Questions and Answers from our Digital and Social Media Webinar

The following Q&A is from our recent Digital and Social Media for Membership webinar, originally aired on July 23, 2015

Social Media ImgeMembership Consultants recently hosted a webinar entitled Digital and Social Media for Membership, with some great tips on how you can utilize digital and social media for your membership programs. This webinar was very well attended, with great participation and some very specific questions from our attendees. Here are a list of those questions and answers. Feel free to listen to a recording of that webinar and send us any questions that you might have. You can find an on-demand recording of the webinar on our website.

Let us hear from you if you have digital projects that we might be able to help with. For more information about our digital marketing services, please click here to send us a request.

Q: What is a “Dark Post”?

A: A “dark post” is an unpublished status update, link, video, or photo that is hidden from showing up on the organization’s Facebook page as an organic post. Rather, this type of post is only displayed as an ad.

Q: Is the Facebook ad in the timeline an additional fee?

A: Yes. Any ad on Facebook requires a fee. That said, an ad displayed in the timeline is not necessarily more expensive than an ad displayed on the right hand sidebar. Facebook has two ways to bid for ads: (1) cost per click (CPC) or (2) cost per 1,000 ad views (CPM).

Q: Can you explain a little more about “Call-to-Action” overlay? Is it a free service from Google? What is the actual name of it?

A: Yes! This feature is available through the free YouTube for Nonprofits program (part of Google for Nonprofits) that allows qualified nonprofits the opportunity to place a call-to-action overlay on any of your videos. A call-to-action overlay is sort of like a pop-up text ad that can include a headline, description, clickable URL, and thumbnail image.

Q: When on social media, what kind of voice/tone is recommended when addressing your audience? Fun? Formal?

A: This is a tricky question because it really depends on the voice and tone that is appropriate for your organization’s specific brand. Generally speaking, the voice and tone used on social media should be less formal, more conversational, and more concise than other communications channels.

Q: How do you define Mobile Marketing?

A: We define mobile marketing as any type of marketing or communications strategy that is displayed or accessed via a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet. This can include text messaging, social media (e.g. Instagram), mobile apps, mobile ads, geofencing, near field communication (NFC) and beacons, and more.

Q: Do you find that organizations are deferring traditional direct mail acquisition towards social media campaigns by hiring experts to develop and launch campaigns?

A: No. And we don’t recommend abandoning traditional direct mail in favor of digital and social media campaigns for acquisition. Rather, we advocate for additional budget to support layering digital campaigns into the acquisition strategy to support and enhance direct mail.

Just for perspective, In a recent comprehensive campaign for a full service type client where we were doing robust direct mail and social and digital marketing, the client attracted 4,000 new members through a year’s worth of direct mail, and 500 new members from digital.  So at this point, direct mail still provides more volume of memberships sold.

Additionally, due to the complexity and need for real-time optimization of online and mobile strategies, we recommend organizations engage with an experienced agency partner to execute digital marketing campaigns. Without this type of expertise, digital marketing efforts can end up being all-consuming for staff while not maximizing limited dollars.

Q: For an organization that has not had much of a membership presence in social media – what kind of a budget would be a starting point?

A: This is a difficult question as every situation is unique. Social media campaign budgets can be affected by many factors such as platform, duration, goals, ad spend, graphic design and programming costs, testing, prizes, etc. For a very small campaign, a budget of a few thousand dollars may be adequate to get some traction. For a more aggressive and comprehensive campaign, an organization should be prepared to invest in the $10k to $30k range.

Q: Can you send too many emails for communication? We send more than 48 per year. Should we be concerned?

A: No! Too often, we find organizations are afraid of sending too many emails without the proper data to support this fear. As a general rule, it’s always better to err on the side of over communicating when it comes to email. While every situation and institution is different, we recommend an email frequency of between 24 to 48 emails per year. Remember, email helps maintain a connection with members and visitors and keeps the organization top of mind.

Q: The frequency recommendations – are these number of times in contact with members for any reasons or just membership related reasons?

