My Volunteer Board President and his fellow Directors recruited more members in a month than I did in seven years on the road.
I have always been jealous of those trade associations with a powerful membership hook, like a killer price on an insurance program or a government mandated certification that members must have for employment. In 20 years of responsibility for membership I never enjoyed the luxury of such a hook. I wasn't alone. Most trade associations have no big hook. Instead most trade associations, at best, have a collection of very little hooks - an education program, trade show, group discount, legislative program, directory and professional network. So when the constituency is not falling at our feet to join us, how is it we little-hook associations recruit new members?
First, it does not hurt to have several little hooks made of gold; a good reputation helps, as well. But these alone don't get you much. Some associations employ sales people or send their executive director on the road to canvas the prospects and convert the masses to association-believers. While these overt attempts at recruiting are honorable, they enjoy little success for those of us with little hooks.
Certainly, if your association is relevant to your population and one of your little hooks connects, some prospects will actually mail you a dues check virtually unsolicited. I refer to these members as the ones who just fell in through the roof. They joined because we bumped into each other at the right time and they liked what they saw.
Real membership recruitment, however, occurs when the members themselves get excited about THEIR association and become CHAMPIONS of it. Staff takes on a sales support role when a member Champion is out verbally representing their organization in every conversation they have with suppliers, customers and peers.
When a staff person presents the membership sales pitch to a prospect the decision to join becomes just one of many nice-to-have, non-urgent issues in the prospect's big pile of decisions waiting for mind-share and money. When a volunteer Champion presents the membership sales pitch to a prospect it becomes personal and the decision to join is more simple.
From a collection of academic sales principle allow me to suggest the 4-steps in the buyer's mental process: Awareness, Acceptance, Preference and Action. If the association has communicated to the constituency effectively through the news and their programs, prospects should already be "aware" you exist and even "accept" that what you do is valuable to them. When a member Champion makes their membership sales plea (challenge or command) to a prospect, it essentially blows through the "preference" decision stage where they compare what you do with other available options. A Champion can cut right to the "action" of joining today by securing a personal commitment from the prospect to join your Champion in their cause.
For seven years I mailed newsletters, promotional fliers and membership applications to thousands of prospects throughout Maryland. At best, I created awareness of our association and acceptance of our value. It was not until I connected with my message of passion for membership did my President turn into a "Champion". His passion then flowed easily to other Directors and the association now has many Champions.
What a thrill it is now for all of us: members, staff, Officers, Directors and friends to feel the energy and see real membership growth; the growth we deserved all along.
The Role of Association CEO
Whether your association budget is large with many staff or your budget is small with few or no full-time staff, the responsibilities of the CEO are common and many. The difference is the CEO of the small association is responsible beyond the level of leadership but also involved directly with implementation down to the administrative task. Consider these major responsibilities: Membership Development, Membership Benefits, Membership Administration, Governance, Volunteer Development, Meeting/Event Management, Government Affairs, Market Development, Education, Operations, Communications and Cheerleader.
Need C6 Support? Ask me for a quote on many projects like: Newsletter design, newsletter strategy, newsletter production, strategic planning, budgeting, evaluation of endorsed programs, governance structuring, bylaws, education programming, member database selection/conversion/optimization/training, discussion facilitation and more.