Building Expertise into Your Membership Recruitment Program

By Tony Rossell, Senior Vice President

One of the most significant challenges to managing an effective membership recruitment program comes down to the lack of staff time and expertise. Respondents shared some of these challenges in the Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, “We do not have the &hellipl staff capacity to have someone focus on membership growth. I do the membership, partnership, engagement, social media, marketing, website, and events.” Another membership manager affirmed this, saying their biggest challenge was “Having enough staff to execute effectively. Staffing is at a bare minimum.”

Marketing was more straightforward in the past; some staff phone calls or emails could support membership growth. However, marketing has become much more sophisticated over the years. Today, successful associations rely on research-driven messaging, multiple marketing channels, and detailed testing and analysis to support recruitment efforts.

So, how can you find the time and expertise to focus on increasing membership? Here are some strategies to explore to build a team that can effectively support marketing.

  • Hiring. Some associations have the right number of staff members but lack the skill sets needed. For example, associations may have required more writers to produce marketing content. Today, much of the in-demand expertise has shifted to technical skills for email, digital advertising, and data analysis. For you to find the requisite talent, associations are embracing remote work and virtual teams to add staff. The best new hire with the needed skills may be across the nation or the ocean. Our company, for example, now has teams in 12 states, effectively collaborating through digital communication tools and project management platforms.
  • Training. Training and retraining are options if your staff’s skill sets do not match the current marketing needs. Many training options are now available at no or low cost. Some teams learn by studying a marketing book together. This method also works well in helping chapters stay current. My book, Membership Recruitment, is one opportunity to consider. Others take advantage of product vendor training or online courses to help staff gain the knowledge and expertise needed to operate some of the newer marketing channels. Investing in existing marketing team members lets them stay updated with the latest trends and technologies.
  • Interning. Sometimes, internships can get a bad rap because they create more work for a supervisor than they deliver. However, we have found internships very productive when the term of the engagement lasts beyond weeks and extends for an entire semester or school year. Ongoing internship programs can be established with a local university or college that offers a marketing or communications major. Interns can receive a scope of work that includes assisting with day-to-day tasks, research projects, and campaign execution. The ideas from interns can also provide fresh perspectives on how to reach younger members.
  • Collaborating. One of the common themes that we hear from associations is the challenge of siloed departments. Not only is this a barrier to getting work done with conflicting priorities and approvals (I call this the tail wagging the dog), but it also consumes staff time and resources. One survey respondent characterized the challenge this way: we have “competing conflicts within the association. Marketing dollars and staff time are tight and it's difficult to market membership against other product/service priorities.” However, establishing a collaborative environment where the web team, IT group, communications staff, and marketing work together leverages everyone’s expertise and helps create an efficient, time-saving process. This cooperation can best be achieved when the leadership agrees that membership growth represents a core goal for the association for which everyone is responsible and benefits from the results.
  • Automating. One way to improve marketing efficiency is by using various marketing automation tools. These tools can enhance promotional copy, eliminate repetitive tasks, facilitate A/B testing, trigger follow-up communications, score leads, and support member engagement. Implementing these tools involves investing in budgets and training, empowering your marketing efforts over time.
  • Outsourcing. Most associations have some work that requires time-sensitive responses or only occurs periodically. In these situations, bringing onboard outside assistance makes sense because specialists like freelancers or consultants will likely accomplish these tasks more quickly and effectively than your staff. Freelancers are ideal for graphic design and copywriting, while consultants can provide market research, data analysis, or marketing plan development. Both bring expertise from having done these tasks numerous times and do not require the long-term commitment of hiring full-time employees.
  • Partnering. Working for a marketing agency means I am predisposed to this option based on many years of experience seeing the benefits this provides to associations. Partnering with a marketing agency might cost less than trying to staff all the necessary marketing roles for an association. An agency specializing in membership and association marketing brings a team of experts with a portfolio of skills to marketing challenges. Because of an ongoing relationship, an agency develops a deep understanding of the needs and opportunities in the association’s specific marketplace.

This article is an edited excerpt from the forthcoming book, The Seven Deadly Sins of Membership Marketing. The book Membership Recruitment: How to Grow Recurring Revenue, Reach New Markets, and Advance Your Mission, available on Amazon, provides additional membership guidance.

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