The Best Time of Year for a Membership Drive Campaign

As you’re looking over your calendar for the year, you will naturally be pulled in the direction of recruiting new members. After all, members are at the heart of everything you’re doing as an association. Finding and, of course, keeping members is what it’s all about. 

So, when is the best time to launch that membership drive? The answer is as diverse and as varied as the total number of associations in the United States (at this counting nearly two million). What works for your association won’t even come close for others.

Membership Campaign Timing

2016_calendar.jpgGiven that, here are some thoughts to consider as you’re examining the timing of your membership drive and giving further thoughts to making changes for the future, all with the intent of finding more members.

  • Downtime. One of the better possibilities is to time your campaign for when your members have some down time, if that’s even possible today. For example, if your members are tax preparation experts, don’t time your drive for March or April. Perhaps August would be a better month.
  • Competition. Make sure you consider your competition. Running a membership campaign during the annual United Way campaign is probably not going to be a winner. You may also have some local, regional, or even national associations that would be of interest to your prospective members. Avoid the dates of their annual membership drives.
  • Events. Line up your campaign with one of your major events. This helps leverage all the communication and promotion you’ll be doing for that event. Plus, it gets prospective members connected right away with your big event—one of the major benefits of joining.
  • Capacity. One potential disadvantage to running a membership campaign in conjunction with your big event is that you may not have sufficient staff to tackle both the event and the membership campaign at the same time. So it’s wise to consider your organization’s capacity within the context of all your other work.
  • Cause. Is there a designated month or day for your particular cause? Line up recruitment with that event. This has the advantage of leveraging the promotion and excitement that happens around this day or month, helping bring greater awareness to your targeted members, even before you get started with your own efforts.
  • Continuity. You may also want to run your membership program continuously throughout the year. As you build your prospective member list and it reaches the level needed to do a cost-effective phone or direct mail campaign, launch it. A variation on this is to time those mailings, etc. to align with each of the items mentioned above. In this way you’ll be taking advantage of downtime or other major events while running your campaign throughout the year.

Setting a Timeframe: Advantages

One of the advantages of focusing on a specific timeframe for gaining new members is that you can offer discounts and other rewards to entice prospects to join now rather than putting it off. It also limits those specials to a given time of the year, restoring pricing to normal levels the rest of the year.

This sensitivity also brings a “make it happen now” urgency, as well as excitement and even a certain level of critical mass. These are all the same desirable aspects of a key meeting or event that can also be used to drive your membership campaign. 

Yet another element can be to activate your current members through rewards or other incentives for those who bring in the highest number of new members. Making this offer time sensitive can really activate your members. Think about a member-bring-a-member campaign, with suitable rewards.

Process: Getting Things Done 

Determining timing and the overall approach is one thing. Making it happen is another. Hopefully, your organization has an internal process focus that maps out each step required and assigns tasks and deadlines. This is absolutely essential to getting things done the right way and hitting your targets.

If you don’t have this type of process mentality already in place, here’s a brief outline of steps to take.

  • puzzleSet Goals and Objectives. Getting these down in writing is key to the rest of the actions and decisions around your campaign. 
  • Involve Staff and Members. Ideally, you’ve provided a draft of the goals and objectives and then sought out staff and member feedback to make any needed adjustments. This has the added advantage of obtaining buy-in and commitment.
  • Create a Plan. Once your goals and objectives have been established, you can begin building a plan for your membership drive. Break it down step-by-step, of course, but don’t be overly worried about capturing everything. The critical item is getting the major steps down in writing to guide your efforts. With too much detail you run the risks of spending too much time on the plan and not enough time on execution. Also, you could get bogged down in details that don’t really bring much return for your planning time.
  • Develop a Budget: Dollars and Staff/Volunteer Time. The budget not only needs to include such items as mailing costs but it also needs to include staff and volunteer time. While staff time may be considered already paid for, you still need to take into account that if your staff are spending time on a membership drive, they are not spending time on something else. The time budgeting process will help everyone recognize these tradeoffs and, hopefully, allow your staff to truly spend time on your campaign.
  • Measure Progress. At the goals and objectives stage you set some targets. Now you need to measure your progress toward reaching those targets. Plus, you need to determine how best to communicate that progress. Think about the thermometer chart showing rising progress toward the goal as just one example of how to clearly communicate progress and keep everyone focused on the goal. 
  • Respond to Challenges. Those measures will no doubt show some unexpected shortfalls. As those challenges arise, it’s a good idea to head back to staff and volunteers to tap their experience, expertise, and insight into how to respond. You’ve already involved them in the campaign upfront and kept them in the loop through reporting your progress. Now’s the time to involve them in addressing challenges.

There’s Always More 

As you well know, running a membership campaign is just the start of your efforts. You also need to make sure you’re ready to do everything you can to successfully involve your new members and make them feel welcome. After all, the retention process starts on day one.

In addition, after you’ve reviewed your membership drive campaign timing, the process, and your budget (particularly from an available staff time perspective) you may find that you’re coming up short with either resources or expertise. That’s where Campaign Now can play a huge role.

Campaign Now has substantial expertise and experience working with a wide range of associations. They can work with you on your membership campaigns with data, contact services, text message marketing, direct mail, email marketing, digital development, media advertising, as well as public and media relations. 

I recommend reaching out to the experts. 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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