Membership Acquisition – 25th Anniversary Perspectives

Membership Consultants celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2012! To commemorate that milestone we will take on 25 membership topics – looking back and looking forward – presenting a topic each week until the end of our anniversary year via our blog. We invite you to celebrate with us and weigh in on your membership experiences and opinions.  Here is Topic #2 – Membership Acquisition…

What are your best sources of new members? Direct mail, on-site sales, member-get-a member campaigns? Can you quantify what percent of new members come from what source? If not, get counting!

Having a quarter century perspective on membership can be an interesting place to be. And thinking back even before the start of Membership Consultants to my early days as a membership manager, direct mail was definitely our primary source of new members without question. In fact, the program I served at a botanical garden far outpaced all other organizations in our city with our membership totals simply because our garden and our director was an early adopter of the use of direct mail way back in the 1970’s! He saw it as a scientific experiment – which it still is today.  In those days, direct mail accounted for 60% to 70% of our new members. Today, direct mail probably accounts for 30% to 50% of most viable organizations’ new members. But direct mail IS still a very viable source of new memberships – it is still targeted, timely and YOU control it – you are not waiting for people to come to you! But it may DRIVE people to you in other ways – as in to visit you in person and join at that time. Or to “visit” your online and join in that way. Direct mail is definitely not dead!

On–site sales at a visitation-based organization or sales at the point of purchase for an association (such as when people sign up for your annual convention) has most likely taken over first place from direct mail. On-site sales can account for 40% to 60% of new member sales for some organizations. We have gotten much bolder at asking people to join. Being direct, or in-your-face, is the best way to get a new member. If you have a prospect before you, simply ASK them to join! This method of getting new members is usually the most cost effective – often with a cost per dollar raised of just $.25 to $.50, as compared to direct mail, which may cost $1.00 to $1.50 to raise a dollar.

Other methods of acquiring new members might include using your existing members to bring you new members – often called ‘refer a member’, ‘member-get-a-member’ or a gift membership program.  In fact, this is exactly how most membership programs started. Ladies who lunch would ask their friends to teas and encouraged them to join. Board members of an organization would ask their peers to support their causes – the person-to-person ask. Today these efforts are still alive online, such as when runners in a marathon get their friends to join an organization in support of their fundraising event. Gift memberships, for certain types of membership organizations, are also a viable source of new members. Friends like to share their favorite places with one another, and giving a gift membership is a great way to make sure you will experience your favorite place with your friends. These referral and gift sources can account for another 10% to 20% of your membership totals.

Email campaigns are probably best used to recapture lapsed members or get people with whom you already have a relationship to join or rejoin. After all, if you didn’t already have a relationship, you wouldn’t have the person’s email address, and an email appeal without a relationship is just SPAM, right? That is not to say that there aren’t email campaigns to strangers; the results are just infinitesimal.

There are many types of special projects and promotions that organizations try to get new members. Some work, some are trial and error, but most new members come from one of the tried and true tactics described above.

Know your sources! Figure out where your members are coming from. Then crank up the best producing acquisition activities and start growing!

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to join in, we would like to see your comments.

Membership Consultants – a 25 Year Perspective and Celebration!

Membership Consultants celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2012! To commemorate that milestone we will take on 25 membership topics – looking back and looking forward – presenting a topic each week between now and the end of our anniversary year via our blog. We invite you to celebrate with us and weigh in on your membership experiences and opinions.

Membership Consultants was created 25 years ago to share expertise on managing membership programs with all types of membership organizations of all sizes. In that time we have sponsored over 60 seminars, trained over 1,000 membership and development professionals, presented more than 50 sessions at AFP, AAM, AZA at regional and national conferences. We have served hundreds of clients, performing thousands of membership campaigns, sold hundreds of thousands of memberships on behalf of those clients, raising millions of dollars. Most importantly, we have helped connect people to wonderful causes and missions that they care deeply about. In our own way, we have made a difference by helping others make a difference.

In the past 25 years, everything has changed and nothing has changed. What has not changed is that no membership program will succeed without a plan and winning strategies. Membership growth will not happen without the backing – financial and philosophical – of the leadership and without an organization-wide commitment. Membership programs need strong acquisition and renewal strategies, a good product – both in the form of the organization it serves and benefits to offer – and quality customer service.

What has changed in 25 years is the means by which we perform our membership jobs. Technology – from our databases to the use of the Internet and electronic media – have made our membership jobs both easier and yet more complicated. Membership transactions – the way people join or renew – are greatly enhanced. The timing of the membership decision is more immediate. And communications, always key to engagement, is much more economical, but at the same time more difficult to break through because of so much competition.

Follow us for the next 25 weeks as Membership Consultants shares its perspective on 25 hot topics, visions for the future and just known truths of successful membership programs. Happy Anniversary to us!