A: As a general rule, our recommendations for email frequency include all types of communication both membership and non-membership related. The key takeaway here is not to withhold or delay sending timely and relevant information (membership related or not) because of an arbitrary limit to the number of emails members or visitors can receive in a given week or month.

Q: Do you have a recommendation for the best way to administer a mobile member card? What are options for providing members with digital membership cards? Would you do that through an app or a weblink?

A: Sure! While every organization and situation is unique, at a minimum, a mobile member card should be easily accessed via an app or mobile optimized webpage, and should be scannable for quick entry. There are many ways to accomplish this using various mobile technologies such as QR codes and bar codes.

Q: Are there any options for creating and sending blast emails inhouse where click-through rate reports will be generated without needing to pay an outside entity for these services?

A: Yes. Any legitimate email marketing platform such as MailChimp or Constant Contact will include reporting at no additional charge.

Q: Can you tell us more about the expanded email acquisition – were these emails from a house list or were they rented, etc…? If rented, what regulations should you be aware of?

A: An expanded email acquisition program is a marketing strategy that to reach a targeted list of prospective members who have opted-in to receive special offers from organizations just like yours! Targeting criteria can include demographic and lifestyle selects such as geography, gender, presence of children in the household, affinity, hobbies, and more. This process is similar to renting an email list; however, the campaigns are deployed by a third party to ensure CAN-SPAM compliance. As a best practice, current members and previously unsubscribed email addresses are scrubbed from the list prior to deployment.

Q: What if an institution doesn’t have an in-house list for ticket buyers? (We’re in the dark ages – no online ticket sales here.)

A: Without the benefit of an in-house ticket buyer list, one way to extend the reach of your membership marketing efforts is to institute an intentional email list building strategy. We find the “give-to-get” model works well to encourage visitors, website users, and social media followers to provide their email address in exchange for something of value. In this context, value could mean anything from a chance to win free tickets to a personalized Facebook cover photo.

Q: What about frequency for Facebook posts?

A: Go crazy! Seriously, due to Facebook’s recent algorithm changes, organic post reach has significantly declined. This means Facebook will limit the number of organic posts your fans will see in their News Feed on any given day. Some industry analysts have speculated that organic reach has declined by upwards of 97%. Why the change? Facebook has stated that the “…News Feed is already a competitive place — as more people and Pages are posting content, competition to appear in News Feed has increased.” To combat this flood of content, organic post reach and referral traffic will decline if there are limited interactions (e.g. likes, comments, shares, etc). Additionally, in 2015 Facebook began limiting the reach of organic posts, specifically organic posts deemed as “promotional.” In short, there is no need to be worried about posting too frequently on Facebook. Rather, organizations will need to focus on posting highly engaging content often, and allocating budget toward Facebook ads to ensure fans see important posts.

Q: Can you review again the response times that are expected for Facebook, Twitter, etc?

A: Research has shown that in general social media users expect a response to questions and comments within 30 minutes to an hour regardless of the time of day/night or day of the week.

Q: Does it make sense to cut back direct mail communications (ie museum monthly calendars, newsletters) and convert this to email communication or should we keep both? We are doing both for our membership renewal campaigns but are considering converting our marketing/communication pieces to email communication only.

A:  They key Answer to this question is Communications vs Transactional!

It may make sense to transition to an electronic newsletter and/or calendar of events; however, it really depends on your audience and whether or not this change would be appropriate given the type of information and how members prefer to receive it. In general, email is a more cost effective, timely, and user-friendly communicationschannel for day-to-day news and updates. That said, we don’t recommend abandoning traditional direct mail for transactional notices such as renewals or special announcements such as invitations to major events.

