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January 2021

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.

8 words that Boost Cold-Calling Conversion Rates

The strategy of cold calling to sell products and services has been around for decades. Along the way, sales professionals have developed various proven tactics to convince their audience of the value of what they’re selling.


You, as the salesperson, hold the power of information. By educating your buyers about the products and services you offer, you can convert mere prospects into actual paying customers.

What is the Most Simple Way to Improve Morale among your staff?

We need to recognize the tremendous value people bring to their work, regardless of their role in the organization. Recognition isn’t just about implementing employee programs to check them off a list; it’s about bringing out the best in people and improving your company’s bottom line.

According to a recent Harvard Business Review article, and a survey recently commissioned, 82% of employed Americans don’t feel that their supervisors recognize them enough for their contributions. That lack of recognition takes a terrible toll on morale, productivity, and, ultimately, profitability. Another key finding: 40% of employed Americans say they’d put more energy into their work if they were recognized more often.

The good news: It’s both simple and inexpensive for leaders to solve the recognition deficit in their organizations. Here are some of the key strategies that work well.

  • Keep in mind that the overwhelming majority of people aren’t simply motivated by a paycheck. They want to work hard and contribute and be noticed and respected for their efforts. If you truly appreciate them in your mind and heart, your attitude will come through naturally in what you say and do.
  • Show respect by sharing as much information as possible. Sam Walton summarized this best: “The more they know, the more they’ll understand. The more they understand, the more they’ll care. Once they care, there’s no stopping them. If you don’t trust your associates to know what’s going on, they’ll know you really don’t consider them partners.”
  • Ask lots of questions — not simply to your direct reports, but to as many frontline people as possible. One question I love to ask is, “What would you do if you had my job?” Maybe the response will be a useful suggestion, in which case you should acknowledge it and implement it if possible, to prove that these conversations aren’t just for show. Even if you don’t get any great ideas, such discussions can still have a huge impact, as long as your staff sees that you really thought about their suggestions.
  • Celebrate first downs, not just touchdowns. Publicly recognizing and rewarding small wins keeps everyone motivated over the long haul. Don’t be the Negative Nelly who says, “Well, it’s great that you just closed that new sale, but we’re still $5 million behind budget this year!”
  • Make recognition as fun as possible. Take your business seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Over the years I’ve seen managers and even CEOs give out rubber chickens and plastic chattering teeth to recognize exceptional contributions. Which do you think people are more likely to display and tell their friends about — a rubber chicken or a fancy pen?
  • Make it personal. Another interesting point: 76% of people save handwritten thank you notes. A customized, thoughtful gift will have a bigger impact than something mass-produced, regardless of the price tag.
  • Make it timely. Don’t wait for monthly meetings or annual performance reviews. The survey respondents reported an average of 50 days since they last felt recognized in any way at work. That’s way too long. Good things are happening all around you; notice them and seize any opportunity to acknowledge them.
  • Finally, remember recognition is a privilege, not just another item on your to-do list. As a leader you have the privilege of feeding people’s souls and helping them feel great about themselves. And by feeding their souls, you’ll feed yours in return.

My vision is a world where every leader understands that recognition is too important to leave to the HR department.

Special thanks to contributor David Novak.  His latest book is O GREAT ONE! A Little Story About the Awesome Power of Recognition.