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5 Must-Have Strategies For Successful Membership Recruitment

Ever feel like you’re reacting to low membership numbers rather than working through an established, proactive plan to recruit and retain your members? Do you know why you do the things you do as they pertain to reaching out to new members for your association?

Ever feel like you’re reacting to low membership numbers rather than working through an established, proactive plan to recruit and retain your members? Do you know why you do the things you do as they pertain to reaching out to new members for your association?

Before you stick with the same, tried-and-true (or maybe not-so-true) methods for membership recruitment, keep the following strategies and tactics in mind:

1. Young or old, membership recruitment is a sales process

No matter if you’re concerned with engaging new, younger members or if you’re reaching out to Baby Boomers, you need to understand the purchasing life cycle of your potential members. And although we may not want to think about membership as a “sales” process, when you take away all the fluff, that’s exactly what it is.

But, you need the fluff because without it, you’re just like all the other associations out there.

Confused yet?

Here’s what I’m getting at: There are a list of things you should be doing before trying to seal the deal. In fact, before you even start recruiting new members you need to be sure your information and message is getting out loud and clear in order to create a sense of awareness about your organization.

Understanding your members’ purchasing phases and your methods for bringing them in (creating awareness, recruiting, engaging, renewing) is all part of the membership recruitment or membership sales process. Your association’s marketing, branding and recruitment/sales teams should always be working in tandem to create cohesive messaging at every stage of this process.

It may be sales, but it’s not always directly about the dollars. Membership recruitment is about creating long-lasting relationships, engaging your prospects and proving to them why they would benefit from your association.

2. Understand your association’s niche

Even though you may want to be, you can’t be the association for everyone. You need to buckle down and determine, realistically, who your target market is and where you’ll reach new members. Make a list of prospects and a list of competing associations in order to understand your market and determine the general availability of potential new members.

Use your competitors as a way to research what’s missing in your industry and carve out niche services in those areas. Look at your current membership base’s demographics–if you had to categorize them with a broad stroke, what would you say?

Stay away from “we serve everyone” and be specific: “We are the professional association for young entrepreneurs between the ages of 25 and 35 living in downtown Chicago.” Kapeesh?

Is your organization prepared and capable of engaging a young group of members–Generations X and Y? Download this white paper and prepare your association for the inevitable shift.

3. Research members’ needs

What’s the saying? “Ask and you shall receive.”? This is precisely what you need to do as an association. Ask your members and the community at large what they want. What are they missing from other organizations? What are the reasons they choose not to join and what would change their minds?

Gone are the days of push marketing and selling what organizations want their members to have (or think they need). You need to continuously know the answer to “what’s in it for me?” from your members’ point of view. Be able to provide relevant answers to the problems or situations your members/potential members have.

For instance, younger recruits may voice concern about the lack of social media presence or lengthy print information. And as an association, you may be hesitant to make that leap or aren’t fully aware of how you would make those changes happen. Do it anyway.

You need to shake it up when your members tell you to; they’re the driving force and the answers to the services you can ultimately provide.

4. Know your association’s value

When you get to the point of talking to prospective members, do you know what you’ll say? No more touting that networking is your greatest value.

It isn’t.

Based on the research you now have in your hands about what members want and what they aren’t getting from similar associations, you can provide! Incentives to join (free month of membership, discounted dues) will not sustain your membership numbers. Sure, they may be nice perks in the beginning, but unless you are prepared to offer them endlessly (and then what kind of perk is that?) you won’t see retention.

Figure out what your value is and communicate that effectively. What will make others talk about you? No one talks about the ordinary; you want to be extraordinary.


5. Test, track and repeat (or revamp)

Metrics are an important part of any membership recruitment strategy. Set up methods for tracking your recruitment processes, stages of engagement and how (and when) members make the decision to commit.

Look at things such as website traffic, social media engagement, click-thru rates on e-newsletters, event attendance from non-members, etc. This information, compared with different times of the year and types of content and communication your association is generating will give you insight into what’s working and what’s not in way of membership recruitment.

And if it’s not working? Change it up! In this age of real-time information and face-paced media, there’s no reason to hold on to a membership recruitment strategy that isn’t proving its worth over a few months.

Getting them is the easy part, keeping them is the challenge

Once you’ve proved your success at recruiting new members, the hard part is retaining them. So as an added bonus, my sixth and final tip: Make it a no-brainer for new members to renew.

Once you’ve found your groove for recruiting new members, make it easy for them to want to renew. And I don’t just mean by online renewal processes.

Your current members are just as important, if not more so, than the prospects. Once you have them hooked and interested, they’ve paid their dues and they want more. Show them that what they signed up for is legit and that you’re true to your word about making your association the best fit for them. Interact with them, engage them at events, ask them to serve on committees and give valued feedback. Show your members how much you appreciate them.

Without them, your association will not survive.

Interested in having XYZ University come speak or provide consulting services to better align your organization with the needs of the next generation of members? 
Contact Us Here.

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.


Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.


Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.


Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

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