Recruiting Members – Your Questions Answered

Lori Halley 15 January 2015 0 comments

In December, we held our second Wild Apricot Expert Webinar on Recruiting Members for Keeps with presenter Patricia Hudson (Melos Institute). The topic was so popular that we ended up holding two separate live sessions.

The webinar was designed to help volunteers and staff involved with member-based organizations re-frame their thinking about membership recruitment. The key message was that member recruitment is about much more than “selling memberships”. To retain members and keep them engaged, we need to understand that membership is a developmental process rather than a marketing strategy.  The session also offered some ideas for more effective membership development strategies.

Answering webinar participants’ questions

In each of the live webinars, we captured participants’ questions and promised to have Trish Hudson provide answers. So – thanks to Trish – here are the questions and answers that were raised in the session:

Q: What advice would you have for small groups with limited volunteer (no staff) and financial resources?

A: This approach can often inspire more members to volunteer because of the nature of the conversation – remember you are inviting those who have benefited from their membership to be “member mentors” – avoid using the term “recruiter” as it often connotes “selling.”

To get started, consider getting key leaders together to introduce the relation-centered membership concept. Secure their commitment to conduct a pilot recruitment effort. Plan on a short training session, just prior to the pilot, to reinforce awareness and confidence in the process. Debrief the experience afterwards.

The great thing about this recruitment approach is that it can become part of any conversation a member has with an eligible prospective member. Download the sample scripts and other guides (available on the Melos Institute website here)  to use as a reference. Adapt them to align with your organization’s culture and norms.

Q: Our association is a mix of individuals and organizations. Can this strategy be applied to organizations as well? Sounds great for a professional organization, but what about a not-for-profit, non-professional organization like a sports club?

A: Absolutely it can apply to both. Focusing first on someone’s goals and aspirations can be the approach for individuals involved in organizations representing trade, professional and personal avocations. We first recognized this approach while working with members of the National Association of Home Builders where the company is the member; but an individual is the representative.

Focus on the key person and the goals they hold for the organization. Then match that to the program, product, service or another member who can be of immediate support. In the case of an membership-based organization representing an avocation – like a sports club – focus on the individual’s goal specific to the nature of the sport. Invariably a program, product or service will align; if not most certainly someone at the club can be a mentor of sorts.

Q: What are some of the most effective ways of encouraging dialogue and sharing among members? e.g. online discussion boards, list serves, etc.

A: Members communicate openly and frequently when they feel affiliated with the organization and more importantly with one another. To get a high degree of participation, strategies need to be put in place that help members build an awareness and appreciation for one another. One of the best ways to get more dialogue is to invite members to continue discussion online after a successful issue roundtable, seminar, annual or other meeting as they’ve already bonded in some way and you can build on that momentum. But online community groups need to be monitored and cultivated to avoid discussion from getting stale; where conversations are dominated by the same individuals. Pending legislative issues can generate lots of participation, but too often this kind of dialog wanes when the immediacy of the issue has passed. 

Q: In a membership survey, what one question would you regard as the most important to ask members to find out their perception of an association?

A: Much depends on the kind of information you’re looking for from your members. Open-ended questions will yield greater insight, but will be more of a challenge to categorize (unless you’ve established some possible categories that can simplify the coding/analysis).

If the goal is to discover that which they have valued, consider:

“What part of your membership has been most meaningful for you?  Has helped you further your goals/aspirations?”

If the goal is to discover their view of your organization’s reputation/culture:

“What three words would you use to describe this organization to others?”

If the goal is to discover that would generate greater affiliation and loyalty:

“What do you anticipate will be your greatest challenges in the coming year (6 months, 3 months, or other time period)? Along with: “What three things could we do differently to help you meet members that could be of support to you when needed?”

Feel free to contact Trish Hudson to explore questions that can generate information from your members that can help you deliver meaningful and purposeful experiences.

Q: Would you recommend that those selling sponsorships or memberships be the source to whom all questions are referred?

A: This is a hard one to answer as every organization develops and operates a bit differently. In general, one of the underlying principles of relation-centered membership is that everyone is responsible for membership development. Having someone coordinate the membership function is important, but limiting recruitment to one person can be problematic because one person can only accomplish so much. The beauty of relation-centered membership is that everyone can be a “member mentor.”

Organizations that are successful in membership development train everyone in the recruitment approach. When it comes to securing sponsorships, it is advisable to have a coordinator along with an advisory group consisting of individuals who have been trained to use an approach that is consistent with your association’s values and who possess the competencies necessary to negotiate a wide range of options for the sponsorship. Having one person responsible for both functions is putting a lot of pressure on one person to generate results.

Q: Our group is an older male demographic – with a low average education level. You showed the "women" aspect - do you have any specifics for this male group?

A: When looking to build a strong and active membership community, consider first compiling accounts from your current members of what they value most from their membership (see activity available on Melos’ website). Most everyone, whether professional or business, highly educated or not, will possess aspirations and goals on something related to what your organization provides. That will help you identify what members feel is the underlying benefit(s). Then tell your organization’s story of the tangible and intangible benefits on your website using their stories with photos (most likely with real members doing something together). Members can go pretty much anywhere for information, but it is harder to find true acceptance into a community….like in an association. To do this, you must make sure that the promise you make to prospective members can be fulfilled. Many organizations promise “community” but do little once members join to help them experience it.

One Final Note

The Melos Institute is a nonprofit research center/think tank. It welcomes questions and queries from membership-based organizations (MBOs) looking for new and different ways to deliver more meaningful and purposeful experiences to their members. With this focus, it is always delighted to learn of and provide guidance to those organizations interested in piloting relation-centered management strategies.

Webinar video and presentation

If you missed the live webinar and want to watch the video or check out the presentation, you can find both here: Recruiting Members For Keeps.


Image source:  Question – courtesy of BigStockPhoto.com

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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Thursday, 15 January 2015 at 8:30 AM

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