If you’re trying to reach people, trying to get them to sign up for your organization or nonprofit, you know it can be a challenge. It can be difficult to let members know you’re there, and then even more challenging to recruit and retain them.
If you’re struggling with this, never fear. Although it’s not always easy to grow membership, it is almost always possible.
And there’s nothing quite like an amazing membership community. In this article, we’ll walk you through some strategies for how to grow membership in an organization. It’s a big list of ideas, and there’s something here for everyone. You definitely don’t have to do all these (and probably shouldn’t try!). But whether you’re running an online community, a nonprofit, or a national association, these ideas will help you unlock membership growth.
If you want more support in building your online community, come join OUR Mighty Community for free and meet other new and established community owners! We’d love to meet you. Join for free!
In this article…
6 things you should NEVER do to grow your membership
- High-pressure sales tactics
- Compromise your Ideal Member
- Open your criteria too broad
- Pressure or guilt existing members
- Make promises you can’t keep
- Poach members from your colleague organizations
115 ideas to grow membership in your organization
Activate your existing members
- Define a Big Purpose: For membership to grow, you need to know WHY people will join and stay in the first place. Create a Big Purpose statement to get this clear.
- Clarify your Ideal Member: Membership organizations can’t be all things to all people. Get really clear on who your Ideal Member is, and serve them.
- Stop trying to get everyone: There isn’t a single organization on earth that serves EVERYONE. 1 focused and driven member is worth 10 who aren’t engaged and will quit (and bad-mouth your organization). It’s always better to let the would-be members that don’t fit pass on.
- Design your community: Don’t take a shot in the dark. Design your community intentionally. We call this process Community Design™.
- Friend referral program: Your members love your community, so why not ask them to refer their friends? It’s easy. And if you want, you can reward them for it.
- Create a new member experience: Part of growing word-of-mouth is making sure your organization gives what it promises. Create a great new member experience to get people started on the right foot.
- Ambassador program: Along the same lines, you can gamify bringing new members with a standing ambassador or affiliate program.
- Bring-a-friend events: Next time you host a high-value event in the community, let your members invite a friend! It will give them a taste of what’s happening inside. Don’t forget to present a clear offer to join.
- Quiz your members: Quiz your existing members to find out what they love about your community and what brought them there in the first place. You can use something like SurveyMonkey. Do more of the stuff they love.
- Check your analytics: If you’re using a community platform, it should come with analytics. Mine your reports to understand what people love and where they spend their time. Analytics don’t lie :)
- Use polls: Use polls to find out what’s working and what isn’t.
- Connect your Google Analytics: In addition to native analytics, you can also connect Google Analytics for more insights like where your members are coming from and how they’re converting.
- Incentivize social sharing: Your members are probably active on social media. Let them or ask them to share some goodies on social media. You can even offer rewards for it.
- Provide social templates and assets: Make it super easy for your members to share on social media and invite followers into the organization by giving them graphics, text, or video. They’re way more likely to do it this way.
- Provide email templates: If people are using email to invite friends into the community, don’t make them think about it. Offer them an email template they can copy and paste.
- Feature your members: Featuring your members in your content is a great incentive for them to share and talk about your organization. Think about things like interviews, case studies, and “member spotlights.”
- Ask your members to contribute content: When members make the content for your blog, website, newsletter, or even physical magazine or mailer, they’re way more likely to share it with everyone they know.
- Hire a community manager: If you struggle to find time to devote to building your community and serving your existing members, consider hiring someone who will.
- Offer member perks: From discounts on hotels to discounts on car insurance, many organizations offer membership perks and it can be a good selling point.
- Offer member gifts: Give your members a present once in a while! Something free lets them know they’re valued and gets them excited.
- Do exit interviews: When members leave, it’s easy to say “Forget them!” But don’t. Try to learn from them. Do an exit interview.
- Invite lost members back: You did the exit interviews. So if someone says, “I’d like to see X”, send them another invitation to join once X is in place!
