How to Increase Membership in Nonprofit Organizations
Membership management can be a lot like running a business, hiring employees, or gaining customers. You want to focus on increasing your numbers, while as a nonprofit, focusing on your mission and values.
A big part of increasing membership is ensuring that you have the right tools and practices in place to do so! Our team at Springly is full of nonprofit leaders, members, and volunteers, and we have consulted their help to determine the best ways to increase membership in your organization.
In this article, we will cover everything you can do to:
Let’s dive in!
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Retain Your Members
Before focusing on how you can increase membership by recruiting new members, you should first focus your attention on the members that you currently have. Not only will you spend less money on member retention than recruitment, but it is also a lot easier to speak to someone that has already expressed a clear interest in your organization.
So how can you reach your members to ensure retention? We will break this down for you in the coming sections.
Follow their Engagement
Earlier we mentioned that you should have the proper tools to increase your membership, and this is where these instruments will come in handy. Having membership database software to manage your members and keeping this database up to date will allow you to follow your members' engagement.
Tracking membership engagement is so helpful because with this information you will be able to determine who has attended your recent events, received certain communication, and been active in your organization. More importantly, it can help you to see who has been inactive and might need a little boost.
Once you determine the members that may be less engaged, you can start communicating with them to determine why this is happening. There are a few steps you can take:
Determine if the lack of activity is because of your organization, or due to an outside cause.
Once you have figured that part out, you can dive into the root cause of their disengagement.
After the cause is determined, you should try to find a solution to the problem or how you can support the member better.
Keep in mind that they may not be inactive for any reason relating to your organization, and instead of trying to figure out how to engage the member during this time you should focus on how you can support them. Whether this is sending flowers if they are facing a loss, or sending a gift card to their favorite coffee shop to boost them during a busy time. They will appreciate these gestures and be more motivated to become active members of your organization when they have more bandwidth.
Pro Tip: If you aren’t sure how to reach out to members to approach this subject, keep it easy by simply asking the member how they are doing. Even though you need to know why members aren’t being active so you can increase membership, try to be as sensitive as possible. Once you show personal interest you can explain that you have noticed a decline in their participation, and ask them if everything is okay and if you can do anything to help.
If your membership program does not already have one, ensure you establish an onboarding plan!
Onboarding plans are essentially a road map for a new member's first year in your nonprofit.
These allow you to ensure every member has the same experience, and that their expectations are met. They are so important because members are more likely to renew their membership if their onboarding process is clear and organized.
Onboarding plans will be different for each organization, and it is very important that you find one that suits your culture the best. For example, if you are a school club that only has membership dues during the school year, you will need to modify your onboarding plans to fit this schedule.
Louis has modified his onboarding plans and is all set for the new school year!
That being said, there are a few general rules that apply to all organizations:
Make sure the first month is high contact - as soon as someone becomes a member, your organization should be in contact with them to welcome them right away! Whether you do this in person, over the phone, or even by mail, every new member needs to be recognized. Moreover, you should ensure that someone is in constant contact with the member during the first month.
Second month is medium - the second month of membership doesn’t require the same level of communication as the first, but there should be a minimal weekly check-in to ensure that the member doesn’t feel forgotten.
Third month is understanding - after two months your member should feel comfortable in your organization and should be able to act as any other member would. Add in a little more communication, such as a check-in twice a month, to ensure they will be ready to stand on their own two feet after the third month. After three months your “new” member should be treated as a regular member and should have all the resources they need to do so.
Check-in at 6 months - In months four, five, and six you should track their activity to make sure everything is going well, and after month six have a longer check-in. This check-in can be a formal meeting or just a five-minute coffee break, as long as you find out how the member’s experience is going and what your organization can do to improve this.
- Survey after one year - at this point your member will probably need to renew their membership subscription, so you will want to add a little more communication at this time. Send out a survey before this date to ensure your member has everything they need to renew, or so they can express reasons why they might not want to renew. This can help you get a better understanding of onboarding and membership problems, and be sure that you fix them.
