Growing Membership by Building and Expanding Value
Nonprofits that are dependent on membership revenue often invest their limited human and financial resources in short term, unsustainable strategies, focusing on expanding their membership through solicitation and persuasion rather than building and expanding a solid value proposition for their members. While short term positive impacts may result from these kind of strategies, they also tend to lead to higher lapsing rates, as members are less connected to the organization and the benefits of their membership than they are to the person that solicited them.
If growth and sustainability of unrestricted operating revenue are the goal, I would urge nonprofits to consider adopting a more value oriented strategy, which clearly identifies the tangible and intangible benefits of membership and focuses on building those benefits on an ongoing basis. This kind of philosophy sends a strong message to members that the organization doesn’t take their support for granted, and that it is committed to earning their ongoing support.
So, if membership revenue is an important part of your operating income, don’t wait until it starts to decline before having a candid discussion about your value proposition and strategies that might enhance it. And keep that conversation alive with your staff, board and Membership Committee, as organizations that don’t take their member’s support for granted build loyalty, commitment, and sustainable operating revenue to fund expanding mission impact.
Thanks for this post Scott. I wonder if you could expand a bit on how to identify and communicate intangible benefits of membership. Also interested if you can recommend any articles, primers, etc. on developing a value proposition.
What I was trying to convey is that members look for different things when they support an organization, and nonprofits need to recognize that in their marketing approaches. Some members are looking for a very tangible value proposition, which might come through exclusive access to resources that only members get, or discounts on attendance fees and organizational products and services. Others just want to support the broader goals an organization is trying to accomplish, and have less interest in gaining tangible value from their support. So, to be able to reach both audiences, nonprofits should try to clearly convey the specific benefits of membership within the framework of the broader goals and mission of the organization.
As to articles, none come immediately to mind, but if we find any, we’ll post them here.
There are some excellent resources for membership recruitment and retention on the ASAE website. An example is the following link to an excellent article on the very points you raise in your post: http://www.asaecenter.org/wiki/?page=Member%20Retention%20Strategies
A list of membership retention strategies that might be addressed in an association’s strategic goals and plans is provided here: http://www.cinosam.net/ideas.pdf
The key to membership recruitment and retention is to adopt and implement appropriate strategies that focus on developing, enhancing and communicating the “value added” of membership to existing and prospective association members as part of the strategic planning process.