Membership Recruitment and Retention Ideas

In these economic times it’s more important than ever to show the value of membership to your members and potential members. You have one year to show that value.

Stay in touch with your members on a regular basis, not just when it’s renewal/invoice time.

Be consistent with your message and your brand. Don’t try and be all things to all people. Focus on what you do well.

The following list of ideas may be helpful as you set your plan.

Membership Recruitment Ideas

Show value of joining your organization:

  • Advocacy
  • Credibility
  • Networking
  • New business
  • Knowledge source
  • Solving problems
  • Affinity programs
  • Research

Identifying a prospect:

  • Define your target segment
  • Identify smaller more manageable market segments of membership prospects to tailor promotional messages
  • Develop different recruitment strategies for different audiences i.e., direct mail, e-mail, website, face-to-face, trade shows, etc.
  • Survey your members and non-members constantly to identify what your members and potential members want out of membership
  • Use multi-media to reach your prospects
  • Different pitches to different segments based on survey data (market research)
  • Don’t be afraid to change your pitch

Membership Retention Ideas

  • Show dollar value of each service for membership
  • Show ROI

Create a formal retention program:

  • New member kit
  • Phone-a-thon to reach out to new members after 3 months of membership
  • Weekly, monthly, quarterly communications (not a sales pitch)
  • Office visits
  • Mini surveys
  • Personal note with invoice
  • Congratulatory notes
  • News releases
  • Get new member to write an article in newsletter
  • Get new member to be a panelist at one of your educational programs
  • Get new member to volunteer in a leadership role

Engage members on a regular basis to determine their satisfaction of membership:

  • Survey new members
  • Survey same members after one-year
  • Survey attendees at conferences, after a book purchase

For a great resource on membership marketing go to Marketing General, Inc. or HERE for their latest surveys and white papers.

The Relevance of Chamber's of Commerce

Are Chamber’s of Commerce relevant? Are some more relevant than others?

Are all your members important? Are some more important than others?

The answer is yes to both, some chambers are more relevant than others and some members are more important than other.

The key is to fine what your chamber stands for and focus on executing that mission.

I’m reminded of the Hedgehog Theory – by Jim Collins in his book “Good to Great.”

As you may know, the theory uses three circles to make his point. Using these three circles, indentify what you have passion for, what you are or could be the best at, and what do you make money on. Where those three circles come together is where you should focus your energies.

Just a quick look at the numbers of chambers across the country are mind boggling. Differentiating your chamber from the competition is critical to your continued growth and success.

What makes us relevant? Based on a Winston Study in 2001, the following were identified by members of chambers across the country.

  • Networking opportunities
  • Economic/community development
  • Issue advocacy/lobbying
  • Tourism/Community promotion
  • Leadership training
  • We help our members grow their business

It should be noted that what is relevant for one chamber could be completely different for another. That again lies the real question. What do we want to be known for? What is going to make us relevant? If you don’t know, it’s time for you to conduct a board retreat and find out.

What’s Driving Change in Membership?

There are internal and external forces that are forcing chambers to change the way they do business. The following are just an example of the issues facing chamber execs each year, and as you can see, many are out of our control.


  • Budget cuts
  • Staff cuts
  • Doing more with less (doing away with or cutting back on services – 24 hours just became a 48 hour turnaround time – is that acceptable)


  • Economy (your members have fewer dollars)
  • Internet (free or pay as you go)
  • Competition (bookstores, state & regional chambers, local chambers, our members)

It’s important to revisit your value prop on a regular basis. You know the equation, Benefits – costs = value. The challenge is to communicate that value effectively to your membership, non-members and community alike.

I subscribe to the philosophy that all businesses in your community are either members of the chamber or are going to be members of the chamber.

Membership Is Everybody’s Business

Membership is what’s on everybody’s mind today, as is -- “How do we keep growing in these uncertain times?”

What is your organization doing to continue growth during the challenging months ahead?

My new pitch – “Membership is everybody’s business!”

I recently participated in a session on “Driving Change in Membership Services.” With fiscal year-end upon us, now is the time to review your organization's activities to ensure you are doing everything possible get back on the track of continued growth many of us experienced in the 80’s and 90’s.

General Themes

Membership is a labor-intensive activity. I would suggest the day of the phrase “build it and they will come” no longer applies. How about these phrases (sound familiar): “Where’s the beef” – “Show me the money” – and today I hear “What’s the value of membership.” As membership organizations, we must always be prepared to answer that fundamental question.

