Five Steps for Creating an Effective Membership Recruitment Strategy

Video Transcript:

Hi! Welcome to the latest episode of The High-Five Nonprofit Marketing Ideas. I’m Julia McDowell, Marketing Strategist for Five Ones. The High-Five is my video series of marketing strategies and tactics for nonprofits and associations. Today, I’m sharing with you how to create an effective membership recruitment strategy for your organization.

The newest research suggests that almost half of associations have reported a decline in membership renewals over the past year. And 8% more associations say they’ve seen a decline in new member acquisition than an increase. But, associations reporting increases are significantly more likely to say their association’s value proposition is very compelling or compelling.

Membership recruitment is the lifeblood of your organization and you should treat it like a sales cycle—at least that’s the simplest way to look at it. You’re selling people on your organization’s mission, values, and goals. And to do that, you need an effective sales strategy just like if you were selling any other product or service. Sales is sales so whether you’re selling candy to raise money for a sports team or exclusive access to your association, it all starts with the same basic building blocks.

Not familiar? Let me explain the 5 steps to creating an effective membership recruitment strategy:

Identify your audience

First things first, you have to know who you are talking to, or who you WANT to talk to. Ask yourself: Who is my ideal member? Then, start to construct a basic idea of them by considering:

  • Where are they?
  • How can I reach them online?
  • How do they want to be reached?
  • What do they want out of membership?

This will help direct your style and tone of voice in communications. You don’t want to talk in Millennial lingo to a Baby Boomer. They’ll have no idea what you’re talking about and will likely click delete on any email pretty quickly. It also clarifies the form of communication you rely on. The bottom line? You need to know who your audience is. I have a video all about how to segment your audience at

Refine your membership offer

The average person doesn’t buy or join something just because. They want something out of their time and money. So, it’s important to have a defined membership offer before you start promoting it. Spell out exactly what becoming a member of your nonprofit or association means. Pull together a list of member benefits. Consider things like:

  • Are there different membership tiers?
  • What perks do they get?
  • Are there events or virtual training they can attend?
  • How often can they expect communications or industry gatherings?

These are all of the questions you have to ask yourself while putting together a membership offer. And if you already have a membership package, ensure that you can quickly and accurately describe your offer or if you have to revisit or clarify anything.

Explain your value

People don’t know what you don’t tell them. And they’re also not going to come to conclusions all on their own. You have to explicitly tell them why they should join, the value your organization brings, and the perks and benefits of being a member. How do you do this? Start with features and then assign a benefit. I have an 11-slide presentation that walks you through why you should and how to create a value proposition. Check it out at But here’s a quick recap. There are 3 elements to your final statement, per audience might I add: a headline that captures attention with one main idea, a descriptive sentence that backs up your headline, and a shortlist of paragraphs that further explains what you offer. If you can lock these in, the next steps will be much easier!

Decide on your communication

Now that you know who you are talking to and what you are saying, you need to do just that—say it! Obviously, communication comes in many forms, with email and social media being top dogs these days. But before you decide on a primary form of communication, start with a plan!

Cadence is another important consideration. You don’t want to spam people, but you also want to remain top of mind. If you’re sending emails, make sure it’s not more than once a week and that each one offers the reader something. This could be as simple as relevant links readers may enjoy to a timely discount offer. The bottom line for any form of communication is to be of service to the reader. Give them something they want so they are more inclined to do the same.

Test your tactics

You’re not going to nail your strategy right off the bat. There, I said it. That is how sales go! And even when you find something that works, it may not for long. The key to any successful strategy is to continually refine it based on data and learnings. So, listen to feedback from new and old members. Look at your email newsletter data and see what has resonated with people. Then do more of what works! You might be convinced that people get sold on one thing, but they might be telling you they want something completely different. Don’t be too proud to listen to them!

Marketing is a journey and change is just part of the process. So, try new things, test new ideas, and always listen to your audience. Their feedback is gold. . As I say “ABL. Always be Learning.” Eventually, you’ll land on a runway of winning strategies

Thanks for joining me for today’s High-Five Nonprofit Marketing Ideas! Now that we’ve laid the groundwork for building a membership recruitment strategy, I want to know what else YOU want to know about membership recruitment. Email me at