Additionally, members may feel disappointed if a benefit such as a nice annual calendar or glossy newsletter is retired. A best practice is to conduct a member survey to determine the appropriate course of action. The other question to ask yourself with communications going electronic is:  How many members are going to be left out if we only communicate via electronic methods?   Often times these are the longest tenured, potentially most well-heeled members for whom we have no email address.  If that is the case, be sure that this audience is still hearing from your organization

Q: When will the new book be published? This fall???? Which month? 😉

A: Glad you asked! Our new book, Membership Marketing in the Digital Age will be published in November 2015. Membership Marketing in the Digital Age provides all the tools you need to implement a membership program that is healthy and growing. Written specifically for all those who are involved with membership, this comprehensive “how to” book includes traditional techniques, plus social and digital media trends and tactics for growing membership.

Q: What are some easy ways to increase your email click-through rate? This is something that we struggle with, even though our average open rate is quite high. Our constituents seem to be receptive to email marketing from a Development and Membership standpoint, so we’re constantly trying to figure out what we could be doing better.

A: Test, test, test! Images, text links, call-to-action, button color and placement, layout, and content are all possible aspects that can impact click-through rate. To ensure accurate results, only test one thing at a time. For example, you might test the words “click here to learn more” against an in-text hyperlink such as “our tiger conservation program…” Additionally, marketing automation is quickly becoming a game changer for tailoring content and increasing engagement metrics such as click-through rate. This type of software allows an organization to personalize email communications based on an individual’s unique behavior and interests.

Q: Do you recommend any organizations for mobile campaigns?

A: Yes, Membership Consultants! We offer mobile marketing capabilities including text campaigns, mobile advertising, mobile apps, and more!

Q: Another department controls social media and they are hesitant to post items that would not appeal to the whole Facebook audience (i.e., we have fans from all over the world). So membership is one thing they won’t post. What are your thoughts on this?

A: This is a shortsighted view in our opinion. Facebook and similar platforms will always serve a multitude of audiences just like a website. Prioritizing membership messaging on social media, including Facebook is a best practice for leading institutions. Indeed, not leveraging such a powerful channel to acquire new members is a far greater risk to the long-term sustainability of the organization than the risk of posting content that does not appeal to all fans. In our experience, Facebook users will simply disregard content that is not immediately relevant to them. If there is still extreme concern that membership messaging will alienate Facebook fans, then a discrete budget should be allocated to implement dark posts and Facebook advertising to reach a more targeted audience with membership promotions.

100 Tips for Revolutionizing Your Membership and Development Program

By Sheldon Wolf and Dana Hines

1. Have an annual and a longer-term Development Plan. Have this plan (based on Board participation) approved by the Board.

2. Define success to include cultivation and stewardship.

3. Know your marketplace. Who is your competition? What are they doing?

4. Read donor lists. Collect playbills. Read donor walls in libraries, hospitals, wherever names are listed. Having money is not enough. Who has charitable intent?

5. Know your Board? Who has greater capacity?

6. Seek out a Board member who will challenge other Board members to increase their gifts.

7. Use the nominating process to introduce the expectation of high giving levels.

8. Expand the circle of people invested in your museum by adding non-Board members to your committees.

9. Create ad hoc committees of non-Board members.

10. A major gift named after the founder or a key generous donor allows the message to be “Join this chain of philanthropy that extends back to our very beginnings.”

11. Draft a letter for Board members to send to their personal and business contacts.

12. The words, “Join me,” are extremely powerful.

13. The words, “Join us,” are extremely powerful. 100% participation by your Board in your campaigns is essential.

14. The more personal the approach, the more effective it will be.

15. Cultivate long-term relationships with donors to the collection.

16. Join the most important civic groups in your community. Be seen as a “player.”

17. Be visible at other cultural institutions and major community events.

18. Foundation executives are people. Meet them.

19. Every grant proposal tells a story. What need will you address? Why now? Why you?

20. Use special events to cultivate new relationships.

21. Thank special event guests as they enter, during the event, and as they leave.

22. Engage your staff and Board at events to make sure strategic conversations occur with the most important people.

23. At events, seek out people who are standing by themselves.

24. At a special dinner, your Board Chair and your CEO should be at different tables. Have two head tables rather than just one.