There are several ways that you can incorporate these steps into your onboarding strategy, and you should choose the option that gives the new members exactly what they need.
For example, some organizations may prefer to have veteran members in charge of welcoming the new member into your community. This will increase the member’s communication and interaction with the organization while making a personal connection.
However, this might not work for other nonprofits where members prefer less contact. Each organization is unique, and your onboarding plans should reflect this.
Communicate with Members in a Way That Works for Them
Now that you have a plan in place to onboard new members, we can move on to how to support your established members. The first thing you can do is ensure you are using the right communication tools to do this.
The kind of tool you use can depend on the type of members you have, or their age and availability. The most common forms of communication are:
Messages through your website
Matt is ready to send out emails to his new members!
Be sure to ask your members which form of communication they prefer so you know they are receiving the messages that you are sending! To take this even further, you could ask them which time of day works best for them to receive messages so you can ensure to get a response.
Of course, you might not be able to send individual communications to every member, but you can segment them into groups and send out communication campaigns that way. If this is not possible for your nonprofit, it is okay to focus on what tool works for the most number of people. By simply asking, you are already showing that you care!
Lastly, when communicating appreciation, show your members you care in a manner that works for them. This can be in the form of videos of the past year, an annual dinner party, or simply a thank you card for all their support and donations.
Again, don’t spend too much time trying to figure out what is best, you can always ask your members! Many organizations think they know what their members want, or take a long time trying to figure it out without actually asking their members. Don’t fall prey to this! By simply asking your members directly you can save a lot of time and end up with better results.
Once you have become a communication Jedi, be sure to include all of your recent findings into your membership communication plan.
Pro Tip: Communication is like love languages, the way you prefer to communicate is not necessarily the way someone else wants to receive communication. Be sure to continually ask members for their feedback on membership communication so you know where there is room for improvement.
Give the People What They Want
While everything we have mentioned thus far will help you increase membership in your nonprofit, there is one thing that is vital to your nonprofit's success. You need to be actively listening to your members!
If you have not heard of active listening, it just means that you are hearing and understanding what someone is saying and responding based on what they have said.
So, how can you actively listen to your members?
You should use the communication techniques mentioned above to reach out to your members and determine what they want out of their membership. This can be done through something like a survey, an online conversation (email, call, social media, etc.), or an in-person conversation. Choose the method that works best for you and your members!
After you see the results of your inquiry, you should take a good amount of time to review them, understand them, and respond. You can do this by contacting the members individually to let them know what suggestions you will put into place, or address all of your members at once.
Above all, be sure to thank your members for their insights, and acknowledge if you cannot use some of them at this moment. Nothing is worse than giving feedback and feeling like nothing was done about it, you never want your members to feel like their time wasn’t valued.
By using these techniques you can gain priceless information to determine what your members really want, so be sure to use this to your advantage! Although there are many other great suggestions in this article about how to increase membership, this is by far the simplest way to ensure your members are getting the experience they want.
Promote Membership Benefits Constantly
The golden rule to retaining members is to ensure that your members are constantly aware of the benefits they receive.
Whether you do this through your weekly communications, in meetings, or online, it should be expressed in everything you do! This will guarantee that your members see value in their membership, giving them an incentive for renewal when it comes time to do so.
The easiest way to communicate benefits is to have a defined list of benefits on your website. Not only will it allow potential members to see what your nonprofit offers, but it will also serve as a reference for your established members.
Pro Tip: Before you invest the time in communicating benefits, you should ensure that everyone in your team is aware of the benefits you provide! If your organization does not yet have a list of benefits, take the time to do this. It will help you and your team stay on the same page at all times.
Corinne is brainstorming all the benefits her organization provides. Look at her go!
Other than being physically written down, your benefits should be expressed in communication with your members. If you aren’t sure how to do this, don’t worry, we have you covered. Here at Springly, we use a basic formula when talking (and writing) about benefits:
Communication = explanation of benefits + what value this brings
This should be done each in a sentence or two, so your member knows the "moral of the story" in less than a minute.
