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The 10 Commandments of New Member prospecting

By Andrew McElhannon, Association Project Management LLC


Member Prospecting for associations is one of the most challenging and time-consuming parts of association management, but a necessary part nonetheless, and it doesn’t have to be difficult.

Many associations in all industries are seeing declines in memberships – anywhere from 5 to 55% – and its largely due to a couple of key factors, One (1) – The retirement of baby-boomers which began on January 1st of 2011. From that day until the end of 2030, every eight seconds someone will turn 65. On average, 10,000 people retire every day in the United States. As a result, many associations have been losing their retiring members in droves. Two(2) – Merger & Acquisition activity – this may not be something that happens in all associations among their members, but in industries where smaller consumer outlets are bought and absorbed by their larger peers (or competitors), this activity can unintentionally have a negative effect on the revenue an association derives from its members.

While industry perpetuation and M&A activity both impact standing members in your organization, there is no reason whatsoever to think that the age of associations must come to an end because of declining member numbers. Associations must begin finding new ways to attract members, making sure that you are providing the resources your members need Today, not what you only think they need.

Prospect development for members takes time, planning, focus on a specific goal, and a system to carry that out. Today, prospecting might be done via social media, through seminars, business-to-business marketing or even old-school calling from lists. So what might a modern Ten Commandments of Prospecting look like?

The 10 Commandments of New Member prospecting

Number one. Thou shalt get it done first thing. Prospecting is often the least desirable activity on your daily plan. Get it out of the way first thing in the morning. You are fresh, people you call or message on LinkedIn are fresh. Nothing has happened yet to ruin anyone’s day or take up their time.

Number two. Thou shalt follow up. You get a lead. Someone sounds interested. Respond immediately. I find messages sent to me on LinkedIn tend to get lost or overlooked if I don’t jump on them immediately.

Number three. Thou shalt remember New Members are paramount. Member service is important. Paperwork is important. To grow, an association needs to find new members and bring in more assets. If you are great at prospecting and lousy at paperwork, the Association can figure something out. If you’re lousy at prospecting and great at paperwork, the association will die – it has to have the revenue to survive, not adequately kept records (although that is important on other levels).

Number four. Thou shalt treat each call or conversation as a new opportunity. You are smiling and dialing associations with resources they need; they are consumer-centric operations. You call in the slow time of their day. You get hang-ups and “not interested” on the first nine calls. The outcome of the 10th call is not influenced by the first nine. It might be the initial contact with the person who will become your best new member.

Number five. Thou shalt be persistent. Some associations start a prospecting strategy, get to the point where it’s about to bear fruit, and say this isn’t working. They drop it and try another strategy, repeating the process. They put a series of failed strategies into place instead of sticking with one and making adjustments along the way.

Number six. Thou shalt not frown. Smile when you are speaking to new member prospects. It comes over in conversations. It livens your spirit. It puts them at ease. If you act grumpy, you probably sound grumpy.

Number seven. Thou shalt NOT do all the talking. When you have a new member prospect, you often want to show how smart you are. You tell them about what you can do before you know what they need you to do. They think “How can you address my needs if you don’t know what my needs are?”

Number eight. Thou shalt allow the entire team to prospect.  Membership is everyone’s job. Connecting members to services will always drive member satisfaction, but support for those services comes from many different association functional areas. Association leaders looking to improve member engagement and satisfaction should consider how these different teams and services might contribute to membership goals and provide the foundation for long-term success.

Number nine. Thou shalt not be too proud to ask for help. If your prospecting strategy isn’t working, learn from someone who has cracked the code. The folks in the office might be hesitant to reveal secrets, but people you engage with at conferences or online will likely be glad to share their ideas and provide their processes and training for your staff.

Number ten. Thou shalt commit the proper resources to recruit new members. You’ve found someone who can help you build a great member prospecting process and plan. Be sure before you make the decision not to hire or contract with them, that not spending some of the association’s resources for future growth is not totally out of the question, or the right avenue to take.

Here at Association Project Management, we’ve developed a 10-question survey that will assess how well your association is positioned to stop the membership erosion and start adding more new agencies to your ranks than you are losing through lack of industry perpetuation, and through M&A activity.

Once you’ve completed the survey, we would love the opportunity to help you develop and implement a plan that addresses any areas of need.

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