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11 Proven Ways to Increase Membership in Your Nonprofit

10 min read
February 29, 2024
Ronnie Gomez headshot
Ronnie Gomez
Content Marketing Manager, Neon One

For membership-based nonprofits and associations, the question of how best to add new members is always top of mind! And while that might seem like a simple question, we all know that the answer is not so simple.

Luckily, there are already a ton of strategies and best practices out there that your nonprofit organization can use to increase membership. While you’ll have to figure out how these strategies would work for your specific organization, sometimes the hardest part is deciding where to start.

That’s why we’re here: to provide that spark of inspiration. Here are 11 membership acquisition strategies that you can use to increase membership in your nonprofit organization.

1. Host an Open Event

People join membership organizations and associations to connect with others who share a common interest, profession, identity, or goal. Let non-members get a glimpse at what your organization has to offer by hosting an event that’s open to the public. 

The key here is balance. You want to hold a few of these events to help non-members understand your value. But you don’t want to hold too many, either, or that value is weakened. After all, why pay membership dues if you can just keep going for free?

A great example of striking this balance comes from the OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates. They have opened their annual convention to the general public while saving priority seating for members and paid attendees. 

This provides their current members with value (in the form of reserved seating and priority treatment) while opening the doors to prospective members.

Neon One Tip: To drive membership sign ups at an open event, include a QR form on your printed materials. Neon CRM for Associations allows you to instantly generate a QR code that will direct constituents to your form.

Learn More About Neon CRM for Associations

2. Leverage Social Media

We live in an era dominated by digital platforms, which makes smart and strategic use of social media crucial for membership associations that want to increase their membership. 

After all, your social media channels are some of the very best places to highlight the tangible benefits of joining your organization. 

Use a mix of storytelling, impactful imagery, and video content to bring your mission to life. Incorporate live streaming features on platforms like YouTube and Meta to engage in real time with your audience. Offer them a behind-the-scenes look at your operations and let them see the difference their support can make. 

(If you’re really brave, you could even start a TikTok account.) 

Encourage user-generated content by creating hashtags related to your campaigns, allowing members and supporters to share their own stories and experiences. This not only amplifies your message; it also fosters a strong community of advocates. 

Remember to include direct links to your membership sign-up form in your bio and posts to streamline the joining process. Check out #10 for more information on how to make joining easy!

3. Revamp Your Membership Benefits

Providing compelling membership benefits is not only key to attracting new members, it’s also key to retaining your existing ones. Think beyond the conventional and consider what unique offerings could entice members both old and new. 

These new benefits might include access to exclusive content, such as webinars with industry experts, downloadable resources, exclusive forums, a sector-specific job board, or members-only newsletters providing insider updates and opportunities. 

Use member surveys to learn what your existing members actually want, then tailor these benefits to reflect those interests and needs of your members, making the value of joining clear for potential members. 

Want further insight into the types of membership benefits you could potentially offer? We’ve got you covered. 

4. Partner with Local Organizations 

Partnering with local organizations that serve a similar mission can be a mutually beneficial way to increase your visibility. 

Start by creating an outreach list of ideal partnerships. Then send them a quick message outlining what a potential partnership might look like and how you both could benefit. 

You don’t need to elaborate on the full plan, as that is something you’ll probably come up with together. Instead, include the key bits of information that will entice them into setting a meeting. 

The Golden Gate Restaurant Association, a membership group (and Neon One client!) that provides benefits to the San Francisco restaurant community, partners with a number of external organizations that serve the overall local hospitality sphere. 

These partnerships create valuable connections for all organizations involved through the power of cross-promotions.

5. Create Segmented Email Campaigns

One day, we will all live in some virtual reality metaverse, and the best way to reach new members will be by nano-hacking their personal blockchain protocol (or whatever). 

But for the time being, email marketing is still your most direct and cost-effective way to communicate with potential members. 

To maximize its effectiveness, segment your email list based on user behavior and preferences to send tailored messages that speak directly to the recipient’s interests. 

For potential members, craft a series of emails that highlight the benefits of membership, the impact of your work, and how their joining your organization would make a difference. Include clear and compelling calls to action (CTAs), making it as easy as possible for recipients to sign up. 

For existing members, regular updates that showcase ongoing projects, member stories, and upcoming events can keep them engaged and reinforce the value of their membership. 

Remember, personalization and relevance are key to keeping your audience engaged and encouraging them to take action.