After you give the member the information they really need, what the benefit is and why it helps them, you can explain in further detail how they might use this perk.
For example, if you are a veterans association, you want to express to your members the benefit of being connected to other veterans. You would first state that they would have access to a network of other veterans, and then explain how being in contact with these veterans will enable them to swap memories, stories, and challenges upon repatriation. Then you would go into the details of how they can go about connecting with these other veterans.
Manage Membership Dues
Membership dues must have three basic requirements: affordable for your members, correspond to benefits offered, and cover your costs.
Regarding affordability, you want to be sure that your average member can easily pay your membership dues. If you see from member feedback that the majority of members find the dues to be too high, it might be time to consider lowering them, even if this means taking away some benefits.
If you don’t want to lower your dues for all members, or even at all, we have a couple of options for you:
Establish payment plans. If some of your members are struggling to pay their dues all at once, you might consider offering them a payment plan that allows them to pay in installments. Whether this is in two installments or monthly payments, you can modify the plan based on what your organization and members need. If you do decide to use this option, be sure to set limits and be strict on deadlines. Payment plans are a great option to increase membership to those who otherwise could not afford it, but they do require more management than traditional payment options.
Offer different membership packages. If you do see a need to lower dues in the best interest of your members, but still have members willing to pay the full price to keep all of the benefits, consider varying your membership options. Instead of offering a single membership type, you can offer several levels of membership, with the benefits corresponding to each price level.
Now that we have covered the payment options, we can dive into the dollar amount. You have already established which benefits you offer to your members, and you will want to ensure that their membership dues reflect these.
Start by taking the list of benefits that you offer to your members, and place a dollar amount next to each item that corresponds to how much this benefit costs your organization. This might be hard for things like networking opportunities, but be sure to think about the time it takes to facilitate this networking (including management of events, promotion, and member recruitment) and how much you are paying to do this (staff salary, cost of hiring volunteers, supplies).
Creating this list will not only help give you a better idea of how to cover your costs but will also explain to members where their money is going.
At the very least, your dues breakdown can look something like this:
Source: Alpha Chi Omega Membership Presentation
Once you have these written down, you can explain further if necessary. For example, in the image above we can break down chapter dues into membership events and philanthropy events, and even break those down further if necessary.
Pro Tip: If your members are struggling to see how their dues are being spent, don’t hesitate to make a presentation! By doing this you can show them where their money is going, and ask them how this can be modified to fit their needs. It is best to do this before budget season so you can update the budget accordingly.
All of the things we have mentioned in this section will help you to ensure that your membership dues and benefits are in coordination so that your members see a good return on investment. ROI is not just for business expenses, many individuals also calculate this to ensure their personal budget is on the right track.
Be sure that your members are getting what the dues are worth and what they want from their dues!
Create an Online Community
If 2020 taught us anything it is that we need to be prepared to function entirely remotely, and creating an online community can help you do this!
An online community is a place where all of your members can go to interact, whether that is through your website, social media, or messaging platforms like Slack. This community will help you during crisis times, but it can also help you to connect members that aren’t located near each other, help answer questions outside of meetings, and simply create a sense of community even when you are not physically together.
Be sure to use the methods we mentioned above to determine which communication methods work best for your members! For example, if your members are older, you might consider using a tool like Facebook groups, because your members will be able to navigate it easier than a newer platform. If you have younger members you might take the conversation to Instagram, or even WhatsApp.
By choosing a platform that works best you will be able to target the most amount of people possible to enjoy an online community and boost your membership even during times of crisis.
Pro Tip: Membership-based organizations don’t have it easy when all activities turn remote, and you should invest time (and money) into figuring out how to digitalize your membership. You might even consider hiring a consultant to help your organization figure out how to create an online community.
It's okay! Even Bert is struggling to digitalize his community... looks like we could all do with a bit of help!
Get to Know Your Members
The last, and perhaps most important, the way you can increase membership retention is to get to know your members better!
By focusing your time and energy on getting to know your members you will create a personal connection with them that will increase their chances of renewing membership.
