Building Your Constituency in order to Build Your Membership

You can call it branding, you can call it building awareness, you can even call it feeding your database, but it is an important new way to ultimately grow your paid membership.

Let me explain this by relating the recent membership success of my friend Howard Wahlberg.

Howard is the Assistant Executive Director at the National Science Teachers Association. He has seen his membership grow from 55,000 to over 60,000 during the past two years.

He is doing the right things: sending out marketing campaigns, testing messaging and packaging, segmenting his market, etc.

But he has another very powerful tool. The team at NSTA has established a electronic newsletter over the past few years that now includes over 280,000 subscribers – including his 60,000 members. The newsletter – NSTA Express – is automatically provided to members and is also offered free of charge to non-members. Subscribers come from visiting the NSTA home page or the “forward to a friend” button in the newsletter.

Obviously, it is a helpful resource to members. But what is really exciting about NSTA Express is how it exchanges some free information from the association in order to build the constituency or market mindshare for NSTA.

With the opt-in email relationship, NSTA gains some important opportunities.

1. Express builds awareness and allegiance to NSTA by informing and orienting prospective members to the services, activities, and resources available from NSTA.
2. Express allows NSTA build a database of those who are interested in Science education and since subscribers can self select the content from three versions; it helps NSTA to know people’s interest areas.
3. Express allows NSTA to take the pulse of what topics and issues are most important by reading click through reports.
4. Express provides a platform for NSTA to promote products and upcoming events, and yes, sell membership.

And since the newsletter was already created as a service to members, it costs very little to share it with the larger audience.

Sometimes we can become overly focused on making the membership sales instead of helping prospective members dip their toe into the water and more gradually become involved. But almost always building your network will translate into paid members.


David M. Patt, CAE said...

How does the association deal with people who just want the newsletter and don't join?

KareAnderson said...

Responding to David, since the cost is tiny to serve non-members and since they are interested enough to subscribe, they may be:
• telling others about the org - other who do join
• eventually joiners
• at companies, considering exhibiting and/or advertising
• other key stakeholders who find the asn. credible - because of the newsletter and provide invaluable support, media coverage or other positive help at some point

Sharing good content is a singularly powerful way to elevate the value and the visibility of the asn. and its members.

Now, if the asn. also provided an online social network where people could join and self-tag (member, vendor, media, etc.) and share tips, ask for help, vote for best tips, etc. then the asn. become more valuable to the key stakeholders it serves - both in their geographical area served and anywhere in the world.

Imagine an asn. in a low-population state that provides the newsletter described here
+ a group blog with notable experts guest-blogging, and the option for members (and others) to get updates (thus akin to a newsletter) and those posts could be rated.
an online social network - and that state attracted more people to its online services than the counterpart international association.

Tony Rossell said...

David -- Yeah, like Kare said. Tony

Anonymous said...

I agree that a newsletter is a good prospect tool, but for the teacher audience it is not always that simple---they don't have a lot of time, so they can be generally satisfied by what they find in the newsletter. They don't have time for more. that's what we're finding....

Tony Rossell said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I am sure that you are correct. Many teachers -- or for that matter any professionals -- will take a free ride on a newsletter and stop there. How many of us watch PBS and do not donate?

But here is why I still really like the free newsletter as a tool. Even if only one half of one percent of the subscribers convert to membership each year, then this group has added 1,400 new members. The marketing costs to proactively gain that many members by going to outside lists might well be over $100,000.

Fundementally, I maintain that it is best to have prospective members in my database and have the chance to regularly communicate with them and build my brand in their minds.

You will see from earlier posts that I believe branding is two fold, the share of mind my prospect has of me and the knowledge I have about them in my database.


Annaliese said...

I wanted to chime in here and say that our organization deploys the "free e-newsletter" service, and we've found it to be very valuable as a list-growing tool that does not demand additional cost. Many folks have discussed the ladder-ask concept of donor and membership acquisition: start with a small ask, then build up. You want to get people involved, in the door, and then cultivate. When we exhibit at a conference or reach out to new markets, the easiest thing to do is to say: Sign up for our e-newsletter; it's free! Then, those new subscribers enter into your organization's community, learning about events, trainings, member discounts, etc., and become your target audience for join campaigns. They've already told you they're interested in your content by subscribing. Now you can get them to take the next step. And if they don't become members, then it's likely they never would have become members anyway, and it isn't costing you extra to send them that one email each month.

And you never know, that non-member might be talking about your content to his/her colleagues, who then do become members - even if he/she never does.

Anonymous said...

I love this idea! We have an e-newsletter that is publlished for us. We provide the content etc and they proof, sell advertising and send it to the list we provide. I sent them the question and their response was:

In order for us to collect data, we would have to change this procedure to be a web form where the recipient has to fill out their friend’s information at which point we could collect that information. We would also have to clearly state that we would be collecting information to the user. This would likely scare most people off of using such a method to forward the newsletter to their friend. It's also much more work for the user, especially when they can simply press the "forward" button in the email program.

We can't ask person A to give us person B's email address. It's spammy behaviour and unethical. It could very well hurt our reputation.

Anyone had this issue?

We are getting ready to begin using informz for imis which may have this functionality and we can switch to doing the newsletter with that software.

Anonymous said...

I think you've got yourself a good vendor. Even if it weren't considered unethically spammy (it is), it just plain doesn't work. Collecting the addresses of the forwarding recipients in the hope that you can then send them email is a waste of time.

You don't open email from strangers and neither will they. Protect your brand and reputation and only send email to those who have requested it.

Tony Rossell said...

I agree with Michael. It is fine for someone to forward a newsletter to a friend or colleague and give them the opportunity to opt-in. It would not be proper to capture the email address from the referred friend and add them to your email list. Tony