Keys to Growing Membership
by Peter Urs Bender

Any business, like a muscle, grows or shrinks. Either you use it or lose it; a popular idiom that holds true for growing your muscles also applies to growing your membership. The secret for any association is to survive through growth. That means increasing your membership.
     Dreaming about growth will not bring it about. You need to create an action plan to see results. The associations that offer genuine benefits to their members will have no trouble growing, even in tougher times like the present.

In the old days, we has enough money to afford being members of numerous associations. We often did that just because it made us look and sound good (plus they offered a great three-hour lunch). But with budget crunches and ever-tightening demands on time, those days are gone for good. Today any serious businessperson looks at the total value an association presents before signing the membership form. And they will surely not renew memberships with associations that have little or no value.
     That means you need to offer what I call "total value" to your members otherwise you are likely to fail.
     What is total value? Simply put, it is the actual, plus the perceived value your members receive for the cost of their membership.
     The actual value is what you offer with the membership. This can include insurance plans, certificates, special rates to hotels, conferences in exotic places, seminars or just technical information. Anything, in fact, that members see as a benefit for what they pay annually to maintain their association.
     The perceived value of the membership is the more important of the two values. It is the way you present the value of your membership that counts. And that is the tricky part.
     For instance, when you go to a first-class jeweler to buy a gift for your partner, the box that it comes in is an important value to the recipient. If the case is a popular brand name, it is going to carry more clout than a simple, generic one even though the content may be the same. That is perceived value.
     The equation for membership growth call for being able to distinguish correctly between needs and wants. Find out what your members want and give it to them. All too often a board decides what members need when it is really their wants that should be addressed.
     Years ago, McDonald's surveyed their market and concluded that Americans were eating too much fat. They needed a lean menu item, so the chain began marketing the McLean burger. The marketing campaign was a disaster because no one wanted lean burgers-they wanted their regular, fatty burgers.
     We are no different. We know we do not really need a drink or an hors d'oeuvre at a function, but we still sneak three or four when no one is looking.
     Boards often decide on the needs of members, when it is the members themselves who should say what they want. A good association caters to the wants of its members and realizes that this is more beneficial than deciding what its members need.
     Assuming the board knows the wants of its members, it can, for example, offer a seminar on crisis management. It would be prudent to place an announcement on the association newsletter detailing the seminar and the date it is being held. The announcement should also promote the seminar perhaps by mentioning that the speakers are the best experts in the field, or that the short afternoon seminar will offer a practical session to help plan individualized crisis management program.
     That brings us to the third aspect of growing your membership- follow-up. It is not enough to simply make announcements. You need to follow them up and integrate them with existing membership programs. By designating telephone and email teams that personally contact members, it can be suggested that this might be a good opportunity for members to invite a non-member for a program of value. Right away, potential growth.
     There are large associations so big that they continue to grow from the top. Their only option is to grow through local chapters. The scenario may be different, but the principle remains the same.
     A follow-up system needs to be developed. The large association can look for growth through addition of more local chapters, while the local chapters should look for growth through the addition of members.
     These three factors: membership value, membership wants and follow-up are what determine solid growth. Make sure your organization is on the right track.


Peter Urs Bender is one of Canada’s most dynamic and entertaining business speakers. He lives and works out of Toronto. He is the author of four best-selling business books: Leadership from Within, Secrets of Power Presentations, Secrets of Power Marketing, Secrets of Face-to-Face Communication, and Gutfeeling.
To read excerpts from his books visit www.PeterUrsBender.com.