25. Read your local newspaper.

26. Use your communications to donors/members to help them feel like insiders. Give them information about your exhibitions and programs they can use to “show off.”

27. Invite special prospects to see recent acquisitions.

28. Once you have a constituency, and a sense that the organization is here to stay, mention planned giving in annual report, newsletter, online, etc.

29. Most planned gifts are bequests. You don’t have to be an expert in everything else.

30. Create a planned gift advisory group of experts from your community.

31. If you have a community fund in your area, work with the people there.

32. A capital campaign is an outcome of good strategic planning.

33. What is your Museum’s value for the community? Will changes in the program make it even more valuable?

34. Stress community in your communications.

35. Use photographs strategically. If your museum serves a poorer constituency, be careful with black-tie images.

36. While your annual report might acknowledge the past, use it to inspire donors about the future.

37. With your Board, create a Development Policy that addresses how/when you will accept gifts, who must approve them, who acknowledges what, etc.

38. The “public campaign” is the most costly part of your capital campaign with the smallest return, so hold off as long as you can.

39. Don’t let “public campaign” be an excuse for your Board and solicitors to stop doing their work.

40. Development must be included in marketing decisions (especially products=exhibitions).

41. Ask donors for feedback and advice.

42. Corporate philanthropy hardly exists anymore. It’s all about marketing.

43. If there are not enough people coming in the doors, development goals will not be reached.

44. Look at the relationship between admission fees and membership. When does membership become an offer that cannot be refused?

45. Develop a Membership Plan.

46. Your emphasis on money (we want more cash from our members) vs. people (we want more members) may lead you to different strategies.

47. A plan helps you stay on track and fend off other people’s ideas that will take you off track of what you are trying to achieve.

48. Include others in your membership planning

49. Have a monthly goal for number of members to join, renew, and a revenue goal, too. Check to see if you hit your goal and figure out why you did or did not meet goal.

50. Keep an eye on the competition. But don’t copy anyone else’s campaigns unless you know how it performed (don’t copy a failure)

51. Pick three top goals for your membership program and spend the year achieving those goals

52. Test offers – a premium vs. a discount.

53. Know your audience. Who is your typical member? Plan accordingly.

54. Ask people to join

55. Tell people why they should join your organization. Tell people why you deserve their support – quantify what you do

56. Tell people what you want them to do – be explicit. I want you to upgrade to $150, I want you to renew at the Patron level, renew your membership by December 31

57. Sell memberships face to face.

58. Train your frontline admissions and sales staff.

59. Develop an incentive program to get front line people to sell memberships

60. Don’t abandon direct mail – it still works!

61. Do letter packages to ask for money, not self mailers.

62. Code all sources of new members – you need to know what is working!

63. Put your museum’s name and address on each piece of the mailing.

64. Track the number and source of new members

65. Track renewals by each mailing – know what your response rate is for each contact.

66. Combine the methods of asks and track each method – phone, email, direct mail

67. Lapsed members are gold – solicit them often

68. Segment you lapsed member campaigns by year – learn how far back you can mail or email and still be able to recapture Members

69. Offer a premium to get people to join, renew, upgrade or give to the annual fund

70. Do not abandon the phones. Telemarketing works to renew memberships, get lapsed people to join or to get members to give a second gift

71. Run reports at month’s end

72. Know your renewal rate

73. Track numbers of renewals sent by each renewal contact. Use this to figure out your renewal rate

74. Stay in close touch with members. Email, phone or visit with members often

75. Survey your members at least every three years in a comprehensive, professional survey.

76. Survey lapsed members at the same time and compare the results.

77. Raise your dues every three years

78. Figure out how much it is costing you to service each member – make sure you are charging at least twice that amount in your lowest level membership category.

79. Evaluate your membership categories. Do you have too many? If so revamp and make easy, simple categories.

80. Know your average gift, response rate and cost per dollar raised on each campaign that you perform.

81. Learn from failures. Evaluate each campaign and find a gem of wisdom in each one.

82. Take risks, try something new.

83. Experiment with colors, shapes, formats.

84. Ask your members/donors to give in other ways. Annual fund, upgrade, tributes, give a membership gift, special project. Don’t be afraid to ask again and again!