Don’t overthink this, we don’t mean that you need to carve out a specific amount of time to talk to each member, but just to make sure that you aren’t getting too caught up in the business side of your nonprofit. Remember to constantly be thinking about your mission, and take the time to get to know the people that care about your mission as much as you do!
This can simply mean talking to a different member at each meeting, asking how members are doing, and taking the time to actively listen to them. Treat your members as if they are your friends!
Not only will this create the personal connection we mentioned, but also help you to understand who your members are, and what they get out of their membership!
Recruit New Members
Now that you know how to increase the amount of members in your community through membership renewal, you can move on to recruiting new members!
Recruit the Right Members
When we talk about member recruitment, we don’t mean that you should go around trying to recruit anyone and everyone to join your organization. We want you to find members that are the best fit for your organization.
By recruiting members that harmonize with your organization you will be encouraging member retention and saving your nonprofit precious time and money.
So, how can your nonprofit go about doing this? We have a few tips to help you out:
Focus on value-based recruitment. This type of recruitment is based on identifying the core values of your organization and finding individuals that share and complement these values. We use this at Springly to ensure all of our employees share the same passion for nonprofits that we do!
Create member personas. A persona enables you to define the typical type of member for your organization. For example, you could include their values, what they enjoy doing in their spare time, what field they might work in, etc. Any information that is important for you to know about a potential member. This will give you a better idea of where to reach these members, and how to approach them.
Recruit better than yourself. This one sounds a little bit weird, but the idea is that you should be looking for an even better member than yourself. This tactic can help your organization to keep up professionalism and ensure that your members will be active in your events.
These tactics will help you ensure that your new members are the best fit possible for your organization! Be sure to keep them in mind when using the other recruitment techniques mentioned in this article.
Where to Promote Your Organization
Promoting your organization can be challenging, especially if you are trying to limit membership or create a sophisticated reputation.
Our biggest piece of advice is to promote in areas that your member persona would frequent. If you used value-based recruitment, chances are your members all have similar values, and based on this you can figure out where you could promote.
For example, if you are a nonprofit dedicated to leadership, you might want to advertise in the chamber of commerce building, at local leadership events, and nearby schools. These are all places your potential members might go to participate in events or volunteer their time.
Don’t forget about online promotion! Depending on your members, you might have more success promoting your nonprofit through online communities, like Facebook groups, instead of in person.
You can easily find online sources by thinking about what your members might be interested in, and searching groups, blog pages, and social media profiles dedicated to these topics. As a nonprofit, you can also apply to Google ad grants to promote your organization on Google!
The last online promotion you can use is through your own tools! Make sure your website, blog, and social media accounts are all optimized for member recruitment. You can achieve this by creating member testimonials, writing about membership benefits, doing member spotlights, and even having members take over social media accounts for a day.
Host an Open Event
Open events are a great way for your potential members to get an idea of what it would be like to join your organization. They are essentially just like any other membership event, but they are open to the public instead of being reserved for members only.
The benefit of hosting open events is that you get to knock out a membership event, while also advertising to potential members. In addition to that, you have a room full of the best salespeople possible (your established members) to help you out!
Your members know your membership best, so why not let them do the talking for you? Not only does this encourage potential members to create personal connections, but it also ensures you are dedicating enough time to make current members happy.
Eva is excited to use these techniques to increase membership!
Collaborate with Other Organizations
Collaboration is simply when two or more organizations (for-profit or nonprofit) come together to work on a project. Collaborations open your nonprofit up to a new world of opportunities! You can increase your network, double your resources, and boost your impact.
Another perk of collaborations is that it opens your organization up to another segment of potential members. By collaborating with these nonprofits and businesses you will have access to their supporters, which can be a source of new members for your organization.
When considering a collaboration, be sure that the other organizations share the same values. This will help you to avoid conflict, while simultaneously ensuring that you are reaching the right market.
