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5 Member Acquisition Strategies: Attracting New Members to Your Association

You know your association offers great benefits for new members – so how do you get their attention and get them to join?

Long-term success for associations means not only keeping existing members happy but attracting new members too. Otherwise, as members retire, you’ll find your membership numbers declining. That’s why thinking about your member acquisition strategies is so important.

Imagine you throw the perfect party, but you don’t send out any invitations, so no one comes. You put all that effort into the food, decorations, and activities and end up with no one there to enjoy it. That can be how it feels to have a vibrant association but struggle to reach new members.

You’ve laid out the best member experiences possible and built a wide range of useful member benefits, features, educational opportunities, networking, job boards, certifications, events, etc. And your existing members know that what you offer is wonderful. But how do you get prospective members to join the party?

Here are five member acquisition strategies (plus one “pre-strategy”) to consider that could help your association attract fresh faces. Not all these examples are right for every association, but they can serve as thought starters to help you come up with new ways to draw new members in!

Understanding Your Target Audience and Value Proposition

Before we dive into member acquisition examples, it’s important to first do some pre-strategizing…

  • Your Audience

    Your Audience

    To acquire new members, you have to understand who you want to reach – in other words, your target audience. Defining your ideal member persona and conducting market research helps you understand where to find potential members and how to create outreach campaigns that resonate with them.

    • Consider factors like demographics, interests, and challenges. This will help you decide which outreach channels you want to use and tailor your messaging to attract the right audience.
    • Conduct surveys, interviews, and industry trend analysis. By gaining insights into your target audience’s needs, you can tailor your membership acquisition strategies to directly address these needs.
    • If you have several distinct target audiences, segment your outreach and personalize your efforts, delivering targeted messages to different groups. Dividing your audience into distinct segments based on criteria like demographics, behavior, or interests, helps you create more relevant and impactful marketing campaigns.
    audience research
  • Your Value Proposition

    Your Value Proposition

    You also have to understand and be able to clearly communicate your association’s unique selling points. Member acquisition is about convincing potential members of the value of your member benefits and organization.

    • Pinpoint your unique strengths, be it your expertise, resources, or exclusive opportunities. By highlighting these unique qualities, you can captivate potential members.
    • Consider how to clearly express the ways your organization adds value to potential members’ lives or businesses. Whether it’s access to industry insights, networking opportunities, or professional development resources, you need to be able to explain the tangible benefits potential members can gain by joining your organization.
    • Collect testimonials or success stories from current members to help build trust and credibility.

    Your value proposition should be compelling and concise. The language you use shouldn’t be overly promotional. Instead, think of your messaging as providing the information someone needs to understand how your association will meet their needs and solve their challenges.

Member Acquisition Strategies

1. Ambassadors Assemble! Leverage Existing Members

Referral programs and other membership acquisition strategies that leverage your existing members can be highly effective. Your existing members are your best ambassadors – you can tap into their networks to expand your membership base. When current members refer their friends and colleagues, they vouch for the value and benefits of your organization. This builds trust and credibility, making it more likely for new members to join.

  • Host a “Bring a Friend” Event (In Person or Virtually): Some people would never go to any parties if they weren’t invited (or dragged) by a friend. Encourage current members to invite their friends or colleagues to a special “get acquainted” meetup. Maintain an informal and non-salesy tone and showcase everything the association does in an approachable way.
  • Highlight Member Wins in Newsletters or Awards: Showcase your most active members in your newsletters or through awards programs. Many of your members know a network of people who are not yet part of your association. When you celebrate your members’ milestones or offer the opportunity to win an award, they will likely share their wins with their peers (or their friends will share it for them!). Not only will your existing member enjoy the recognition, but their friends and peers will enjoy the opportunity to celebrate them – and may be impressed the association gives its members this kind of exposure.
  • Maintain a Classic Referral Program: Incentivize current members to refer others, offering rewards such as discounts, exclusive access to content or events, or referral bonuses. Make sure the tracking for referral programs is user-friendly and intuitive, and that you communicate incentives clearly and consistently to encourage participation.

2. Build Your Online Presence

Establishing an online presence and implementing a robust SEO strategy is vital for member acquisition because it helps potential members find you. By optimizing your website for search engines, creating valuable content, and utilizing social media and online platforms, you can increase your visibility and potential members will come to you.

