Two of the leading challenges facing associations when it comes to membership growth and retention are membership dues and the value membership offers. A recent industry study shows that the biggest external challenge to growing association membership is the economy/cost of membership and the biggest internal challenge is difficulty on the part of an association in communicating value or benefits.1 Members and prospects targeted in a membership marketing campaign, whether individual or corporate/trade, make their decision to join or remain with an association largely on the basis of “what’s in it for me and why should I pay?”
One membership growth and retention strategy is to flip the focus of why members should join from a “what’s in it for me?” mindset to “I believe in what we’re doing here.” It’s not always top of mind, but associations, professional societies and other non-profit organizations are mission-driven. Your organization was created to support a cause, by people who had a passion for furthering and promoting that cause. So … remind members of, and introduce prospects to your “raison d'être.” Foster the conversation that their membership—the dues they pay, the volunteer work they may do and other actions they take—is critical to your organization’s ability to pursue its mission.
Taking a mission-centric focus to association membership marketing challenges is supported by ASAE, the center for association leadership. They recently unveiled their “Power of A” campaign to promote how associations and non-profits build a stronger nation and world. One of the messaging pillars of the campaign is that associations are essential to a stronger world through your power to strengthen lives. As ASAE points out, “there is no other segment of society that improves lives like associations do every day.” Data they share shows that nearly 63 million Americans volunteered through a membership organization in 2013, totaling 7.7 billion hours of service with a value of nearly $173 billion.2
This approach can be especially effective for reaching millennials, who have a demonstrated desire to affect change—a study by Telefónica found that 74% of millennial leaders “believe they can make a global difference”3 and a study by Achieve Consulting Inc., shows that 94% of millennials like using their skills to benefit a cause.4
5 Ways Association Membership Marketing Can Be Mission-centric
1. Develop Mission-centric Membership Marketing Messaging
Spend some time reviewing your mission statement, charter, etc. and then develop key messages that clearly and concisely connect membership to your organization’s purpose. For example: “Your membership (financial and volunteer involvement) provides the resources we need to further cancer treatment research” or “As a member, you contribute to our ability to build a strong future for appraisers.”
Don’t be afraid to include benefits in your messaging, but make sure you tie benefits to the “greater good.” Say things like “Open access to our educational resources helps you increase the impact technology has on furthering life sciences.”
2. Launch an Integrated Membership Marketing Campaign Focused On Your Mission-centric Message
Commission an integrated marketing campaign that creatively highlights the spirit of your mission, through messaging, graphic design and imagery. Don’t focus on a laundry list of benefits members receive, but rather the relationship between membership and an organization’s cause. For the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), we developed an integrated campaign themed “I Am With SWE” that delivered a double meaning: 1) that through membership, you “stand” with SWE and its mission to advocate for women in engineering and technology, and 2) that being part of SWE helps you be who you are as an engineer and a woman. This approach worked particularly well for SWE, as their members typically have a deep connection with the organization. The campaign has contributed to membership growth—in the last year the “I Am With SWE,” campaign has helped the Society add 3,000 additional members. You can see additional examples from the “I Am With SWE” campaign here.
3. Solicit Member Testimonials that Help Communicate Your Mission-centric Message
Encourage your members—from high-level volunteer leaders to the newly joined—to share the reasons why they feel their membership is important to the overall mission of your organization. And, conversely, how the organization’s mission impacts them. Using membership testimonials creates an authentic connection between “real” people and the association. These stories can be captured in video format (which is great for digital marketing efforts and can be either formal interviews or member submitted), as social media posts, blog articles, etc. The point is, let your members speak for the cause they believe in.
4. Highlight Programs Your Mission Supports
A great way to build a link between membership and the association’s mission is to showcase programs your organization develops and supports to further your cause. This can be lobbying, outreach, scholarships, foundations, research, events, etc. Promote these efforts shamelessly—the more visibility to the good work you are doing, the more members and prospective members will feel they are having an impact and are part of something important.
5. Bring it Back to the Member—Communicate Their “Return on Involvement”
Yes, we’re recommending an approach that focuses on how association membership impacts an organization’s mission, but membership is a two-way street. Throughout the campaign, communicate that in the end, your organization exists largely to support the goals of individual or organizational members. To have a collective impact as an organization, the members you represent must be able to have their own individual impact as well—it’s their “return on involvement.”
The challenges facing professional associations related to membership marketing, growth and retention are many. But, when you remind your members and prospective members of the “why” we do what we do, you give them a reason to believe in your organization—and be a part of your organization.
To learn more about how DJG can cause a stir with a cause-based membership campaign for your organization, email Ron Zywicki or call us at 630.305.0003.
1. (2018). Marketing.marketinggeneral.com. Retrieved 22 May 2018, from http://marketing.marketinggeneral.com/acton/attachment/6893/f-006f/1/-/-/-/-/The%202017%20Membership%20Marketing%20Benchmarking%20Report.pdf
2. Adopt the Power of A | The Power of A. (2018). Thepowerofa.org. Retrieved 24 May 2018, from https://www.thepowerofa.org/toolkit/
3. (2018). Kidsenjongeren.nl. Retrieved 23 May 2018, from https://www.kidsenjongeren.nl/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Telefonica-Global-Millennial-Survey.pdf
4. Millennial’s Desire to Do Good Defines Workplace Culture . (2014). SHRM. Retrieved 23 May 2018, from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/behavioral-competencies/global-and-cultural-effectiveness/Pages/Millennial-Impact.aspx