Marketing an Association

Bragging to prospective members about how important an organization is or telling them about association activites are not effective messages for recruiting members. Telling a prospect to send an association money so that it can maintain its budget is similarly a waste of effort.
In light of this, some associations have found a better way to raise money – individualized targeted marketing. Through this approach, an association designs its new member marketing program to build a strong personal relationship with a limited number of targeted prospects over an extended period of time using carefully planned and executed marketing approaches. Sales communications must be tailored to specific individuals and their needs and wants.

Ten Steps of Marketing an Association
1.)  Compile a specialized list
2.)  Build a database
3.)  Plan how to build a solid relationship
4.)  Use many different methods to communicate
5.)  Close the sale at every opportunity
6.)  Offer tangible products or services
7.)  Create networking opportunities
8.)  Stress the value of the organization
9.)  Keep records of contacts
10.)  Do not give up! Keep contacting at least 5 or 6 times

Marketing Methods

The Membership Committee
Creating a membership committee made up of current members harnesses your most powerful selling tool: individuals who have personal stories of how they have benefited from the organization. Current members are an association’s best advocates when it comes to recruitment. Not only can they speak from experience and empathize with potential members, but they have a direct stake in growing the organization. To organize an effective membership committee, follow these pointers:

  • Use 10-20 volunteer members to establish a formal committee to secure new members and retain exiting ones
  • Select members who have a vested interest in meeting new members for their own business
  • Encourage the committee to recruit new members through personal contacts
  • Allocate a considerable amount of staff time to manage the Membership Committee
  • Assign the duties of identifying prospective members to the staff
  • Assign staff to manage the logistical details such as meetings and producing sales literature

Enthusiasm for working on a membership committee is created by awarding valuable prizes or ego-boosting awards to the most successful recruiters. Camaraderie and friendly competition among the committee members usually develops and spurs the group on to produce results by recruiting new members. Prizes for bringing in the most new members will help reach this goal, but recognition and publicity for members who bring in members also improves performance. Below are a few ideas:

  • Provide special jackets for those who have recruited a specified number of new members.
  • Provide a name badge ribbon at association meetings which reads, “Chairman’s Club,” “Top Producer,” or other complimentary terms.
  • Give lapel pins or other jewelry.
  • Have special seating at events for the top producers.
  • Hold drawings for prizes including overseas trips -each new member recruited gets the recruiter’s name in the drawing. No limits are placed on the number of times recruiter’s names are in the drawing.
  • List in association’s publications the members who recruit new members.
  • Display a large sign at meetings listing those who have sold new memberships.
  • Hold a special annual luncheon or dinner to honor those who have recruited new members.
  • Establish a President’s or Chairman’s Club for members who have recruited a certain number of new members. They should be rewarded with special privileges and advantages.


The Membership Blitz
Similar to the Membership Committee, this method harnesses the power of current members, but differs in size and time commitment.

  • Execute a 2 to 3 day membership solicitation activity using 25 to 100 volunteers
  • Create a sense of intensity and urgency
  • Sponsor a kick-off meeting with “hullabaloo” to gain enthusiasm
  • Divide volunteers into competing teams who then leave the initial meeting with prospect lists
  • A report meeting is held at the end of the Blitz where prizes are awarded to the most successful teams


Associations the world over use the telephone as a major recruiting technique or to sell products and services. This technique can be highly effective, especially with the spread of mobile technology, at covering large distances and staying in contact with members in hard to reach locations. Note that this approach can only work in countries that have economical and reliable phone systems.

Two approaches:

1.)  Sponsor a telephone blitz operated exactly like the Membership Blitz described above except, instead of the recruiters visiting prospects in the prospects’ places of business, the volunteers call them on the telephone. A written script for the sales pitch is often provided and volunteer recruiters are placed in a location with several phones in the same room or building. The key to the success of the telephone blitz is the intense competition that develops between the recruiters and the rewards for success that are offered.
2.)  Hire paid professional telemarketers to recruit new members or to sell products and services for the association. These telemarketers are either employed by the association as full-time phone solicitors or employed by a professional telemarketing firm that is contracted by the association to recruit new members. These telemarketers usually are paid on a commission basis.

Mass Media Advertising
Advertising can be an effective but expensive method of recruitment for most associations. While newspaper, magazine, television and radio space is very cheap per person reached, most associations have a limited group of prospects. Therefore, mass advertising is not economically feasible in most cases. Some associations use mass media to build their image or to sell products and services that can be used by audiences other than just members. All of this, of course, contributes to developing an organizational brand, which can lead to better recruitment results in the long term.

Professional Salespersons
Many associations hire professional salespersons. This is probably the most popular method of securing new members and of selling services for larger associations. The salespersons become association staff employees. Often a sales manager is hired to operate the program. Paid on a commission basis, these sales professionals can quickly learn the association’s message and products and will know how to use the above-mentioned “perceived value” motives to persuade prospects to join. The associations that use commissioned sales people must have a large number of potential new members or lucrative products and services in order to make hiring a full-time staff economically feasible.

Direct Mail
Utilizing the postal service to deliver member solicitation messages is a standard method used by associations in many countries. Though it may seem simple, direct mail is not easy. Most prospects take less than four seconds to decide the extent of their interest upon receiving a mailing piece. If their decision is to explore the mailing further, they will then seek a considerable amount of information before deciding to explore becoming a member. Each element of the direct mail piece must be part of the sales message.

Four Elements of a Direct Mail Piece
1.)  A selling envelope that ensures the receive will read the piece
2.)  A sales letter that makes the membership sales pitch
3.)  A full colored brochure that tells of the benefits of being a member and excites the interest of the prospect
4.)  A reply card which asks for the order

Millions of dollars in research has been conducted on the best way to conduct direct mail campaigns. An association executive considering using this approach would do well to do an extensive amount of research prior to embarking on recruiting new members by sending expensive mass mailings. Direct mail is not as simple as it seems and a great amount of money can be wasted on poorly designed campaigns. Remember; use all four elements of a direct mail piece.