85. Ask for more.

86. Keep stats on everything. Keep files to give to the person who take over after you leave. Don’t leave them in a lurch!

87. Share information with your peers – at your organization or at others. Being secretive doesn’t really pay off.

88. Share the names of key donors and prospects with the person who answers the phone for the Director.

89. Thank people profusely!

90. Evaluate often. The reality around you is changing often.

91. Remember to thank your staff, your volunteers, your Board.

92. Schmooze. Darcy Rezac in his book, The Frog and the Prince, wrote that schmoozing is “Discovering what you can do for someone else.”

93. Continually move from transactional to relational.

94. Survey people who are involved. Survey people who are not involved.

95. Involve the entire staff in your Plan. Everyone is meeting people and/or engaging with the public and/or improving your program.

96. Support your museum at the highest level you can. Challenge others on staff to give. (“Join me.”)

97. Hire staff with good people skills. The technology can be taught.

98. Your most important skill is listening.

99. Celebrate victories – not matter how large or small.

100. Pat yourself on the back every day.


101. Have a membership and development presence on Facebook and social media

102. Mirror your mail campaigns with a simultaneous, similarly branded email request

103. Have a JOIN tab on your Facebook page

104. Don’t abandon mailed asks (still the most important driver of giving) for electronic only asks

105. Don’t forget the members or donors you don’t have email addresses for.

106. Make email collection a priority with every contact

107. Host Facebook and social media contests and engagement to involve, excite and Create buzz – and make sure there is a way to collect name and addresses

108. Create branded landing pages for each of your campaigns that mirror the brand of the mail or email campaigns

109. Make sure you are in control of your communication schedule with your members/donors

110. Make friends with your organization’s marketing and IT teams – to get the support your campaigns and communications need

Sheldon Wolf


AdvancementCompany, LLC

806 Pleasant Avenue

Wyndmoor, PA 19038


Dana S. Hines

President & CEO

Membership Consultants

3868 Russell Blvd.

St. Louis, MO 63110

314-771-4664 ext 105

314-771-2759 fax

Successful Marriage: Membership and Marketing!

In the Zoo and Aquarium world there has long been a debate on where Membership “belongs.”   Marketing or Development?  And every time a poll is taken, it always seems to be a split decision.  No matter where your organization comes down on in this poll, there needs to be a very cozy relationship between Membership and Marketing.

At the 2012 AZA National Conference, the message that seemed to run through all of the Membership sessions what to make sure there is a close working connection with your Marketing Department.

In too many organizations we still see the silo mentality, where one department has blinders on and doesn’t cross the line with other departments in planning, communications and in implementing the activities of their own department.  Here are a few examples of projects and ways of thinking and planning that will help ALL departments be more successful:


  • Membership usually pays for the mailed newsletter, but often can’t get “real estate” it its own publication – be sure that there is always a member and donor news page in the newsletter.  And, if there are promotions going on in Membership or Development, make sure those activities are highlighted – like Adopt campaigns, Annual Fund Appeal, Gift Membership Appeal.
  • The same goes for website and Facebook pages – make sure Membership has a tab on the Facebook page – people will join from the page, especially since people like to stay on the page and don’t have to jump over to a web site.
  • eNewsletters are another opportunity to get everyone on the same page. Plan for the eNews to members to have messages that relate to them – which may mean eNewsletters to the public and members that have some unique differences.


  • Sit down with Marketing and Membership – map out your promotions for the year, get on the other department’s schedule, make sure you are not working at cross purposes, get on their calendar, be sure to get those tweets, Facebook entries and banner ads planned for when your major membership drive is happening.
  • Have Membership be part of the Marketing Departments planning sessions and Marketing sit in on Membership’s planning meetings to make sure you are covering for each other – AND get everyone’s brain power to work for each other.


