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Association Management

Association Membership Recruitment Guidelines, Tips and Event Ideas for 2024

MemberClicks Avatar MemberClicks January 9, 2024
Table of Contents
11 min read

Now is a great time to be thinking about new member recruitment for your association. Your future members are likely more primed than ever for that feeling of community that comes from joining an association.  

Before we dive into 10 ideas for how to go about recruiting new members, we want to cover some of the basics. But if you’re just looking for ideas, you can jump down.  

First off, why you need to recruit 

We all want to believe our associations and organizations will naturally pull in the best people. But, it’s simply not the case. In the same way that companies recruit new hires, member organizations also need to recruit members.  

Recruiting new members proactively help you to:

  • keep membership numbers up
  • bring fresh perspectives and ideas to your community
  • increase the quality of networking among members
  • help prevent member burn out
  • grow the reach of your association to new groups of people

What is recruitment? 

Recruitment is about enrolling someone into your organization (or as an employee, in your group or organization depending on what you’re recruiting for.) But recruitment goes a bit further than that. Recruitment is about going out to potential members and being more involved in getting them to join. Recruitment hints to a bit more effort, purpose and work done on your side to get new members.  

Having a website and just letting people find you really isn’t recruitment. The ideas we talk about here are about taking that extra step to pique people’s interest in who you are and what you do.  

General rules of member recruitment 

Whatever you do to try to recruit new members into your organization, there are a few basic rules and guidelines you should keep in mind.  

Get your association in front of potential members 

Step one in recruiting is to make sure potential members know who you are. The easiest way to do this is by being wherever your ideal members are. It could be about: 

  • Posting ads on social media channels 
  • Sponsoring events that they attend 
  • Being a guest on a podcast 
  • Paying for an ad on a website or in a magazine 
  • Putting up flyers or posters in physical areas 

Whatever events you hold or recruitment tactics you put in place, it won’t work if they don’t already recognize your organization or name. Remember, it takes on average 5 times for a person to really read a message, 10 to remember and 20 to act on it.  

A bonus with associations and chambers is that the name often indicates what you do and who your members are so it’s easier to feel a connection without too many touchpoints. But, make sure that by the time you’re running a recruitment event, your potential members know who you are.  

Share member benefits and talk about what you do 

No one likes to brag, but members join organizations for the benefits. Don’t be shy to talk about and share yours. After all, it’s the main “why” for joining. When we say member benefits, it can be anything that you offer to your members. The more clearly potential members can see how joining will help them, the more intrigued they’ll be to learn more.  

Beyond this, sharing your member benefits helps to answer the question of how you are different from other organizations. Maybe they are already in an association, but you have benefits that fit their needs a little better. Or maybe they joined in order to network and you run more networking events than their current association.  

Potential members don’t know what you don’t tell them. So start sharing! 

Be open with membership options 

There are many reasons that people don’t want to join your association. A big one can be financial. Especially now, finances and budgets can be tight. Promote employer sponsored memberships, talk about financial aid you offer and share different membership levels if you have them. Educate them on what it costs to join and how you can assist them if they really are interested.  

Bonus tip: Get seasonal with recruitment! 

Depending on who your ideal member is, you may want to get purposeful about when you actively recruit.  

For example, if university students are your ideal member, then don’t plan a recruitment event around midterms or exams. Many students go home over the holidays to winter events could be low on attendance. An event at the beginning of the semester or a “back to school” event could have a much better turn out.  

Another great seasonal recruitment idea is to change your messaging for the time of year. The turn of the new year, for example, is great to talk about resolutions, career goals and thinking about the future. Springtime is excellent for starting fresh, cleaning up and prioritization. The summer season may not be a great time for recruiting since many people go on holidays, but the fall is excellent for meeting goals and making the most of the end of the year.   

So, pay attention to your calendar and recruit with seasonality in mind. 