Even more important than ensuring that you share the same values, ensure that the other organizations don’t have conflicting practices. For example, if your organization is dedicated to the sustainable development of your community, you should ensure that your collaborators have local sustainable practices and don’t favor big businesses over local expansion.
On the other hand, if the other collaborators are a big business, this can help both parties by allowing them to become more involved with the community, and help you expand your resources.
The takeaway with collaborations is that they can be a big help to increasing membership, as long as you make sure to find the right collaborators to work with.
Communicate Your Values
Just like you need to use the communication channels that work best for established members, you should also do this for your potential members. Chances are these two things will be very similar, so finding out how your members prefer to communicate can also help you figure out how to communicate with potential members.
Other than choosing the channel that works best for your members, you should also try out different methods to promote membership. For example, if your organization serves millennials, Instagram stories are a great way to connect with this demographic! You can try things like polls, day in the life of a member, and behind the scenes stories.
This doesn’t have to be only through digital tools, if your potential members prefer offline communication you can look for new ways to reach this audience. For example, you can revamp your posters to contain the vital benefits information we mentioned earlier.
Whichever communication technique you choose, be sure that you are highlighting your values and benefits! This will enable your organization to spark interest and recruit the right audience.
This is also something that we discussed in regards to member retention, but it also applies to member recruitment. Breaking down your dues and associating them to the benefits allow potential members to see exactly where their money is going.
Your potential members might not have the means to join several nonprofit organizations, and so they will have to choose just one. Oftentimes these members will choose the organization where they will either receive the most benefits or will have the most impact.
By publicly displaying where dues go not only are you showing them the benefits they will receive, but also showing that your organization is transparent, a quality everyone appreciates in this day and age.
Make Signing Up Easy!
Maybe it is because simplicity is written in our values (literally), but we cannot stress this point enough. It should not be hard for a member to sign up for your organization!
The easiest way to increase membership is to make the process of joining as simple as possible. This ensures that once a potential member is ready to join, it should take a few clicks, or an easy application before they are officially a member.
If you still aren’t seeing the benefits of this, let us re-frame it a little bit. How many times have you gone to an online shop, filled up your cart, and gave up because the payment process was too time-consuming? This is mirrored with membership!
You want to ensure that your potential member’s "checkout process" is as simple as possible to take them from potential members to members. With Springly it only takes 2 clicks to checkout!
If your nonprofit operates based on exclusivity and you want it to be hard to be approved, that is another story. If that is part of your branding, own it! Just be sure there is no unnecessary paper shuffling.
Anthony has all the confidence in the world now that he has simplified his sign-up process!
Tell Your Story
Last, but certainly not least, share your story with potential members! Why was this organization created in the first place?
Nonprofit organizations are so special because they fill in where for-profit businesses and governments cannot. They generally form because someone saw an opportunity to improve the community or environment. Your members joined your organization for this reason because they felt connected to the organization and its mission, so capitalize on that!
Your story is free to share and gives a personal and emotional appeal to your organization. This helps potential members to connect the organization to a face and a cause.
Another great way to share your nonprofit’s story is through member stories. You get to make another personal appeal, while also showing potential members a real example of what they can get out of their membership.
Sharing your story can be done in several ways, and even through some membership recruitment techniques we have already mentioned (two birds with one stone).
Here are our favorite methods:
On your website. Have an "About Us" page dedicated to telling your nonprofit’s story. Then on your membership page include testimonials from current members!
Open events. It is common during an open event that there is a small presentation about the organization, with a large focus on the story. This enables potential members to have several emotional connections, both with your members and with your story.
Through social media. Your social media allows you to share your story with your entire community of followers, including potential members. Every now and there you should re-introduce your organization so they know who you are and why your organization was formed.
Telling your story ensures that all of your members are connected to your purpose, but it also gives nonprofit leaders a chance to remember why they are fighting the good fight! Every part of your organization should be connected to your mission, even if it takes a little reminder now and then.
We hope this article has given you some new ideas on how to increase membership in your nonprofit! Let us know in the comments if you have used any of these techniques and if you saw a difference in your membership.
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