- Tell them it’s okay to invite friends: You might be surprised that not all members will think to invite people. Sometimes, unlocking member growth can be as simple as letting them know new members are always welcome.
- Find out what they want: Don’t just guess. Interview members and potential members to understand what they’re looking for from your organization. Then help them get it.
- Start a community: If your organization or nonprofit doesn’t already have one, add a virtual community to help members connect.
- Choose the right community platform: Choosing an awesome platform for a virtual community will help connect your members and give them value.
Improve Sales & Marketing
- Hire a salesperson: not everyone has the gift of selling. If you don’t, hire a salesperson. Even if you don’t have the money upfront, you might be able to pay a commission-based fee.
- Provide a ton of value upfront: Don’t hide all your value behind your paywall. Find ways to give good stuff to the world. Creating value positions you as the expert and makes new members more likely to join.
- Master relationships: Often sales are made on relationships. Either start building relationships with potential members, or hire someone who can.
- Invite potential members: If you know people who’d be great, don’t be shy. Ask them! The worst they’ll say is “no.”
- Build a funnel: Marketing funnels are proven systems that help sell membership. We have a guide for how to build a membership sales funnel.
- Use an opt-in: Create something valuable you can give away on a landing page or your website in exchange for an email (ie. 10 Tips to Boost Your Revenue This Week).
- A/B test landing pages: Do tests on landing pages and sales pages to see which perform the best.
- Make the registration or check-out simple: Don’t ask for too much info - keep it simple.
- Try a webinar: A webinar is a tried and true way to sell memberships. Offer it in a way that creates a ton of value for your Ideal Members, then invite them to join!
- Pay for social-media advertising: There’s one tried and true method to get in front of people: paid advertising. Platforms like Facebook will also let you refine your audience A LOT, meaning you can basically reach exactly the people who are your ideal members.
- Turn on pixel-based retargeting: A pixel uses a cookie to mark people who came to your website, even if they didn’t buy. It can then keep sending them ads for your organization. It can be really effective if done well, helping to keep you top of mind.
- Try list-based retargeting: In some cases, you can use your email list for retargeting. It’s the same concept as a pixel, but it works from an email address instead of a cookie.
- Try PPC advertising: Google Pay-Per-Click advertising can help you show your organization to relevant searchers. So, for example, if you bid on the keyword “X associations in Y town,” you can directly reach relevant members.
- Build SEO keyword value: Search Engine Optimization means helping your website or community be discovered on Google. Make sure you’re using relevant keywords on your website.
- Create SEO content: Adding a blog or resource section to your website or community increases the pages Google can use to find you. Create content relevant for your members and publish! (Like we did with this post!)
- Do the technical SEO: Google won’t serve your page up to people if it’s clunky or not optimized for mobile. Make sure your site is clean and loads fast.
- Maintain an email list: People still check emails. This means that giving value to a potential member in their inbox is an awesome way to cultivate a relationship.
- Automate your email: Make sure your potential membership leads don’t forget about you. You can build an awesome email sequence that keeps giving them value, nurturing them until they’re ready to buy.
- Use numbers for social proof: “Come join over 550 members!” When our brain sees that people are already in, it makes us more likely to join. FOMO is real.
- Brag about your existing members: Who are your existing members? Are they people that potential members want to meet? Brag about that! (e.g. “Come join the top marketing leaders in Kansas!”)
- Brag about affiliations: Do you have high-value affiliations or groups your organization is connected to? Tell people! (e.g. “Proudly sponsored by Forbes.”)
- Brag about media coverage: Talk about any big media coverage your group has had (e.g. “As seen in Inc. Magazine!”)
- Get on podcasts: Most podcasts are looking for guests. Can you get featured on one and take advantage of their audience?
- Advertise on podcasts: You might also consider sponsoring a relevant podcast for your niche.
- Lend your expertise to journalists: Journalists need experts. You can be interviewed for relevant pieces. Try signing up for something like HARO (Help a Reporter Out).
