Members are the lifeblood of any organization: they give meaning and a reason for being. However, many groups find expanding membership to be challenging. Without a clear plan, finding and enrolling new members can be difficult. Below we’ve outlined how small organizations with a limited budget can increase membership.
Understand why people Join groups
Your efforts to expand membership will be more successful if you understand why people join groups to begin with. If you understand their desires, you will be better able to reach them in a more effective way.
According to a paper written by the OSU (Oregon State University) Center for Leadership Development “Recruitment Tips – Why do people join organizations?” there are four major reasons why people want to join an organization:
They want to
- be involved
- meet new people
- develop leadership skills
- believe in your cause/purpose of your organization
Let’s get started increasing membership
There is no magic bullet for driving new membership. Every person is different and what makes one person decide that a group is right for them may be different from what it takes to convince another. Therefore, it’s important to take a multi-pronged approach.
Start a newsletter
Retaining current members is as important as nurturing new ones, and newsletters are a great way to keep current members up-to-date and engaged. Whether you decide to create a traditional print newsletter or go digital with an e-newsletter, the same content recommendations apply: highlight accomplishments, promote events, restate membership benefits and offer ways to get involved.
Newsletters take a good deal of organization and cooperation to put together. It takes at least one person to spearhead the effort: to put the word out that your organization is collecting articles and photographs. Then someone needs to edit the text and organize it so that the most important information is upfront. Next, someone needs to design the newsletter. Finally, there’s distribution.
We are all busy and want our efforts to be productive. Below are some ideas for getting the most out of the work expended in creating the newsletter.
Get people to sign up for the newsletter and share it
For a print newsletter, in addition to distributing it to current members, consider printing extra copies for members to distribute to friends and family. Also, make it easy for those who receive the newsletter from a friend or family-member to get on the mailing list. Include sign up information in the newsletter itself and on your website.
Post each individual newsletter article as a blog post on your website
Assuming your organization has a website, post individual articles as blog posts. Rather than publishing all the articles at one time, space them out over time. Adding new content to your website on a regular basis will make it more interesting to returning visitors and Google loves websites that continually add new content.
Announce the publication of the newsletter on all your social media
Again, assuming you are using social media, announce each time you print a new newsletter and each time you publish a blog post, even when it’s a single article from the newsletter. Always include an image with your social media post, and rather than publishing the entire article on the social media, publish an excerpt from the article and link back to the blog post. People used to visiting your website may be more likely to join.
Leverage your own members to promote your organization
Host a bring a friend event
A great way to increase membership is to host a Bring a Friend event. Current members should help you with planning, so they feel personally invested. Your event can be a regular event or it can be something special geared toward the potential members. The idea is to give the guest a feeling for what it would be like to be a member. Don’t make it too high pressure. Simply make them feel included.
Develop family-member events
Many families are particularly supportive of the members of their own family and are more than happy to attend their functions. Keep the pressure to join low, but also make it easy for them to ask for more information.
It’s easy for organizations to become very insular. We are all comfortable around people we know, in environments we’re used to. While your organization may be very important in your own life, those outside may be unaware that your organization even exists.
As a group, show support for other community organizations
While your organization may be top of mind for you and your other members, it is likely that nonmembers are thinking about other things. The more you can infiltrate their everyday lives, the greater impact you will have.
For example, let’s say your local food bank is organizing a walk-a-thon. Your group could participate as a team in the fundraising effort. Your group would present itself to a whole new group of people in an entirely positive way. Is your local fire department hosting a bazaar? Maybe your group could volunteer in some way. Does the local library offer guest lectures? Is your local newspaper in need of ongoing content? What other local organizations can use volunteers? These are all great ways to promote your own organization and potentially increase membership while helping others.
Combine efforts with another organization
Strategic alliances are another good way to network – to leverage existing relationships to generate new ones. For example, find another like-minded group and host an event together. This will allow you to share advertising and marketing expenses, and build on each others’ existing memberships.
Host community events
Just as member-only events can be a way to increase loyalty among current members, hosting community events gives prospective members a way to experience your group close up. While it’s important to keep these events very low-pressure, you also want to make it easy for non-members to let you know if they are interested in learning more.
Get involved with your local and regional historical societies
If your organization owns its own building and if it has historical significance, you may find it worthwhile to get involved with local and regional historical societies. It’s just one more inexpensive way to bring attention to your group.
Be active on social media
Social media can help you get the word out about your organization. Social media marketing can be far less expensive than traditional media, particularly if you understand the role hashtags play in targeting your content to specific audiences.
Ask members for ideas
While the ideas above are not ground-breaking, they can help you decide which outreach opportunities make the most sense for your organization. Don’t be afraid to look to your members for their ideas, too.
Building and maintaining a strong organization is important for any group. Inevitably some members will leave. They may change jobs, move, age out, pass on or leave for unknown reasons. That’s why having a plan to keep a steady stream of new members is crucial to your group’s longevity.
It’s no secret that organizations with strong memberships are more likely to have the financial assets and manpower to pursue and achieve their mission. Not only do you need new members to replace the inevitable losses, but new members also bring fresh blood and new ideas.