By Jim Weinland, Director of Membership Services

Give your membership acquisition efforts and grassroots engagement programs a boost by targeting a rich source of new members – your new members.

Member-get-a-member programs are common yet are known to struggle, either due to lack of participation or because of your members’ limited resources (in this case, the size of their address books). We only know so many people, and once our contact lists are exhausted we will struggle to find new candidates to refer to our professional association. This is where new members can invigorate your efforts. They not only possess energy and a fresh perspective on why to join your association, but they bring along a potentially fresh group of colleagues to exploit. Target them.

The Giving Institute, a trade association made up of non-profit consulting firms, runs a very successful referral program focused on their annual meeting. Members are encouraged to invite one prospective member they know to the meeting using a significantly discounted event ticket. Those who claim one of these discounted “Golden Tickets” are very likely to become members, with close to 50% converting each year since the program began in 2015. As this program enters its fourth year, long-standing members are now struggling to recommend prospects they have not already invited. Half of the tickets successfully redeemed now are handed out by new members, particularly those who benefited as recruits in the program during the previous year.

Another reason to target new members as recruiters is that while they are typically not ready to dive into volunteer roles in the association, they are always looking for instant value and affirmation on their decision to join. Thus, your member-get-a-member program can serve as an opportunity to offer your new members an engagement opportunity early on, without pushing them to commit to more time-consuming committee positions.

The Association of Advancement Services Professionals (AASP), an organization of fundraising and data control specialists, promotes their referral contest through their new member onboarding messages. New members are encouraged to refer a friend as part of an overall engagement message sent approximately 200 days after they join. AASP offers free memberships and recognition incentives to their top recruiters. In addition, because AASP operates on an anniversary renewal cycle, marketing automation is used as a solution to drive their onboarding program year-round, and in effect, keeps their referral contest promotions running without much effort.

Keep in mind, quality referral programs not only offer incentives to the recruit but also the member recruiter. Drawings for a year of free membership dues or an annual meeting registration may be easy to manage, but these incentives tend to benefit a narrow population of membership. Take the time to design a program you are able to accurately track and offer an incentive all of your recruiters can enjoy. For example, the Association of Women Surgeons’ (AWS) membership recruitment drive offers a 20% renewal discount to any current member who brings in three or more new members. Because studies have shown that female physicians earn approximately 20% less than their male counterparts, the discount AWS promotes is directly tied to the organization’s mission of empowering and elevating women surgeons. Making your referral offering catchy or meaningful will give it relevance with your member audience.

More tips for a successful member recruitment campaign:

  • Make it easy on your recruiters. Offer them message templates, prospect reports, and regular / timely progress updates to ensure participation.
  • Create bite-size marketing materials. Full-page flyers, membership applications and lengthy talking points look good on a webpage but are difficult to use when members meet face to face. Your referrers should be pushing their recruits to join through your website anyway, where they can supply required profile information as well as payment information securely. Consider budgeting for simple promotional items or business card-sized referral pieces that push prospects to your website.
  • Take advantage of your top recruiters.  They can be your best spokespeople. Those who prove themselves to be quality recruiters can be re-targeted to serve on boards, committees or focus groups down the line. Ask them to review your recruitment materials, provide messages they have used with success, star in your video promotions, etc.
  • Design separate programs for your educators. It’s typically easier for educators to win one-on-one referral contests as they have access to a revolving pool of student prospects, so separating them out allows your members who are recruiting full dues-paying members a fair chance to participate. In addition, finding a way to target, track and reward your educators is a good strategy for ensuring you have a steady flow of students entering your association who can later be converted into full dues-paying members. Ask your educators what they want and design an incentive program that also keeps them engaged in the association.

By targeting your new members and employing some of these simple tactics, you can improve the success of your association’s grassroots membership efforts.

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