Membership is everybody’s business. We must remember that a bigger membership base means more book sales, program registrations and potential advertising dollars that the entire organization will benefit from – not just the membership department. All staff and all volunteers need to know the importance of membership and the key role they can play in influencing that process.

Continue to be innovative while still delivering the goods! I’m reminded by a book I read written by Anthony Bourdain titled Kitchen Confidential. In it he gives an analogy on why people continue to go to the same restaurants and purchase the same meals over long periods of time. They do it because they know they can expect the same quality of a specific dish on any day of the week or week of the year.

What’s Driving Change in Membership

There’s no question the past 12 to 18 months have created challenging times for all of us. Budget cuts, staff cuts and doing more with less are just three internal factors we're are dealing with everyday as we continue to deliver value to our members. Once you add the economy, the Internet and competition (sometimes from our own members) as three external factors we face, it’s no wonder recruiting new members is getting tougher and tougher each year.

When organizations and companies are affected by the economy, memberships are one of the first things that get reviewed, which leads to one of the most important equations membership professionals face today. Showing the value of membership! I’m sure you’ve read or heard that phrase before. Putting an actual dollar figure next to each could be problematic, but the following equation is what I suspect many of our members are calculating in their heads during invoice time:

Benefits - Costs = Value

An Eye Towards The Future

The future looks bright! It was reassuring speaking with many of my colleagues with all the creative membership campaigns being done in the membership arena. Now may be the time to look at that new class of membership your Board was thinking about creating to grow membership over the past couple of years (students, global, retired, etc.).

Members want a place they can call home - deliver the value – that’s our job!

What's Your Brand?

That is the $64K question.

Has your brand changed over the years?

Building a brand is important, it’s built over time, and you need to review your brand every five to ten years if you want to stay relevant.

Which leads me to my next question.

As I visit with the chamber community across the country, I’m always asked the following four questions.
  1. Are Chamber’s of Commerce Relevant?
  2. Are some more relevant than others?
  3. Are all your members important?
  4. Are some more important than others?
As you might have guessed, the answer is yes to all four. But, let’s not fool ourselves, some chambers are more relevant than others, and some members are more important than others.

Based on the Winston Group study, a question was asked – “What makes chambers relevant?” The top 4 answers:
  1. Networking opportunities (41%)
  2. Economic/community development (37%)
  3. Issue advocacy/lobbying (16%)
  4. Tourism/Community promotion (15%)
That being said, I’m quick to point out a conversation I had with a chamber CEO last year who stated, “If you’ve met one chamber, you’ve met one chamber,” which leads me to my next question.

What is your Chambers Value Proposition?

You’ve seen the equation: Benefits – Costs = Value.

What is your Chamber’s Golden Handcuff? What do you provide that every member wants to be a part of. That’s your golden handcuff, and that’s a question only you can answer.

I’m reminded of two books I’ve read and wanted to share two concepts that I keep “top of mind.”

The first, is by Jim Collins. The book is Good to Great, and it talks about how organizations make the leap. Mr. Collins refers to a concept called the “Hedgehog Theory.” And, in a nutshell, it’s a business model for lines of business. Think of three circles:
  1. What do you do better than anybody else?;
  2. What do you have passion for?; and
  3. What do you make money at?
The book suggests to focus on where the three meet.

The second book, Kitchen Confidential, by Anthony Bourdain. Mr. Bourdain was the executive chef at Les Halles in New York.

He talks about why people go back to the same restaurant year, after year, after year for the same meal. I’m guilty. I went to CafĂ© Dalat, in Arlington, VA, for 15 years, and I order the same thing every time (without exception).

I’m so guilty, I go cross country to California and order the same meal at Lares, a Mexican restaurant, every year – that little tradition has been going on for 20 years.

Mr. Bourdain states that people order the same meal, from the same restaurant, because they know the quality of the meal will be the same every time.

I suggest the message to chamber leaders (volunteer and staff), is too never forget why your members join.

Your members will want you to innovate, push the envelope, create new products and services, but at the same time, you need to deliver the core goods that your members expect from your chamber.

As you look towards the future: show the value; communicate, communicate, communicate your brand; build partnerships/alliances; and never take a member for granted.