Is your nonprofit struggling to retain members? If so, you’re not alone. Technologies like social media and online giving platforms have changed the way people behave and what they expect from organizations, making it harder to keep members coming back.
Industry-specific associations and nonprofit initiatives such as rotary clubs, YMCAs, and chambers of commerce used to be central hubs within our communities. They thrived because members needed to come together face-to-face to make connections, access resources, and contribute to causes. Now, people can connect instantly via messaging platforms, information is just a Google search away, and contributing to a cause is as simple as launching a GoFundMe campaign.
It can be a worrisome time for nonprofits. Some wonder if membership as a business model will become less relevant in the years ahead.
However, I don’t believe that the end of membership is upon us. Membership—like all industries—simply needs to evolve and change to meet new member expectations.
Not sure how to keep pace with these changes and give your members what they want? Start by addressing these six key trends. Keeping them in mind will help you appeal to new members and keep your current members engaged. I’ve included action points for each trend, so you can start putting them into practice today.
People today have 24/7 access to businesses and brands. They expect to be able to find information quickly and to participate in meaningful conversations without waiting for next month’s meeting.
- Move as much of your communication online as possible. Connecting with people digitally means you can reply anywhere, at any time.
- Set up accounts on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook.
- Designate social media ambassadors to monitor your accounts and help respond to inquiries and conversations quickly.
Digital communication is no longer just “nice to have”—members expect the organizations they interact with to have an online presence and to communicate via various digital channels. Even phone calls are considered old-fashioned: a growing number of people are cutting off their landline telephones and habitually letting calls to their cell phones direct automatically to voicemail.
- If you don’t have a solid membership site, it’s time to get one. There are lots of DIY website builders available that don’t require any web design experience.
- Eliminate the phone tree and move to multi-channel communication. Consider including web postings, social media groups, email, texting, and messenger apps.
3. Pop-Up Opportunities
Pop-up giving like GoFundMe is swiftly replacing the formality and rituals of traditional donation campaigns. If members want to contribute, they no longer need (or want) to wait for an organization’s leadership to launch a campaign.
- Don’t let new ideas languish in a committee, otherwise your members may end up giving their donations elsewhere.
- Set deadlines to speed up your organization’s decision making, and be prepared to change your plans to keep up with what’s popular.
4. Instant Gratification
Similarly, members today will not wait patiently for a leadership role to open in your organization in order to get involved. Members expect to be immediately acknowledged and taken seriously and could lose patience if they’re not.
- Look for opportunities to engage newcomers in important work. Help them feel valued by giving them a role that contributes directly to your cause.
- Communicate with your members to match them with opportunities they’re excited about, rather than immediately expecting one of them to start taking minutes for your meetings.
- Work to the strengths of each member: find ways for them to contribute creative thinking and to volunteer in ways that fit into their lifestyle.
One of the most common yet most concerning phrases in membership is “we’ve always done it that way.” Members today want a sense of forward momentum—no one wants to feel like the organization is stuck in the past, or that it’s wrestling with insurmountable challenges.
- Gather ideas and map out plans for the future. This can offer a powerful incentive for members to work together toward shared goals.
- Use evidence of your achievements in the form of stories, case studies, and social proof like testimonials to keep members motivated and demonstrate your organization’s progress.
The world is full of more choices than ever before. Whether it’s the brand of coffee that we’re buying at the grocery story, or picking a membership organization to join, we have definitely become choosier in our selections. For a nonprofit, that means it’s important to show value to members in order to make your organization stand out.
- Traditionally, nonprofits tend to focus on how donors and funders can help the organization. Try switching your thinking to highlight how you are helping your members achieve something they want, rather than just what they can do for you.
If you want to learn how to appeal to new members and keep your current members engaged, please join my free webinar on “3 Ways to Grow Your Membership in a Changing World,” hosted by Wild Apricot on November 12 at 2 p.m. ET. My webinar is part of Wild Apricot’s Membership Growth Online Summit 2018, so you’ll also get free registration for four other expert webinars that week.
Since 2005, Joy Duling from The Joy of Membership™ has been a consultant and behind-the-scenes resource for membership-based associations, trade groups, and nonprofits. Her gift for understanding people, processes, and online business gives her a unique perspective on what it takes to be successful in community engagement. In addition to her role as a trusted advisor, Joy also leads a nonprofit herself, growing the initiative from just a concept around a conference room table to a fully functional 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, supported exclusively by membership contributions. Central Illinois is where Joy calls home, but her clients are based all over the world.