When your organization first started, you signed up dozens, maybe even hundreds of new members. But recently, maybe you’ve hit a lull in signups—these kinds of plateaus are common. According to one report, 68% of organizations have trouble expanding their member base.
Whether you’ve hit a dry spell or you simply want to boost your member base, a membership campaign can help dd plenty of new names to your membership directory. A membership campaign, also known as a membership drive, is a strategic, concerted effort to get your organization (and your many benefits) in front of as many prospective members as possible.
Typically, a campaign includes promotion efforts across channels, including digital outreach, recruitment at events, and incentivizing current members to refer new members. After all, research shows using a multi-pronged approach to boost membership is more effective—leading organizations use 16% more tactics than their peers.
While the idea of creating a membership campaign from scratch may sound daunting, this guide will offer an overview of the crucial steps required to build and launch your drive.
Here, you’ll learn how to:
- Set SMART goals.
- Designate a campaign committee.
- Refine your value proposition.
- Incentivize referrals.
- Partner with similar organizations.
- Host recruitment events.
- Offer a prize or discount for new members.
- Optimize your digital outreach.
- Don’t over communicate.
- Always say thank you.
But before we dive into these best practices, let’s examine some of the tools you’ll need to get started.
What You Need to Launch A Successful Membership Drive
Before you even begin planning, ensure you have these crucial tools at your fingertips so that you can more easily build and launch a successful membership drive.
- A membership database: Use a member database to record and track all the new members who register during your campaign (and document how they found out about you). A robust platform will also make it simple to tackle tasks like segmenting out current members for targeted communications for referrals, as well as reviewing member info for those who signed up during previous campaigns. This makes it easier to understand what efforts were most successful last time around.
- Email marketing platform: Email marketing boasts a 4,200% ROI—meaning you get back $42 in returns for every dollar you invest in this channel. As a result, it makes sense to make email a crux of your campaign, which means you’ll need a email marketing tool. The right platform will make it easy to segment different audiences and then design and deploy slick emails to drive new member registration.
- Event registration software: In-person and online events offer you the chance to chat with prospective members in a more casual setting—which is why recruitment events are a common pillar of membership growth strategies. an event registration platform can make planning and hosting your recruitment event easier.
- A slick website: Your website is the cornerstone of your brand. It’s one of the first places a prospective member will go to find more info about your organization during their research process. So, it’s essential that you have a well-designed website that communicates your organization’s membership benefits and mission.
While this list comprises a wide breadth of features, the right membership management system actually includes all these tools (and more) all in one platform. Comprehensive membership management software, like MemberClicks, allows you to toggle seamlessly between campaign tasks like building a referral email to registering attendees for your upcoming recruitment luncheon.
This kind of all-in-one system can save you time and efforts as you create and launch your campaign. You won’t need to move back and forth between different tools, and you can also automate some communication items on your to-do list so that you can focus on big-picture campaign strategy.
With all these features in your toolkit, you’ll be in a strong position to launch your membership campaign with these best practices in mind:
1. Set Your Campaign Up for Success With SMART Goals
First step in your membership campaign: set goals. One Dominican University study showed that 76% of people who wrote down goals and sent weekly progress reports to an accountability buddy met their objectives. Creating SMART goals can help you increase your chances of success.
So, while you have the generic goal of building your member base, you’ll need to nail down more details than that. How many new members are you actually looking to add to your roster? How does that number compare to previous member drives? And how do you want to accomplish this growth?
To help you answer these crucial questions and establish realistic goals, set SMART goals, which are:
- Specific: Again, no leaning on generic goals. Be specific. You’ll need to know how many members you’re starting with and how many you want to register during your campaign, or you can’t really say whether your efforts were a success. For example: Let’s say you have 1,000 members now and want to add another 100 during your campaign—that’s a specific goal to work toward.
- Measurable: Can you quantify the goal you want to achieve? Can you measure your progress? Going back to our example above: If you want to add 100 new members to a roster of 1,000, that’s a 10% increase in membership. That’s easy to quantify and keep track of.