  • Membership direct mail campaigns work the best when they have the support of advertising.  And the campaigns work the very best when a marketing message and graphics work in tandem.  Membership works months ahead of other people’s schedules especially for graphics – so get everyone working ahead instead of last minute!

In summary, a well oiled, non siloed relationship between Membership and Marketing is a perfect marriage for everyone!

Membership Managers’ New Year Resolutions

A Membership Manager’s Resolutions

In the past few years, with all of the economic challenges, much has been written and spoken about managing programs to the best of one’s abilities dealing with external forces. For many managers and programs, the focus may need to turn to managing the internal challenges of a membership program.

Now that there is some fluidity in the job market again, some managers are in new positions themselves, or found themselves with new bosses, directors or board members. A big part of any membership managers’ jobs is marketing the program internally, training other staff about the intricacies and needs of the membership program, and literally fighting for the needs of a successful membership operation. So, in the spirit of a fresh new year, here are some membership resolutions you may want to make to ring in the New Year….

Manage Up! Just because someone is your boss, does not mean that they know what is best for a membership program. Although everyone (board members, directors, development or marketing directors) think they know how to run a membership program, does not mean that they do or that they know more than YOU, Membership Manager or Director! You live and breathe membership, you attend conferences that explain what is working in explicit detail, and, you stay abreast of what is working in other successful programs.

A current challenge is membership staff who report to development or marketing directors who have never had experience with membership programs. Membership is a unique animal – a bit of a hybrid of marketing and fundraising. It is your job to educate and train new bosses, especially those without membership supervisory experience.

So stand up for what you know is right for your program! This means educating others higher up the food chain on what is needed, what is working, what your stats are and how those stack up to the rest of the membership world. Be heard!

Own Your Projections. Membership goals need to be based on hard, cold numbers. Forecast your membership projections for the new year on what you know you will be doing, and what you have been funded to do. Doing direct mail acquisition? Know what the response rate should be? Plug those numbers into your projections. Do you have a major opening or exhibition coming? You know what your on-site sales team is capable of – so plug those numbers into the projections. Have a very successful gift membership program, or going to try to improve it this year? Plug those numbers into the mix. Know what your actual renewal rates are and plug those into the equation. These are the numbers you know you can rely on. Do not accept projections that are a simple percent increase assigned to your program from someone who does not know how membership works or how the numbers add up. One of the biggest fatal flaws in membership revenue projections are goals created without the input of the membership manager and without the funding for making the numbers happen. The enemy of membership projections is someone with a magic wand who simply wishes or commands the numbers and the dollars to appear without a plan to make it happen in the real world!

Set the Tone. You need to be the person that sets the expectation institutionally on how your members will be treated. Members, rightfully so, have an expectation of special treatment within your organization. It all starts with how you and your membership staff respond to requests from members. Deliver excellent customer service to your members. Make sure that other staff and volunteers who deal with your members receive the information and training to deal with your members in ways that make the membership experience a positive one. That may mean training sessions, customer service training, communicating changes in the program, FAQ’s, and membership issues with other staff so that everyone is prepared. You will know that you have been a success when membership becomes an institutional priority – which it needs to be to truly be a success!

Be an expert! Stay on top of your numbers and stats for the membership program. Run monthly reports. Prepare a concise, monthly report that can serve as your membership dashboard. Then meet with your superiors regularly to communicate those numbers and status. Get on the agenda to meet with the Director or the Board to make a membership presentation. Showing your knowledge and expertise and educating decision makers is an important part of your job.

Be an advocate. Feel free to weigh in at key times to advocate for your program. Prepare a wish list for your program for the coming budget year. Show what your program needs to continue to grow. Put your own budget and revenue projections together and distribute. Don’t wait to be asked or let anyone do this for you. Advocate for your program and your budget. Whenever changes are being made institutionally – exhibits, admission increases, etc. – give the view from the membership perspective. Members are an organization’s best “customers” and all decisions must be made from a customer’s view in mind!

Best wishes in 2012. And much success managing your internal resources!  Share your resolutions here….