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. 

But how exactly should you go about recruiting 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. 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 — you’ll see this theme threaded through a few of the ideas we discuss in this post. 

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 y take it under 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! 

Who does it well: 

The Alberta Municipal Clerks Association hosted a virtual event and invited their members to bring a friend (virtually) at no cost. 

Alberta Municipal Clerks Association website post about how members can bring a guest for free to their conference.

2. 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. 

Who does it well: 

The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario offers free year-long membership for anyone who recruits five new members. 

Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario website offering a free membership for recruitment of 5 members, or a $20 RNAO credit for 1-4 recruited members.

3. 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. 

Who does it well:

Ducks Unlimited Canada offers the option of giving a one-year membership as a gift. 

Ducks Unlimited Canada website membership purchasing page that offers the option of becoming a member or purchasing a gift membership.

The Music Gallery offers a discounted “Buy one, give one” option, where the total amount is cheaper than buying two separate memberships. 

the Music Gallery website offering a buy one, give one membership deal for $70.

4. 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 a membership right away, but if you have their information, you can keep in touch with them and convince them to sign up over time. 

Who does it well: 

The Association of Professional Futurists hosted an event open and free to the general public.

The Association of Professional Futurists  website for their Friends of Foresight event, a public gathering that does not require membership to attend.

5. 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. 

Who does it well: 

The Financial Planning Association of Dallas/Fort Worth offers a $100 discount for new members who use a promo code. 

Financial Planning Association of DallasFort Worth website offering promo codes to save $100 on a new membership, or a different code for early renewals of existing memberships.

6. Offer 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. 

Who does it well: 

The American Water Works Association offers a free 90-day trial membership with full benefits. 

American Water Works Association web for for membership application, noting a 90-day free trial upon signup.

7. 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 be 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 choose how to support your organization. Some people may pay the bare minimum, while others may surprise you! 

Who does it well: 

The Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association offers a basic membership for free and provides benefits like access to a member directory, free webinars, and a job board. 

Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association website showing the benefits of a free membership.

Strong Towns allows new members to join by donation. While members can input their own amounts, a few suggested amounts are provided, as well. 

Strong Towns donation page showing choices between monetary increments of donations or a field to input a custom dollar amount to become a member.

8. Create a Word-of-Mouth Marketing Strategy 

We’ve already covered a few tactics to get your existing members involved in new member recruitment. However, there are many other small ways they can help. The key here is to encourage and empower them, giving them everything they need to help spread the word. 

You can create flyers that your members can put up, unique invitations to events, social media posts, email templates, and anything else that they can share in their networks. In communication pieces like your welcome email, give your members opportunities and reasons to start conversations with their friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. You never know which of these conversations will lead to a new member. 

Who does it well: 

The International Biggles Association provides a simple way to tell a friend about the association by filling out an online form. 

International Biggles Association email notification page that allows members to input a friend's email address to notify them about the association.

9. 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. 

Who does it well: 

The Canadian Physiotherapy Association publishes an informative blog and covers topics relevant to physiotherapy professionals. 

Canadian Physiotherapy Association blog listing of relevant healthcare posts to inform professionals about the field as well as alert them of the association's work.

10. 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!

Who does it well: 

The Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst Association offers discounts to members of their partnering organizations. 

Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst Association webpage listing logos and titles of their partner organizations, with information about an exam discount for partner members.

These are just 10 tactics you could start leveraging, but no doubt, there are many more.  What’s important is to get started now, while people crave the sense of community that being a member of an association brings. 

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

Best of luck recruiting your new members!