Most associations have done a good job at building market awareness. Over the years, members and prospective members learned about the association from doing research, a professor, or a colleague.
After awareness, recruitment is the second part of the membership life cycle. It is the process of getting a member to join your association. Or perhaps better described, it is the process of getting a member to 'try' your association.Membership in professional associations is typically what marketers call a 'push' product rather than a 'pull' product.
A 'pull' product is best defined by the famous statement made in the movie Field of Dreams 'if you build it, they will come.' There are some products that consumers will spend hours seeking out. They do not need a lot of marketing. There are web sites dedicated to tracking down a “pull” product like the Nintendo Wii .
As opposed to the Wii, membership tends to be something that needs to be sold or pushed in order to get returns. Did you ask for a professional membership for Christmas?
A pro-active plan needs to be put in place in order to attract large numbers of new members to an association.
I believe that the single biggest reason that many associations are not growing membership is because of this lack of focus and funding for membership recruitment. I looked at this issue in more detail in an article that I did for ASAE and Center’s Associations Now.
When membership recruitment is done properly, most groups can see their membership blossom and grow.
The National Middle School Association is a good example of the importance of 'push,' or active recruitment.
Jeff Ward, the Deputy Executive Director of NMSA said ‘the association believed that it had a high level of awareness in the school market, but for many years we had experienced a flat membership.'Then the association settled on an aggressive membership recruitment program designed to take membership over a five-year period from 17,000 members to over 31,000. Once the acquisition program was launched, numerous tests were made to optimize both to the NMSA membership product and renewal system. The end result was that over this five-year period, NMSA indeed grew by over 80% and reached the new membership level of 31,000 members.
A solid recruitment plan requires an ongoing learning mindset that uses testing strategies to optimize three key areas:
- The marketing message - To determine what value proposition is most attractive to prospective members.
- The membership offer - To determine what price points, benefit packages, and special incentives will attract members.
- The target market - To determine what market segments or lists of prospective members are most responsive to the message and offer.
Next we will take a look at what you do with the new members once you get them.