Check out Neon One’s Nonprofit Email Report for a ton of sector-specific email benchmarks, analyses, and action items that you can use to craft and optimize your email marketing efforts!

6. Develop a Content Marketing Strategy

Content marketing can attract potential members by providing them with valuable and engaging information related to your cause. 

Develop a content strategy that includes a variety of formats, such as blog posts, videos, infographics, and podcasts to cater to different preferences. Optimize your content for search engines to increase your visibility online and drive traffic to your website.

Focus on creating high-quality content that educates, informs, and inspires your audience, positioning your nonprofit as a thought leader in your field. 

By consistently providing value through your content, you can build trust with your audience and grow your membership base.

On a strategic level, producing high-quality, useful content is a great way to fuel your email marketing efforts, too, by inspiring potential members to sign up for your newsletter.

On the hunt for a CRM? Considering Wild Apricot? Click on this image to explore our side-by-side comparison to see which platform would be best for your organization.
On the hunt for a CRM? Considering Wild Apricot? Click on this image to explore our side-by-side comparison to see which platform would be best for your organization.

7. Offer a Referral Perk

Word-of-mouth referrals are the primary motivator behind 20-50% of all purchase decisions.

If you really want to encourage your members to spread the word about your organization to their friends, sweeten the deal with a referral perk. 

Your perk is dependent on what your organization can reasonably offer. The most common option is a renewal fee discount in the 15-20% range. 

A great example of a working referral program comes from the YMCA of Middle Tennessee. They created the Better Together Member Referral Program, which gives both the current member and the new referred member a 20% discount on membership fees.

8. Overhaul Your Website

For lots of people, including many who might (or might not) become future members, your nonprofit’s website is the first place they’re going to “meet” your organization. 

That’s why putting some serious work into your website and optimizing the user experience can have a significant impact on your member acquisition rate.

To put it in simple terms, ensure that your website is visually appealing, easy to navigate, and clearly communicates the value of membership. 

This is a really huge topic, so we’re actually going to point you to this article with a whole bevy of membership website best practices drawn from real-world examples built using Neon Websites.

9. Hold a Membership Drive

Organizing a time-limited membership drive can create a sense of urgency and community around joining your nonprofit. 

Plan your drive carefully, setting clear goals and a compelling theme that resonates with your target audience. Promote the drive extensively through all your channels, including social media, email, and partnerships. 

Offer special incentives for new members who join during the drive, such as discounted membership fees or exclusive benefits. 

Engaging your current members in the drive by encouraging them to spread the word can also help amplify your efforts. 

10. Make Joining Easy 

This may seem like a no-brainer, but creating an online application process can do wonders for your member acquisition efforts. 

Give your membership program a prominent spot on your website’s navigation bar. That way, people looking to join don’t have to waste any time tracking it down. Remember, the better your user experience, the more likely prospects are to turn into members. 

Check out the website for Neon Websites client NAFDMA: International Agritourism Association, which connects and empowers agritourism operators around the globe.

If you visit their website, you’ll see that the membership tab in their primary navigation menu has all the relevant information needed to join their organization. This includes an overview of each membership tier, their offer, and a link to their signup form.

Not only that, but their homepage also boasts two above-the-line buttons encouraging visitors to join NAFDMA and link to their membership application form. They couldn’t make joining any easier if they tried! 

Neon One Tip: Neon CRM for Associations has an easy-to-use form builder that you can use to create an unlimited number of membership forms—all with best practices built in. To learn more, take this self-guided tour.

Take the Tour

11. Gather Feedback And Member Testimonials

Incorporating feedback and testimonials into your association strategy can significantly enhance its effectiveness. 

Positive stories and endorsements from current members can serve as powerful testimonials to the value of joining your organization. Feature these testimonials prominently on your website, in marketing materials, and across social media platforms. 

Additionally, actively seeking feedback from your members on their experiences and perceptions can provide invaluable insights into how to improve and tailor your membership offerings.

Implementing changes based on this feedback demonstrates your commitment to your members’ satisfaction and can lead to higher retention rates and more referrals.

Increasing Membership is the First Step

Once you have deployed the strategies laid out in this article, you’ll need to engage with your first-time members and start turning them into longtime members.

With Neon CRM for Associations, your organization will have all the tools, features, and best practices you need to engage your members and further your mission.

The all-in-one platform offers streamlined revenue management, constituent marketing and communication tools, experience and event management capabilities, and activity tracking features. 

To learn more about Neon CRM for Associations, schedule a free demo today!

Get Started With Neon CRM for Associations

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