- Brag about your founder: If your founder has a great story, a following, or credentials, you can use that in your marketing too. (e.g. “Led by Dr. John Jacob Jingleheimershmit, Ph.D.”)
- Offer incentives for specific groups: e.g. Harvard alumni get 50% off membership fees.
- Build great partnerships: There are always organizations in your ecosystem doing complementary work to what you’re doing. Don’t compete with them. Partner with them.
- Offer student discounts: If some of your Ideal Members might struggle to pay, offer discounts to entice them to join.
- Offer seasonal discounts: You can offer seasonal membership discounts too.
- Only open at certain times: Some organizations have had huge success with limited windows for membership – this creates scarcity and FOMO. (e.g. Membership closes this week!)
- Share to your social media: Share membership invites on your social media!
- Write a book: Of course, easier said than done. But writing a book, even if you self-publish it, can help to establish your brand as an expert.
- Start a podcast: There are a lot out there, but a good podcast still grows your brand and establishes you and your organization as experts.
- Start a YouTube channel: You don’t have to be everywhere on social media, but did you know that YouTube also works on a search platform? This means that the stuff you posted years ago can keep getting views today (unlike most other social media platforms). If you like making videos, it might be a good strategy!
- Add your content to YouTube: Record your next community event, say an interview with an expert, and put some or all of it on YouTube. Giving some great content away will make members more likely to join your organization, not less.
- Jump into traditional media: What if there were huge audiences out there you could tap into? Actually, there are! Try pitching pieces in traditional, or “earned” media. You won’t get them all, but it’s a great way to get in front of people.
- Take part in trade publications: If your industry has a magazine or newsletter, try to get involved in writing for it!
- Start a trade publication or newsletter: If it doesn’t exist, start it!
- Guest post on other blogs: Find top blogs in your organization’s area and pitch a guest post.
- Feature your members: You don’t have to do all this writing and creating yourself. If you have existing members or leaders who are interested, help them get published.
- Build an app: If you have an app to serve your members, you can offer a ton of value. Learn how to create an app without coding.
Events & Learning
- Try live streaming: Go live to your members on a regular basis! It’s a great way to keep them informed and talking about your organization.
- Host great interviews: People love interviews with experts. Find people who bring value to your members and/or potential members and interview them, either virtually or live.
- Host an AMA: “Ask me anything” sessions, made popular by reddit, are good ways to let people ask any questions they have. (e.g. “I started a million-dollar company, ask me anything.”)
- Host an in-person networking session: Create space for potential members of your organization to meet and network.
- Host a virtual networking session: Same as above, but virtual!
- Host a virtual “speed networking” session: A twist on traditional networking, speed networking lets you meet as many people as possible, only spending a few minutes with each.
- Host an open house: An open house for non-members can be a great way to meet you and your members, get a feel for the community, and ultimately grow your membership.
- Host a virtual summit: One of the best ways to establish yourself as a leader (and maybe bring in some extra revenue) can be to host a virtual summit. Make it a yearly thing!
- Host a live performance: Talking heads aren’t the only event that people love. Try creating a live performance (musical, stand-up, etc.) to get some good attention for your organization.
- Host a virtual performance: Everything we just said, but virtual!
- Speak at a conference: There are conferences for just about everything. Find one in your niche and speak on behalf of your organization.
- Sponsor events: Everyone thinks about speaking at events, but most events also need sponsors. It can be a great way to get visibility for your organization.
- Hold a fundraiser: Choose something you care about and raise money for it.
- Rent a conference table: If a conference in your niche is looking for exhibitors, rent a table and show off your org. And do something more interesting than just handing out pamphlets!
- Host free meals: Try hosting meals for people to come together, network, and learn. Who doesn’t love free food?
- Have meetings in public: If you’re a local organizations, public meetings can give you visibility.
- Host a LinkedIn live: If you’re qualified to go live on LinkedIn, hosting a panel can be a good way to get in front of the right people!
- Try Twitter Spaces: Host or join a voice-only event in a Twitter Space (or Clubhouse).