7 recruitment ideas to help you get new members 

Read on to discover 10 association membership recruitment ideas that have been proven to work. We’ll cover strategies related to events, special promotions, marketing, and leveraging your existing members. We’ll also share examples of real organizations that have successfully used these tactics in their recruitment efforts.  

1. Create a referral program with incentives 

You can also be a little more upfront about asking your existing members to bring in new blood. Your members understand that a growing membership community means a better experience for everyone involved, so they will be happy to support your recruitment efforts.  

That being said, there’s nothing wrong with giving them a little bit of an incentive. Feel free to offer something special to your members for convincing someone they know to join — this can be a gift card, a discount on their next dues payment, or even an entry into a draw to win a prize.  

2. Offer Gift Memberships 

When your organization’s membership is truly a valuable and enjoyable experience, members often naturally wish to share that experience with the people in their lives. However, it can sometimes be a little hard to convince someone who’s never heard of you before to pull out their wallet and commit to an entire year’s worth of membership dues. 

That’s where gift memberships come in. A gift membership allows a current member — or someone who’s also just signing up for the first time — to pay for a year of membership for their friend, colleague, or family member. The gift recipient then gets to experience the benefits and joys of being a member of your organization at no cost to them. When the gift membership expires, they will more than likely want to continue their membership and start paying dues independently.  

3. Offer a Promotion  

Someone may be pretty interested in joining your membership after attending a free event or getting a recommendation from a friend, but sometimes they still need another push. Convince them to sign up by offering an exclusive membership discount. Create a time limit on the offer so they feel the need to act now to avoid missing out on the opportunity. The promotion will make people feel like they’re getting a special deal, and they would be losing money in the long run if they don’t sign up now.  

4. Promote a trial membership 

For people who are interested but hesitant to join, consider offering a trial membership period. Let them experience all the benefits of being a member without paying anything. Chances are, at the end of the trial period, they’ll miss having members-only access and will sign up for a paid membership.  

5. Create a Free Membership Level or Let People Join by Donation 

You’ll come across people whose interests and values align with your organization and who wish they could join but maybe can’t afford your membership dues. To accommodate this group, why not create a free membership level? They can have primary access to information that won’t cost you anything extra to develop or maintain — but no access to the same benefits that paying members would. They’ll appreciate being part of a community and may become your most engaged members who ultimately recruit more paying members.  

Over time, as their circumstances change, you could gently ask them to consider upgrading to a paid membership level. They’ll be much easier to convince than a brand-new member.  

If you don’t like the idea of completely free membership, you can also let people join by donation. When you ask people to pay what they can, you’re allowing them to choose how to support your organization. Some people may pay the bare minimum, while others may surprise you!  

6. Create an Inbound Marketing Strategy  

A large portion of your new member recruitment efforts should revolve around seeking out potential members through referrals. However, there are also things you can do to help new members find out about your organization and come to you on their own. In the for-profit world, this is done through what is called inbound marketing.  

You can implement an inbound marketing strategy by creating valuable educational content related to your industry or field. People searching the Internet for this kind of information will come across your association’s website, see you as a reputable source for quality information, and be more likely to join your community over time.  

The content you create can include blog posts, webinars, courses, videos, podcasts, and anything else that delivers value to your audience.  

7. Partner with Other Organizations 

A sense of community drives membership growth — take advantage of this and tap into your own community for new opportunities. Think about other associations, businesses, or charities who do similar or complementary work to yours and identify ways to partner with them. This can mean putting on a joint event, sponsoring an event, cross promoting your events or programs, or providing discounts for your respective members. The benefit here is that members of your partners’ communities will get an introduction to your organization. You already know that their interests and values align with yours, so they are the perfect candidates for potential new members! 

5 member recruitment events to try 

Want to plan a recruitment event to really win over potential members? These 5 ideas will help get the ball rolling! Or, just use one of them for your next event. We don’t mind.

1. Host a Bring-a-Friend Meeting or Event 

One of the best ways to recruit new members to your association is by getting your current members to promote you within their networks.