- Attainable: Now’s the time to be honest with yourself: Is your goal realistic based on the time and resources you have available? Sure, aim to have more registrations than previous membership drives. In our example, if previous membership campaigns have only resulted in 15 new members, then creating a goal for 100 might be too much of a stretch.
- Relevant: Check to ensure this goal makes sense for your campaign and for your organization. Does your goal not only resonate with your overarching growth strategy, but also your organization’s mission? To ensure our example goal is as relevant as possible, let’s say our organization is an association for urban planners on the West Coast. Let’s ensure we sign up 100 new members who are actively working in the urban planning field in the western U.S.
- Time-bound: Set a timeline for your campaign. How long do you plan to run your membership drive? And what are key milestones to include on that timeline? Let’s say you set your goal to sign up 100 new members this quarter. Set a deadline and create a workback schedule to establish when you want to create and launch each component of your campaign.
2. Select a Campaign Committee
To advise on your membership campaign, put together a committee of diverse voices invested in your organization. This should include staff or volunteers from your organization as well as current members.
Call on members and volunteers who come from a variety of backgrounds—both newer and more established members, older and younger, as well as people who have participated in previous activities and membership drives.
Not only can these members and volunteers offer invaluable insights into the benefits of your organization, but they can inform and guide the direction of your campaign based on their firsthand experiences. These are the kinds of people you’re targeting with your campaign, after all. Their opinions are vital to understand what convinced them to join in the first place (and what keeps them around), which can help you design a campaign that resonates.
3. Refine Your Value Proposition
How does your organization help your members—and how ready are your members to define that value, when asked? Membership organizations and associations with members who knew their value proposition boast much higher membership renewal rates than organizations with members who didn’t understand their value.
Understanding the value you provide to your members and being able to communicate it effectively will make it easier to articulate this to prospective members. After selecting your membership campaign committee, task them with refining your value proposition. Focus on the benefits for new members, and ensure you include them succinctly in all your communications and marketing materials.
4. Incentivize Referrals
One of the most effective ways to build your member base is through referrals. So, get your own members involved in spreading the word about your organization. Ensure you have a referral strategy in place for current members who want to register their friends, family, or acquaintances.
If you already have a referral program in place, then it’s time to kick it into high gear as a component of your membership campaign outreach. Offer an incentive for your loyal members who send you successful new recruits. Providing a reward—a discount on dues, a gift card and handwritten note, a fancy steak dinner—demonstrates your appreciation for current members and can motivate them to be active in your campaign.
5. Partner up With Similar Organizations
When it comes to promoting your membership campaign, you don’t have to go it alone. Share the task with another association, business, or non-profit with a mission parallel to your own. For example, a city’s urban planning professional association might naturally partner with a local architecture firm to host a networking event.
Co-marketing a member drive means you can potentially recruit new members or customers who could benefit from a relationship with both organizations. You can also share the planning, promoting, and expenses of co-hosting an event or campaign.
With a partner organization, you can try hosting:
- Networking events for professionals in your shared field
- Volunteering experiences
- Ongoing education like online training, courses, webinars, etc.
- Speaker events
6. Host Recruitment Events
Taking your membership drive in-person offers a wealth of opportunities to recruit members outside your normal circle of influence and immediately answer any questions on the spot. In-person events can help you network with prospective members in a more relaxed setting—you can skip formalities and just have a conversation.
Kinds of recruitment events you can host include:
- Networking mixer
- Breakfast with a industry panel
- Free lunch event with a speaker from your industry
- Tours of your facility
- Bring-a-friend events (encourage members to bring non-member friends)
- Sponsored outings to local sights (like the zoo, aquarium, etc.)
7. Offer a Prize or Discount for New Members
Sometimes, it literally pays to incentivize prospective members to register with your organization. For prospective members who are on the fence, a discount, prize, or gift might be enough to finally get the ”yes.”
