Whether you love them or dread them, membership drives are crucial for chambers. But if you go about them in the wrong way they can be more headache than happiness.
There’s more to a successful membership drive than just raw numbers. Sure, you want more members but you want the right kind. If you recruit the wrong kind of members, they’ll leave after a year. You’ll spend time and resources on them and have nothing to show for it. You want to recruit the type who will become successful and loyal chamber members. You need to ensure they’re a good fit.
But recruiting the right member is just one of the many things that goes into a successful chamber membership drive. Here’s the other part of what you need to know:
Actions for a Successful Chamber Membership Drive
- Set SMART goals
- Share the goals
- Calculate your member acquisition cost
- Select a place
- Ask for help from your people/network
- Set the “lure”
- Get them signed up
- Ditch the paper
- Follow up
These seem easy enough, right? Let’s get into them in a little more depth.
How to Set SMART Goals
Most chambers make the mistake in membership drives to select a goal that sounds awesome (and obvious) like “boost membership.” Going by this goal, if you spend two days calling and begging people to join and then you sign a person…yes, one…you met that goal. But were you really successful?
Yes. But not really.
You wanted to boost membership. You sold one. Thus, you met your goal. Right?
All that time and energy spent on one person is hardly a successful membership drive but according to that goal, it is.
So instead, you want goals that are:
A SMART membership goal looks like this:
We will increase Tier 1, yearly memberships by 10% before end-of-business on October 3.
Wherever possible be specific as to the type of memberships you’re trying to increase. While you may enjoy having students around, selling a lower-priced membership is very different on your ROI than a President’s Circle. Be specific about what you’re shooting for.
Share the Goals
Goals won’t do you any good if the chamber staff and volunteers don’t know what they are. Ensure they know exactly who you’re looking for (your ideal member) and what types of memberships you’re interested in. They must also know the deadline to meet your goal.
Keeping them in the dark will only serve to make them less effective in helping you achieve the chamber membership goals.
Calculate Your Member Acquisition Cost
Your member acquisition cost is easy to calculate. Take what you spend on marketing to potential members (don’t forget to factor in time) and divide that by how many new members you signed during that time period.
Let’s say last year you spent $1,500 on new member marketing and you attracted 15 people. Your member acquisition cost for last year was $100. In order to make the math easy, let’s assume dues are also $100.
That means year one you don’t make any money on members. See why choosing the right types of members is important? If you spend $100 (on average) to attract the member, they pay you $100 to be a member, and then they leave, it’s a wash. That’s no way to run a business.
On the other hand, if they stay after the first year, you’ll begin to see a positive return for that member.
Calculating your customer acquisition cost will help you understand what it costs to attract them and when it becomes worth the chamber’s while from a financial perspective.
Select a Place
Before we get into what makes an ideal spot for your chamber membership drive, it’s important to know that membership drives are multi-fronted. Think of a war (okay, not the best positive analogy). It’s fought on many fronts. There are different divisions and ways that the other side is approached. The same should be true of your chamber membership drive. And just like a war, all approaches should be coordinated. If one group doesn’t know what the other is doing, bad things happen.
You might consider the following tactics:
- membership tables in a highly trafficked area
- board and other volunteer members calling their connections
- mailers to non-member businesses
- paid social media campaigns
- reciprocal agreements with other community organizations
- themed member recruiting events like a golf outing
- free lunch to learn more about the chamber
- visitation blitz to visit nonmembers and bring them a little treat
- membership table at a popular community event
Whatever forms you choose, these efforts should be coordinated to maximize success. The more the community sees of you (in quick succession), the closer the chamber will be to their top of mind.
Okay. We promised to talk about the actual location of the physical membership drive.
Keep in mind your ideal member, a business owner. You want your table in a high traffic area for them, not just a high traffic area. There are a lot of people at school crosswalks but not the kind you’re looking for.
Figure out where your ideal member is and set up your membership drive there or nearby. You can run your command call center from the chamber but the place where you host your physical drive should be somewhere other than your office. Some chambers pair it with a table at a popular local festival. Others might use a popular downtown area. Just keep in mind where your ideal chamber member is and place your tables accordingly.
Ask for Help from Your People/Network
Membership drives are never a one-person effort. It takes a lot of volunteers with awesome attitudes. Make sure all of your members are aware of your recruitment efforts. Offer a special referral program for a specific month. You’ll want people to help by reaching out to their network as well as manning your membership tables. Be specific about the many ways they can get involved. Have small commitments and large ones. Give your board members specific expectations of volunteer hours or member referrals.
Set the “Lure”
Sometimes it’s fun to have an offer. You needn’t discount membership to do this. You may have a sponsor who is willing to give a free ice cream to anyone joining or a discount off of services. The incentive likely won’t be enough to cover membership but it can act as a positive reinforcement for doing something beneficial for their business.
You can also offer tokens of appreciation for referrals.
Get Them Signed Up
Everyone you talk to won’t be ready to sign on the line. Some will need to think about it; not because they don’t like you. It’s possible they just don’t make impulsive decisions. If you push that person to sign up, they’ll walk away.
On the other hand, if they walk away on their own to think about it but you fail to connect with them, you won’t hear from them either.
Everyone who comes to your table (or speaks with you) and is a good fit for membership should be “signed up.” That does not mean to push membership. If they’re not ready, ask them to join your email list to be notified of events or offer a newsletter to stay in touch about issues affecting the business community. Ask them to follow you on social media and follow them too.
Look for opportunities to stay connected. If they’re ready to write a check, great. If not, invite them to connect another way.
Ditch the Paper
There are few things worse than when you’re out and about enjoying yourself at a festival and you start speaking to someone in an organization that “gets” you. You’re so excited to hear about their offerings and you want to join. It seems like they can help your business. Take it in the modern direction it needs. Then…
They hand you paper and a pen and ask you to fill out four pages worth of information about you.
This makes a terrible impression on the potential member for several reasons:
- you just discounted anything you’ve been saying about helping them to modernize their business
- they now have to find a place to sit to fill it all out
- this slows down their enjoyment of the festival (or their day)
- they know you don’t really need all of that information
But don’t worry. You can solve these problems easily. Instead of paper…
- use electronics to fill out a membership form or have someone fill it out for them. Being asked for answers is preferable to writing them in yourself.
- ask for only the most pertinent information. You can visit them later or fill out this info when you look to find out more about their business.
- change the focus. It’s nicer to be asked about interests than it is long lists of addresses, phone numbers, etc.
- use a platform that prepopulates info so they’re not typing in their phone number on multiple pages.
Finally, if you followed this advice, you have everyone who is a good fit for membership signed up for something. After the event, you have lots of follow-ups: follow up with new members as part of the onboarding program; and follow up with newsletter and email recipients, as well as social media followers. Extend a warm thanks for speaking with you and then give them a call to action, Invite them somewhere. Continue the relationship. You need to show you’re interested in them and you can’t do that without some sort of follow-up.