Your existing members’ friends, acquaintances, and colleagues often share the same interests and are looking for solutions to the same problems, so they’ll likely already be supportive of your mission. Plus, most people trust the opinion of someone they know, so if a friend recommends that they join your association, they’ll take it into serious consideration.  

A simple way to encourage your existing members to introduce their friends to your association is by hosting a special bring-a-friend meeting or event. Ask your members to think of one person who would benefit from or enjoy coming along with them and experiencing a bit of what your association has to offer. Your members will feel more comfortable at the event or meeting. At the same time, their friend will get an opportunity to network, learn something new, and potentially discover a new association to join! 

2. Host a Free Event Open to Non-Members  

Non-members don’t know what they’re missing, so give them a chance to experience what your membership has to offer by hosting a free event.  

Entice people to sign up for membership by promising valuable information, networking opportunities, or something exclusive. If the event is happening in person, make sure to provide a free meal or refreshments — nothing drives people to an event more than free food! 

Be sure to also promote your event as much as you can by sharing flyers, posting on social media, and getting your existing members to help spread the word.  

Now, here’s the most critical step: keep track of your non-member event attendees in your association management software. They may not sign up for membership right away, but if you have their information, you can keep in touch with them and convince them to sign up over time. 

3. Speed meeting 

You know speed dating? Speed meeting is like that, but with less romance and more networking. You can have potential members come mingle and interact with current members – or with each other to build new connections. It’s a casual way to get current members to meet with potential members and promote your association.  

Some ways to make the conversations even more effective: 

  • Structure the event so that like-minded prospects and members will be chatting. (By role, career level, organization type, etc.) 
  • Give your members topics to help guide the conversation – including points that’ll highlight certain benefits. 
  • Similarly, ask prospects to submit their goals and interests for joining ahead of time so your current members know what’s most important to them. 
Click through to learn about MemberClicks’ membership management software tools, MC Trade and MC Professional.

4. Panel discussion 

You’ve probably hosted events with panels before, but have you ever done it as a recruitment effort? Hosting a panel creates an environment where you can be open and straightforward with prospects. Start your panel with a curated Q&A, and then open the floor to your prospects for other questions. Don’t be shy about what you’ll answer! Your willingness to be transparent is key here. 

To take it up a notch: 

  • Provide drinks and appetizers, or breakfast for a morning panel. 
  • Invite someone in your industry or community to give a short keynote – either about your organization, or something relevant to it. 
  • Ask your panel to stick around until after all of your prospects have left and make themselves available to answer additional questions. 

5. Attend local activities around town 

Pairing classic networking with an exciting outing or event will leave a lasting impression. Aim for something that’s fun, but where members and prospects can easily interact, too. For example: 

  • Rent a space at your local sports stadium for pre-game drinks and heavy appetizers – and then stick around for the game, of course! 
  • Try out a team-building activity, like a ropes course or escape room. 
  • Volunteer with your local food bank, a beautification effort, on a Habitat for Humanity build, etc. – something you can do as a group to benefit the community. 

With a little out-of-the-box thinking, your member recruitment can take on a whole new, much more engaging light. And that’s just the beginning on how you can use your events to grow your membership.  

We love these types of events for chambers especially because they’re a great way to showcase the incredible businesses and local organizations you partner with and love.  

Making new member recruitment fun 

Getting new members into your organization can be stressful since many association goals fall to membership numbers. Hopefully these guidelines, recruitment tips and event ideas will help you recruit new members easily while having some fun doing it!  

If you’re looking for even more ways to grow your organization, contact MemberClicks to see how we can help your association. 

Let the recruitment begin! 

Free Member Retention Guide

Ready to retain members and keep them coming back forever and ever? This guide will teach you everything you need to know about member retention. We cover all the basics, like the first steps to member retention and how to map out your member journey. From there, we dive a bit deeper into retention tips.