Applying Reasoned Action Theory to your Membership Recruitment Efforts

By Tony Rossell, Senior Vice President

For many years, social scientists have used Reasoned Action Theory (RAT) to evaluate a person's intention to take an action. Daniel O’Keefe, a preeminent scholar in the field, says of RAT, “It is unquestionably the most influential general framework for understanding the determinants of voluntary action.”

A simplistic overview of the theory lays out four drivers that determine an intention leading to a behavior. The first is Attitude with the components of belief (it is a good thing) and evaluation (there is motivation to act). The second is Injunction which is the influence of others (colleagues, friends, or professors). Next is Determinants which is seeing others who are doing the behavior. The final driver is Perceived Behavior Control, believing you have the opportunity and power to achieve the behavior.

This theory has been tested and validated through numerous experiments. And it can be applied to improve membership marketing efforts. 

The first application is Attitude. To support action, prospective members need messaging to help them believe that membership in your organization is beneficial. You can do this through a clearly articulated value proposition. And by providing them with a motivation to take action like a new member incentive.

The second part of the RAT theory is Injunction. People are influenced to join because of the encouragement of others to do so. The power of Injunction is demonstrated in responses from the annual Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report. For years, referrals or word of mouth have been reported as the number one factor in getting members to join over any other marketing activity.

The next driver for RAT is Determinants. Members are more likely to join when they see others taking the action. This tendency is why testimonials are so effective in membership marketing. Membership can be presented as the norm to support success.

Finally, Perceived Behavior Control relates to the impediments to taking action. Prospective members may believe that joining requires too much upfront work or is more than they can afford. The opportunity to overcome this challenge is to “smooth the path” by advertising the opportunity to join, making the join process as easy as possible, and addressing the upfront membership cost.

Many of us are excellent practitioners of membership marketing, but understanding the scientific theory that supports better outcomes reinforces efforts.

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