Most membership organisations want to increase their membership numbers - if not continuously to meet set targets, then perhaps through short periods of focused growth, to attract new demographics or reach into untapped sectors. Some organisations are not looking for growth by numbers, but are instead focused on improving the quality of services and deepening their engagement with an existing community. (If your organisation is the latter, perhaps stop reading now as the rest of this article may not interest you!)
Tailored to fit
Recruitment strategies come in a variety of shapes and forms. The strategy you adopt will be one that is right for your organisation, that supports your overall business objectives and that is achievable in terms of resources, aims and expectations. You may be using methods that have previously proved successful in terms of the return on your investment, or trying out new tactics to attract and entice different individuals into your community.
In a sector study a few years ago, we investigated the methods that membership bodies were using to attract and retain younger and newly-qualified members. Organisations reported that these individuals are most easily recruited when engaged face-to-face, at their place of study or work, or by telephone. These two methods, although resource-intensive, help build personal connections, enable prospective members to ask questions to decide if the organisation is right for them and create a sense of belonging.
Trusting our friends
Considering other methods for new member recruitment, there is one relatively simple approach that can be overlooked: member referral. A web search for ‘referral marketing’, returns blogs, stats and sites stating that, in the current era of advertising scepticism, word-of-mouth recommendations are a trusted method for brands to gain new customers. Indeed, Nielsen’s 2015 Global Trust in Advertising survey reported that 83% of individuals trusted recommendations from people they know, compared to just 56% trusting emails they signed up for.
Member referral programmes rely on existing members to promote and recommend membership, sometimes with incentives for the referrer and/or the new member. Incentives that provide a discount on membership fees may be most attractive, but individuals may also welcome a discount on a product, a conference fee or a training course. Check that any incentives are relevant to the member, based on who they are and what they are most likely to use.
Recruitment via referrals may be ongoing or could be set up as a campaign in a fixed timeframe, with a target number of new members. Either way, a referral programme will need its own promotion and marketing to the right audiences at the right times.
Members most likely to refer are those who’ve had a positive experience, are happy with the organisation and believe a product, service or opportunity could be of benefit to others. For example, a group of event attendees who’ve given positive feedback could be invited to refer membership to a colleague, based on the probability that the event - or others like it - will be useful for them. Also bear in mind who you are expecting your member to connect with: are they tutors recommending to students, Fellows recommending to peers or employees recommending to colleagues.
The added benefit of referral schemes is that they don’t just bring in new members; they also enable your organisation to connect and build relationships with existing members in new ways.
Master the marketing
Getting back to recruitment strategy: to ensure the success of any type of recruitment strategy, whatever methods it involves, you need to be certain that the organisation has an offer that will appeal to the target audience and that you can demonstrate the value membership will bring them.
Members typically join a professional organisation because they have a problem to solve or a challenge to address: they need something that they believe your organisation can provide. They might need to access learning, retrain, upskill or obtain new knowledge. They might want to increase their employability, or demonstrate their professionalism to clients. They might want access to a particular product to support or enable their work such as insurance, guidance documents, or a practical toolkit. Knowing why members join helps you develop a proposition for attracting new members from similar backgrounds.
If you are entering a new market or sector, or looking to target a certain demographic of members, you need to find out what these potential new members will want and need from their membership; in a nutshell, why should they join? What problem do they have that you can solve?
Once you have those nuggets of information, you can develop a targeted marketing campaign for recruitment, delivering the right information to the right people at the right time, and linking them to a quick and easy joining process.