- Create a free course: One way to establish yourself as an expert in your industry & provide value is to create a free course to teach what you know.
- Create a paid course: Everything we said above, but you get revenue too. Plus, people are more likely to stick with something they paid for.
- Host a conference: Get together with other organizations in your interest-area and co-host a conference!
- Offer members-only pricing: If you do host a conference, make sure it pays to be a member.
- Host in an exotic place: if your members are well-heeled, they might like an excuse to have a conference or an annual meeting in a fun, exotic location. They can combine business with pleasure.
- Have fun: don't take yourself so seriously. Make sure that your events have lots of room for fun and laughter.
Ideas for local organizations
- Join a business directory: Your Chamber of Commerce probably keeps a record of local businesses and organizations.
- Go door-to-door: It’s a bit old-school, but people rarely get visits IRL. If you’re running a membership organization with a potential member you can drop in on without imposing (e.g. a local business owner), go talk to them!
- Rent a booth at a local fair: Industry conferences aren’t the only place to meet people. Choose fun, local festivals and fairs and set up a booth.
- Rent out your space: If you meet in a physical space, raise awareness AND some extra cash by renting it out for events.
- Create posters: If you’re holding a local event or if membership is opening up, put up posters around town.
- Try local Facebook marketing: We talked about Facebook above, but you can also advertise by geography. It can be cheap and effective, with Facebook, to reach your whole town or city with custom ads.
- Try Craigslist: An online message board, and it's free. Use sites like craigslist to advertise to would-be members.
- Use the newspaper: It’s a little old-school, but advertisements in your local paper can bring in interest (especially if your Ideal Members are a little older).
- Let the paper know about events: If you’re hosting a cool event, reach out to the town paper to see if they want to cover it.
Offer peace of mind
- Make cancellation easy: If people join and decide it’s not for them, make it easy to cancel. Let people know your policy (and bend it from time to time), and how to cancel.
- Offer a money-back guarantee: This removes some of the “what if it’s not for me” risk. At least if your members don’t think it’s a fit, they aren’t out any cash.
- Have written member testimonials: If you’ve already got members loving what you’re doing, member testimonials placed on a landing page go a long way.
- Try video member testimonials: They’re harder to get, but video testimonials are solid gold.
- Offer a free trial: Pretty straightforward. You can consider letting people join for free. But remember, people who join for free will often be less incentivized to take part and commit.
- Don’t require a credit card: When your free trial requires a credit card, people worry they’ll forget to cancel. Offering a trial without the card helps them feel safe.
- Institutional memberships: If your organization doesn’t already sell institutional memberships, do it! OR, create bundles for institutions (e.g. prices for 10 seats).
- Join relevant bodies: Joining relevant professional bodies or organizations (e.g. industry associations, think tanks) can help you get more visibility.
- Sponsor research: Depending on the scope of your organization, sponsoring research in your industry can be a good way to spotlight your work and advance a cause you care about.
- Offer tiered pricing: Members aren't all the same, so maybe your membership fees shouldn't be. Create your membership pricing so that you have something for everyone.
- Offer yearly and monthly pricing: Some people might know they're ready to commit. Some might just want to dip a toe in.
- Charge something: it's a counterintuitive hack for member growth. But people often don't value what they don't pay for. Organizations with paid memberships often have higher engagement.
- Make renewal easy: While it's not exactly growing new members, don't lose the ones you have!
- Watch your churn rate: some turnover, AKA churn, is normal. But if your turn rate is going up trying to figure out what's causing it.
Ready to start?
There’s a lot here, we know. And we hope you’re leaving this inspired, not intimidated. After all, you don’t need to do all of these things. Even a few of these done right can be a game changer.
Now that you’ve learned how to grow membership in an organization, why not try a great cultural software platform? We’ve built this at Mighty Networks. Mighty is an all-in-one community platform that gives you flexible Spaces to bring together membership, forums, messaging, live events, courses, and live streaming. We even build totally custom, white label apps for your organization. You can sell access in 135 different currencies or with token-gating.