Recruiting members . . . and keeping them

By Julie Frey • October 4, 2013

Julie Frey headshot
Julie Frey, APR, CPRC

Are you at a stalemate when it comes to recruiting and retaining members? Sometimes, it’s easier to approach the cycle of each year by doing what was always done. If your approach is successful, then it’s hard to find reason to change it. But the question remains, could your membership grow more by bringing some new ideas to the table?

In the years I’ve served on the Board for the Gainesville Chapter of the Florida Public Relations Association (FPRA Gainesville), we’ve asked ourselves this same question. Throughout the years, we tried several different approaches to help grow our membership.

Here are six tactics to spark brainstorming in your association:

  • Challenge your Board. One of the best places to find leads for new members is through your Board and your members. Create a contest and challenge members to recruit others to join. For each new recruit, the member’s name goes into a drawing for an iPad. Or the member who enrolls the most new members wins a gift card to a popular restaurant.
FPRA Image Award winners
Network with others in your community through award and recognition programs.

When I served as FPRA Gainesville’s Vice President of Member Services, I challenged our Board to forward membership leads to me. This made it easy for the Board members, as they only had to provide the contact information of a potential member and I would follow up. However, the winner of the contest was the Board member who provided the most leads who ultimately joined. So in some cases, the Board member followed up with their leads as well. They wanted to make sure their contacts joined.

  • Expand your network.

Branch out from the typical places you recruit members. Attend Chamber of Commerce events or industry conferences. Think about other networking events potential members may attend. These also provide great opportunities to network with your current members.

Last year, FPRA Gainesville joined our local Chamber. This year, our chapter’s President-Elect and I are attending the Chamber’s monthly networking events. In addition, we met with the Chamber’s membership staff to discuss ways we can cross-promote or trade services. We would benefit from increased publicity of our events and association and the Chamber would benefit from our members volunteering their expertise, as well as from the additional promotion of the Chamber to our members.

  • Provide a scholarship. Not only will a scholarship provide you with one more member, it will provide you with leads for several others. In addition, the scholarship recipient will become a paying member after a year of experiencing the value of joining your association.

FPRA Gainesville has provided two membership scholarships for many years. However, we learned the best way to attract new members is to promote the scholarships at the optimal time in our membership year. For us, that’s about a month before our membership renewal deadline.

  • Involve members. We all know the saying, “You get out of it what you put into it.” By engaging members in your association through committees, member profiles, personal invitations to events and other ways, you increase the value of their membership. When it’s time to renew, it will be an easy decision.

    Join Quiz for a Cause
    Deepen members’ engagement by personally inviting them to work with project-specific committees or on your board.

You can ask any Board member of FPRA Gainesville and you will hear the same story of how they became involved and ultimately joined the Board. They were invited to join a committee or participate in an activity by another chapter member. Throughout the years, this has led not only to a strong leadership stream in our chapter, but also to long-time friendships.

  • Celebrate members.

Throughout the year, it’s important to recognize member accomplishments and milestones. Start their experience off on the right foot by recognizing them as soon as they join. Have a pinning ceremony at your monthly meeting, list new members in your newsletter or recognize them on social media. Then, do the same for all your members as they reach specific milestones, such as 5, 10 or 25 years. Include member news in your communications, which allows members to market their organization to others. Another great value they will think about at renewal time.

Amelia and Erin
Remind members why they are part of your organization by celebrating them year-round.

FPRA Gainesville has a history of pinning new members and recognizing our members’ milestones, but last year, we also included a profile of our new members in our weekly e-newsletter. This helped them to feel more welcome in our chapter and to introduce them to our current members.

  • Support member certification. For those industries and professions with accreditation or certification, provide support to your members pursuing this avenue. Whether it’s by providing a course, a study guide or other guidance, your association will be seen as a place of respite during a stressful time. Even providing a way for those preparing for certification to connect with each other will provide the support your members need.

If you are looking for other ideas or still struggling with what will work for your association, talk with your members. By talking one-on-one with a few of your members, you will gain insight into what attracted them to join and why they continue to renew. But you also will learn where they see the association heading and how trends in the field are affecting their membership. Then, the ideas will start flowing.

Julie Frey, APR, CPRC, director of information and communication technology at the University of Florida College of Design, Construction and Planning, has worked in public relations for 18 years. She is president of the Gainesville Chapter of the Florida Public Relations Association. Follow Julie on Twitter: @juliesfrey, @UFdcp, @FPRA_GNV, #ThinkFPRA