The Beginners Guide to Highly Effective Membership Communications
When we think about communication, we tend to automatically think of social media, designer websites, or expensive consultants, but that’s not really what communication is all about. There are so many aspects to the membership communication plan that we forget about.
Your organization’s effectiveness in growing and maintaining memberships will depend on your ability to create messages and forms of communication that raise engagement, maintain supporters, and bring in more members. At its core, communication is about adhering to your values, knowing what the market standard is, and making it work for you in your capacity.
- Step 1: Research The Competition
- Step 2: Find your Value Proposition
- Step 3: Remember your Values
- Step 4: Make a Plan
- Step 5: Don’t Neglect the Power of Graphic Design
- Step 6: Start with the Basics
- Step 7: Get Informed on Consent and Privacy
Here we go!
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Step 1: Research The Competition
Before we start discussing communication tactics, it’s important to understand what the market standard is. This is because it creates a benchmark for member’s expectations. A benchmark is a standard point of reference that is used to compare to. Learning your member’s expectations allows you to set a benchmark for how to communicate with them.
Start by getting in touch with other organizations that are in your industry and ask them how they manage member communications. Most associations have a way of handling communication. If you reach out and learn their practices, they can help you understand how their member communications schedule is set up. By knowing what other organizations are doing, you are able to set a benchmark for your own nonprofit.
Tap into the community mindset and remember that your organization is unique and offers something other organizations do not. Everyone has a unique value in their industry.
Pro Tip: It’s easy to get caught up in everything that you could be doing but aren’t. Remember, start small and build up once you’re able to manage one or two forms of communication. It’s always better to master one technique rather than spreading yourself too thin to the point that your communication suffers.
The key here isn’t about copying and pasting what another organization is doing. When you copy another organization, it isn’t authentic to you or the mission you’ve set for your nonprofit. You simply want to learn what the standard is and adapt it to create a unique communications strategy for your organization.
Step 2: Find Your Unique Selling Point
Your unique selling point (or USP) is what makes your organization special in comparison to your competitors. It’s all about asking yourself "what makes my organization stand out from the rest?"
First, start by writing down all of the features that make your organization unique. Take 15 minutes and brainstorm every idea that comes to mind. There are no wrong answers in this step!
Once you have narrowed it down to a few ideas that are special and unique to your organization, it’s time to speak to your audience. You won’t be able to please everyone, but you can choose ideas that your target audience will appreciate.
Looks like David has found his unique selling point!
Finally, be personable and make your organization instantly recognizable. This is a form of branding which is important for your USP. For example, Keep-A-Breast has created a logo and used it and the same colors across all of their platforms. This makes it recognizable once you’ve seen it. You need to do the same with your organization.
Step 3: Remember Your Values
Your values should guide all of you and your staff’s communication, tone, and content. You’re creating a brand, so you need to have consistency in what you’re doing. If you aren’t sure what your values are, it’s important for you to pause here, and take some time to figure that out. Your values drive everything that your organization does. Trust us, it’s better to be consistent than anything else.
Pro Tip: If you haven't gotten around to defining your values yet, that's okay. This is a great place to start when you are beginning to dip your toes into membership communications. Take some time to sit down and brainstorm three core values that represent your organization and mission.
Step 4: Make A Plan
"Failing to plan is planning to fail." This famous statement by Benjamin Franklin still reads true today. Set aside time at the end of each month to plan out all of your content for the next month.
In order to start planning, create a content calendar that can be shared with anyone on your team handling communication. It should include when to send out emails, post to social media, and create blog and website content.
If you aren’t planning this and feel that you can "wing it" by coming up with a post every once in a while, you aren’t being consistent in your communication. That’s the whole reason we plan. It keeps you on track, consistent, and allows you to have a visual of where you’re posting your content. The best communication strategy is one that’s thought out and planned well in advance.
Ellie is heeding Ben Franklin's warning!
If planning for a full month is too much for you, try planning for two weeks at a time and work your way up. This will give you time to think about the type of content you want to produce and analyze your previous actions. Additionally, it will help you balance out what forms of communication (such a social media, email, or a blog) you’re using.
Step 5: Don’t Neglect The Power of Graphic Design
Graphic design is visual content used to communicate with consumers of any level. It’s the key to building a professional brand and optimizing your organization’s efforts in membership marketing. This means it is highly important to communicate with potential new members and current members.
Graphic design is what catches your potential or current member’s attention. It’s the whole reason they’re reading what you have to say, especially when it comes to social media. By using graphic design, your members will remain engaged in your organization.
There are different tools for every level of experience that make design accessible to all. A few years ago, if you wanted professional-looking content, you had to outsource it and pay a professional graphic designer. Now, the tools are available to everyone thanks to some popular apps. These apps are perfect for organizations that are working with a tight budget and can’t afford to pay a professional graphic designer.
Three of the best options available are:
Canva for beginners
Figma for intermediate designers
Adobe for those with the most experience.
These tools can help you create content that’s cohesive across platforms that also looks professional.
I know what you’re thinking, "Doesn’t that take a lot of time?". But, no! It doesn’t. And for the return on investment, it’s absolutely worth it. Graphic design will help people take your organization more seriously and to the next level without too much time or money spent. Presenting information in a visual way is also a way to communicate information in a different way that makes your content more accessible.
Step 6: Start With The Basics
There are a few ways that you can dip your toes into the world of member communication and improve your nonprofit's visibility without having a full communication strategy put into place. If you haven’t had any consistency in your communication, start small. We may sound like a broken record, but it’s far better to do one or two things really well instead of five things poorly.
