing your events so that non-members might consider joining and attending as a member?

At the events, clearly identify members and nonmembers. Give members a ribbon or print the name badges for non-members on a different color paper so it is easy to differentiate. During the announcements, ask that the members help welcome non-members to the event.

Provide opportunities to join at the event. Consider special pricing, giveaways or putting the difference in non-member registration fees toward membership if someone decides to join.

Data-Driven Strategies

Take advantage of specialized programming, legislative news, newsletter content and other activities by tailoring your recruitment activities to prospective members. Consider sending an abstract of a relevant newsletter article to new professionals in the field as an example of the kind of high-quality content members receive. Share a legislative alert with non-members in a specific district, let them know what the organization is doing to protect the interests of the membership and invite them to join the coalition. Demonstrate the value of what belonging to your organization means and then ask them to be a part of the community.


People expect personalized communication. Today’s technology allows us to send emailed membership information addressed to a specific person, not a group or entity. Focus your communication on a particular aspect of membership that will provide value to a potential member — avoid sending a laundry list of benefits. You can include a link to a full list of membership benefits — but attention spans are short, so use your limited space to explain why a member should join by focusing on a specific benefit.

Utilize Multimedia

A large budget for professionally developed and edited material is not necessary to integrate multimedia into your approach. Average-quality video tells a more compelling story than words on a page. Record videos about how current members have benefitted from belonging to your organization. Start with your board members, but also approach event attendees and committee members. Is networking a key benefit of membership? Have members created a unique culture? Show footage of a reception, committee meeting or roundtable discussion and bring those intangible benefits to life. Don’t tell your story; show your story.


Potential members can come from many sources. Consider them all, but prioritize your efforts on warm (rather than cold) leads:

  • Current Members: Consider a member recruitment campaign where members who refer new members to the organization are entered into a drawing. Make it easy by developing an email that can be forwarded to non-member contacts. Ask board members to identify industry leaders who should be members of your organization.
  • Non-member event attendees: These people have already experienced your organization firsthand. Set aside 10 minutes each day to make a phone call and send a follow-up email personally inviting them to join. The personal touch will often make the difference.
  • Former members: Send a brief exit survey and find out the reasons why they are no longer members. Identify themes and work to address the gap between your offerings and their expectation. Follow up with them and tell them what has been done to accommodate their needs.
  • Non-members connected with LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.: If you are being followed by nonmembers, obviously there is interest in your offerings. Use social media to ask them to consider joining. Demonstrate your ability to communicate with them through several channels.
  • Purchased lists: Many health and human services organizations have lists that can be purchased or acquired at no charge from government or other regulatory agencies. Use these lists to welcome new licensees to the field, or invite them to a meet-and-greet reception with current volunteers.

Utilizing Limited Resources

The membership committee sometimes seems to be the most difficult entity to find volunteers for, yet the work they do is among of the most important to your organization. If you have an engaged membership committee, consider yourself lucky. Because time is a scarce resource, make their job as easy as possible. Rely on your systems and processes for welcome emails and renewal reminders. Use volunteers as greeters at events, to make welcome phone calls to new members or chasing down late renewals. To the extent possible, allow volunteers to take charge of the aspects of the processes that allow for meaningful peer-to-peer conversations.


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