For example: Public Broadcasting Station (PBS) offers multiple gift options for people who sign up at various membership levels. A $6/month membership can get new members a Boss Ross T-shirt or a Carpenters collectible coffee mug.
Here are some ideas to inspire you for your own membership drive:
- A small discount on monthly or annual dues (i.e., a new member special of 10% off dues)
- Free registration for an affiliated conference
- A raffle or giveaway for all new members who sign up during your campaign
- New member gifts like branded swag (pens, stationary, water bottles, etc., with your logo)
8. Optimize Your Digital Outreach
One of the most crucial ways to drive new member registrations is through outreach on online channels. According to our recent survey, an organization’s website and email are two of the top three channels for increasing your membership.
But you don’t have to stop at posting details about your membership drive on your site and running an email marketing campaign. Take advantage of multiple digital channels to maximize your outreach, including:
- Your organization’s homepage
- A blog post on your website about the benefits of membership
- A guest post about your membership benefits (to post on a partner association’s blog, a well-trafficked industry blog, etc.)
- Email to current members (particularly for referrals)
- Email prospective members who showed interest in the past but didn’t register
- Paid and organic social media posts
- SMS (text message)
When creating your communications across all these mediums, make sure that you write your copy consistently in your brand’s voice and use your organization’s logo and colours. This helps current and prospective members instantly recognize your branded communications and builds trust.
Also ensure that you create posts and deploy reminder emails throughout your campaign. Sending a single email or Twitter post isn’t going to maximize your number of new member signups. So, create and schedule content for your campaign to regularly trickle into prospective members’ inboxes and feeds.
9. Don’t over communicate
While ongoing communication is key, don’t go overboard. There’s a fine line between effective outreach and over communicating—and you don’t want to tow the wrong side of that line and risk pushing away prospective members.
Reaching out too often can easily come across as pestering those new or prospective members. Not only is bothering leads a sure way to keep them from registering for membership (is this what they can look forward to?), but it can alienate them from your organization altogether. This kind of negative impression can push people away completely, ensuring they’ll likely never become a member and maybe even share their bad experience with their network.
So, rather than flooding people’s inboxes, be measured in your communication efforts. Ensure that prospective members have all the information they need to get involved or register, and leave them to make the decision for themselves.
10. Don’t Forget to Show Your Appreciation
Communicating your appreciation for new members is always a great way to make them feel welcome and show that you value them. But saying “thank you” shouldn’t be the last item on your to-do list—you'll want to show your appreciation on an ongoing basis during your membership campaign.
First, thank all your newly registered members. That could take the form of:
- A welcome email
- A handwritten thank-you note
- Tagging them in an appreciation post on social media
However you prefer to show your gratitude, make sure it’s personalized and genuine. Check out other ways you can demonstrate your appreciation for your members.
For current members who referred a new member, consider sending a small token of your gratitude. Send them:
- Marketing swag (like one of those snazzy new branded coffee tumblers)
- A gift card to their favourite coffee shop
- An heartfelt thank-you note
Don’t stop there—also share your gratitude with those prospective members who ultimately declined to join your organization. It isn’t wise to burn any of those bridges, as those leads could turn into new members down the line. These prospective members also took the time out of their days to read information on your organization’s member benefits or listen to your elevator pitch. Thank them for their time, attention, and consideration to leave a positive impression.
Moving Forward With Your Own Membership Campaign
When you set yourself up for success, it’s easier to build and launch a membership campaign that effectively promotes your organization and builds your member base in the process. A holistic campaign—one that establishes realistic goals and promotes your member drive online through digital outreach and inbound marketing, in-person at events, and through referrals—is completely achievable with the steps outlined above.
In addition to the right strategies, you’ll also need the right tool to make it simple to launch and monitor the results of your campaign. The right membership or association management system can be an invaluable partner for your campaign. You can source, segment, and target current members for referrals, as well as easily keep track of the new members you gain through your member drive.
Learn more about the best membership and association management software.