Emily knows the basics are all
you need to start!
It does take practice and patience, but with time you will get the hang of it. Here are a few ideas to get started.
Write Your First Welcome Letter
One of the best and most effective types of membership communication is a welcome letter. You may have already casually explained to your new member everything that’s going to go in the email which is great! However, when you send an email the fact that it’s in writing solidifies that they are a part of your organization and formalizes the process.
Start by drafting a standard format to follow and use for every membership cycle. You can add personal touches, but it needs to be standard so that you don’t forget any key information.
It’s important to understand the purpose of the welcome letter as you start to draft it. What is the goal of this letter? To pass key information? To invite members to an event? It is important to define a single goal for each piece of communication that you present to your members.
Then, once you have it written, read it over and ask yourself if you accomplished the goals that you set prior to writing. If it does not, adjust.
If you choose to take the digital route rather than print, remember to always test your email before you send it. You’ll want to double-check spelling and make sure the format comes through as you want it.
The good news is that once you have drafted your welcome letter, you can use it as a template for any other communications down the line.
Pro Tip: Don’t forget the golden rule of communication: there should only ever be one message per action. This means that for every form of communication you should have one goal and that message should accomplish it. Too much information can cause confusion.
Send a Regular Newsletter
A newsletter is a great way to reach your members to touch base about what’s going on in your organization. You can include important information about events, fun anecdotes about members, industry best practices, and more.
Newsletters should be fun and personal. While you do want to be professional, your members want to feel a sense of community and not like they’re reading a newspaper.
Pro Tip: If you find that you are lacking engagement, lean on the community of your members. How? Ask them to write a short op ed for your newsletter. By getting them involved directly, they will take ownership in not only the publication, but your organization too!
Update Your Website
Your website needs to be constantly updated with the most accurate information. Understandably, you can get busy and the website can take a back seat. However, you should do everything in your power to keep that website up to date.
New potential members are visiting every day and if you haven’t updated your website in six months, it may not be adapted to host new members.
The number one thing is to keep membership processes & information updated. The idea here is that your potential members should be able to discover and sign up on their own. If that is not updated, you are missing out on potential revenue. Additionally, if you have a blog on your website or post content, do your best to post on a regular basis.
If you have a calendar, keeping it updated is a great way to improve membership communications. Some ideas of updates to the monthly calendar are birthdays, important events, community outreach, and more. Some other ideas if you need more content are membership anniversaries and other local associations’ events to show support for your community.
Create a Facebook Page
Facebook is a wonderful communication tool in your organization. By creating a Facebook page, you are opening your organization up to an entirely new community. Some of the most successful nonprofits use Facebook pages to help nourish relationships between members.
Matt is doing a quick status update
on his organization's Facebook page!
Your Facebook page should have your logo on it as well as your mission statement so people know what you are about. In order to keep members interacting, it’s important for you to post regularly. The community that you create on Facebook should directly reflect the mission of your organization. This platform is a great way to make each participant feel special by recognizing birthdays, accomplishments, and event participation.
The content that you post needs to vary because your Facebook group is not only for members but for potential members, donors, supporters, financial backers, and board members. The more variety that your Facebook page and social media in general has will create a higher level of interaction among your followers.
Pro Tip: Remember to always get your member’s consent before posting photos or videos of them on social media.
After creating your Facebook page, there may be a time that you notice that interaction on your Facebook profile is down, try to post more prompts. For example, ask the group, "How has your impact grown since joining our organization?", then watch the comments flood in!
Create a Space for Your Members to Interact
A key to communication is creating a space for your members to interact and then nudging them to do so. They need to be forming bonds and relationships with like-minded people in the group.
There are a few platforms to look at when it comes to member interaction. You can use Whatsapp or Slack which are messaging services. These are good when organizing events or meetings so that everyone is on the same page.
Another option is what we discussed above, the Facebook group. It’s easy and people check their social media several times during the day.
Members can also interact on the blog page on your website in the comments. Then your members can read what you’ve posted and discuss what they found interesting, helpful, or that they even disagree with.
Step 7: Get Informed on Consent and Privacy
While precautions are always taken, hacks and breaches of data are unfortunately common. It’s crucial for nonprofits to understand consent and privacy in regard to all communication, but especially when it comes to online communication.
Alex knows consent and privacy knowledge is
key for peace of mind.
The key to remember when it comes to the privacy and consent of your members is that you need to use a higher logic to identify where issues could come into play and put in protection against them.
Membership communication is not something that happens accidentally. It takes practice, hard work, and organization.
As long as you take the time to plan and to create professional, well-branded content, you will see a rise in your interactions, readership, respondents, and participation in webinars and other events. Once you understand the power of a well-thought-out communication plan, there is no going back.
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📢 What is a communication plan for?
The idea of a communication plan is to communicate ideas to your community in such a way that it generates engagement while making them feel welcomed, informed, and valued. A communication plan should convey the values of your organization without needing to overtly state them. Find out more.
❓ How does a communication plan work?
Communication plans tend to be centered around a content calendar, which includes dates and times associated with email campaigns, social media posts, content creations, and so on. Planning tends to be conducted for periods of 2-3 weeks at a time in order to facilitate a trial and error process. Find out more.
💬 How do you engage your members?
Send your members a welcome letter or email upon joining your organization to engage them at the first stage of their membership. After that, schedule a regular newsletter and involve your community by asking them for content ideas. You can even use graphic designs to really grab their attention. Find out more.