  • Optimize Your Website: The first step in establishing an effective online presence is to optimize your website for search engines. Conduct keyword research and incorporate relevant keywords into your website’s content, meta tags, and headings. This enhances your website’s visibility in search engine results and attracts organic traffic (i.e. more people visiting your website and learning about membership). Your content (blog posts, resources, articles, job postings on your job board, community conversations, etc.) help you attract more traffic and members too! Position yourself as an industry leader and establish credibility with your target audience.
  • Social Media Makeover: Social media has now been around so long, some associations have started taking it for granted, approaching it with the same “set it and forget it” attitude they also mistakenly apply to their websites. Your social media is a primary place to get seen by non-members. Entertain on it. Inform on it. Captivate with it. Make users think, “I should probably be a member of this association” by sharing resources, relevant content, and insights.
  • Launch Your Association Studio: We already know how engaging video is on nearly all online platforms. We’re increasingly coming to understand how powerful audio-only content like podcasts is and how fast it’s being embraced across all demographics. So what’s your show? What compelling media are you putting out there that conveys your association’s mission, benefits, and impact to non-members?
man optimizing SEO on association website

3. Give Potential Members a Taste of What You Offer

Some associations run into an issue where they give too much away for free and there’s no reason for non-members to “upgrade” to a paid membership. But others have the opposite problem. Exclusivity works, but only to a point. If absolutely everything you offer is locked down to members only, it can make it hard for potential members to decide whether your association is right for them. Not to mention, your member benefits will often speak for themselves if you give someone a sample!

  • Open Part of Your Online Community: Do you let non-members join your online community or post on your community job board? Cracking the door open to non-members is actually a great way to get your own foot in their door. If non-members can create a community account and engage in some of your community discussions, they get to see the community culture that makes your association great – and YOU get access to their contact information to follow-up with them.
  • Test Drives Work: Today’s users are used to freemium models in which they get to experience an app, service, platform before committing to a subscription. Eliminate a prospect’s doubt by letting them experience (for a set period of time) exactly what it’s like to be a member. Don’t be stingy either. Give them access to the full range of member benefits and give it to them for a long enough period (say, a month) that they get hooked and don’t want to be without it.
  • Discounts or Promotions: Who doesn’t like a deal? While there’s no reason to cheapen the value of membership by cutting dues too deeply, think about offering an introductory rate for newcomers. This can even be done during special, limited membership drives. And while you’re at it, you can offer the occasional “membership appreciation” discount to existing members to lock up retention.

4. Meet Them Where They Are & Show ‘Em That You Know ‘Em

Recently, on Higher Logic’s podcast, Diana Mertz, Sr. Director of Membership and Engagement for the American Staffing Association, talked about how important it is to understand what members need and how they like to engage so you can meet them where they are. Put a different way, Higher Logic’s Sarah Spinosa shared stats from our Association Member Experience Report on a recent webinar that demonstrated how impactful it is to “show ‘em that you know ‘em.” It’s no surprise that people like to feel seen and respected, and your potential members are no different. When talking to them about your association and the value of membership, remember to consider their unique needs and preferences.

  • Who are You? You know who enjoys generic, spam emails? Nobody. Can you imagine if we pursued relationships (be they romantic or friendly in nature) the same way some brands and associations pursue new customers? You’re asking them to make a personal commitment, to join something. The least you can do is talk to them one-on-one and do all you can to show you care about offering things that align with their interests.
  • Connect on Their Terms: As you send out properly segmented, personalized emails, pay attention to recipients’ communications preferences. This can be done by observing their online behavior or just coming right out and asking them. What social media platform do they prefer? How often do they want to hear from you? What day and time do they typically engage with what you’re sending them?

5. Better Together: Collaborate with Like-Minded Organizations

Anyone who’s ever tried to move a mattress upstairs by themselves knows how much easier it is to accomplish some goals with help. While you might be capable of doing something on your own, why turn down an opportunity to have someone else give you a boost? Strategically partnering with other organizations in your industry presents an opportunity to cross-promote organizational benefits to each other’s audiences. It’s a great, and often mutually beneficial way to expand your reach and attract new members.

  • Partnerships: Forming alliances with other organizations that cater to the same target audience helps ease the effort of reaching that audience. Whether it’s trading content assets, co-sponsoring a webinar, or sharing resources, both parties can bring what they do best to the table. Sharing resources like research findings, industry insights, or educational materials can also enhance the value proposition for potential members and foster a sense of community among industry peers.
  • Joint Events: Collaborating on joint events, webinars, or conferences can showcase the collective expertise and offerings of both organizations, making membership more appealing to prospective members. Make these events accessible to non-members and provide existing members with the opportunities we mentioned above to introduce friends and colleagues to the association.
    • Pro Tip: Don’t expect the event to do all the work for you – go out of your way to make new people feel welcome when they show up.

The Power of Membership Acquisition Strategies

In today’s competitive landscape, it’s paramount to have a solid member acquisition strategy to attract and sustain new members. Cultivating a community of engaged and loyal members actively contributes to the growth and sustainability of your organization.

Successful member acquisition will always involve a combination of creativity, consistency, adaptability, and yes, charm. So considering an array of strategies and seeing what works with your target audience will help your association figure out the best way to draw new people in!

Kelly Whelan

Kelly Whelan is the Content Marketing Manager for Higher Logic. In this role, she develops content to support association professionals and advise them on member engagement and communication strategy. She also hosts Higher Logic’s podcast, The Member Engagement Show. She has ~10 years of experience working in marketing for associations and nonprofits.