Common Recruiting and Retention Problems for Even the Best Organizations

declining fastYou may have seen my post on the Changing Dynamics of Associations and my earlier post on Three Business Strategies That Can Save Your Association.

From these changing dynamics for associations, and no doubt from your own experience, you can see that acquiring and retaining members are the big challenges for associations. These challenges have been growing as older members retire and potential new members don’t see the value proposition that an association offers.

The four main problems are: delivering value, engaging members, reaching millennials, and adopting leading edge technology. This list can certainly be expanded, but these are the top four.

Delivering Value

An association’s mission statement defines the value that is being delivered—the association’s reason for existing. What’s being delivered may have value in the eyes of association leadership, but does it have value in the eyes of your members?

This is often the big disconnect between association leadership and members. It’s all about WII-FM—what’s in it for me? Your members are tuned into that radio station and if you’re not playing their favorite tunes, they’ll change the station.

In fact, if you’re not playing enough music, at the right price, they’ll find another permanent station. It’s all about delivering what they want and need when and how they need it.

Your older members—the people who are currently running your association—are used to picking up conference proceedings in print, several months after your annual conference. The current generations want to see those papers and presentations before, during, and after your conference in easy-to-access media formats such as video, slide decks, and eBooks.

It’s not enough to hype the annual conference. There needs to be a steady drumbeat of information to members using the age-old method of telling them what you’re going to do, what you’re doing, that it’s done, and how much it’s benefiting them.

AAA, the American Automobile Association, is a classic in this regard. They are either providing you benefits, such as on the spot road repair, or they are telling you about them. You clearly understand the value you are receiving for your annual dues.

Engaging Members

The AAA example is a good one to consider around engaging members. Member engagement is driven by every single touchpoint between the association and the member. It’s also the big driver for member retention. After all, retention efforts must begin the day a member joins.

So, how do you engage members? Why not ask them? Conduct an annual member survey—what’s important to you? Just asking the question is going to impact a member’s sense of engagement. Reporting back on what you found and what you plan to do about it is the rest of the story that keeps your members coming back and doing their best to support the association with their volunteer time and continued dues payment.

So much of what I read about engagement is focused on communication. But there is much more to it than email, websites, social media, etc. I really like Michael Brennan’s take on it in his blog post on the engagement pyramid.

He describes the base of the engagement pyramid as those who are following and observing your communication. They aren’t participating but hopefully they aren’t leaving either. At the top of the pyramid are those who are leading the organization. They are truly engaged. He summarizes this concept as:

Engagement = Relationship + Action

Given this, it’s not enough to optimize your communication channels, you’ve got to activate your members to truly support and, yes, engage with your association.

Reaching Millennials

Many associations aver that younger members are not used to volunteering and for this reason shy away from joining the association. Nonsense.

The Case Foundation’s Millennial Impact Report found that 73% of millennials volunteered for a nonprofit in 2012. This report also shared that 72% are interested in participating in a nonprofit young professional group. Their top three motivations are passion for a cause (79%), meeting people (56%), and gaining professional expertise (46%).

Those are not small numbers. They come from the fact that millennials have been brought up with a volunteering mindset along with a broad sense of responsibility for making a difference, whether that be with global warming or pet adoption. So don’t worry about their supposed unwillingness to volunteer. But do worry about why they should volunteer for and join your organization.

That same research pointed out that they are motivated by the cause rather than the organization. Again, it’s about what benefit they receive and how they perceive their efforts facilitating improvements and initiatives that are important for them.

Adopting Technology

My earlier post on business strategies for associations spoke about harnessing the latest technology as well as business process streamlining. Both of these are also vitally important for your communication programs.

Plus, based on their experience in every aspect of their lives, Millennials expect top notch technology and design. After all, they have all that in the palm of their hand with their smartphone. If you’re not delivering your message where they live (on the run with their smartphone), it’s not getting to them at all.

It reminds me of the anecdote:

Can I fax this to you?


Why not?

Because of where I live.

Where do you live?

In the 21st century.

You need to be where your members are, in the 21st century. That includes every aspect of your organization but none so more than with the highly visible technology driving your communication.

Of course, your communication also relies on your membership database tools that contain details about each member and how best to reach them in the manner they’ve suggested works best for them. You cannot be at the top of your game unless you have the right tools to do the job.

Continuous Improvement

That’s my pick of the top recruiting and retention problems facing organizations. But I’ll leave you with this quote from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Millennial Generation Research Review:

Millennials have little patience for the speed to which things get done and may not see the value in becoming a member of what they see as inefficient organizations.

This view hits absolutely every aspect of your association from leadership, to business processes and technology, to communication. And, those expectations from current and prospective members keeps climbing—right along with the pace of change in smartphones and everything else they encounter in their daily lives.

All this can be a bit overwhelming at times. I recommend reaching out to the experts to help. Campaign Now has substantial experience and expertise working with a wide range of associations. They can work with you on membership campaigns with data, contact services, text message marketing, direct mail, email marketing, digital development, media advertising, as well as public and media relations.

Leverage their expertise for your association. Give them a call.

Contact us at (855) 329-4327 or


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Jim Wilson

Jim Wilson

Jim Wilson is the founder of PathForeWord, a freelance writing and communication consulting service. He has over two decades experience working for the largest youth membership organization in the USA as director of communication services. He’s written on nonprofits, associations, journalism, technology, and the job search process.


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