Beneath layers of marketing strategies (since sometimes it’s not direct) lies your ultimate goal: gain members and/or donors. When we are in the creation stage of a recruiting campaign for a client, it’s good to have something to offer a potential member in return for their action. Why? Not all members or donors are altruistic. (I hate to even say it, but it’s true.) They will be happy to sign on as a member or donate money, but they want something of value, too. I’m not saying it’s a tactic in all of our campaigns, but beyond compelling storytelling, a provocative opinion or response to a hot (and related) news item, an emotional appeal, or product offering, it’s just as good of a hook.

The list of potential offers is long and diverse (think discounts, publications, website access, etc), but they are one-time offers. A member consumes the offer and moves on. A more powerful strategy is to offer a free membership to non-members. Yes, I said FREE. It allows an association to capture a potential member’s attention by bringing them “under the tent” and showing them some of what a membership could offer. This type of membership has no price tag and therefore a low barrier to entry besides contact information (the Holy Grail for any association). As the “free member” gets more engaged, they will either naturally convert themselves to a paying member to receive more benefits or they’ll be enticed through recruiting campaigns designed to get them involved and more invested.

So, the tougher question is, what benefits would this free membership offer non-paying members? Our answer is your communications. Whether your association has a magazine, a periodically-printed newsletter, an e-newsletter or a blog, you (like most associations and nonprofits) spend a great deal of staff time planning, writing and designing these communications vehicles. That time your staff invests is paid for by the dues of your members, so most marketers initially balk at the idea of giving it away for free. But, give it a chance. Here is why it’s the best bait.

  1. It doesn’t require any additional effort to share this with a non-member since it’s already created.
  2. It’s easy to repackage in a way that makes it slightly more valuable than the “free” stuff you already offer, most likely on your website.
  3. It provides an easy way to show your industry value to a non-member – it shows them you are the preeminent leader in your category.
  4. Not all of your communications are news reporting (hopefully) so you demonstrate the benefits of the community you’ve created; e.g. online social network, resources, etc, and highlight the fact that they are currently not a part of it.
  5. You’re not giving away anything that is proprietary or advantageous like market research, business tools, statistics, which is reserved for paying members.

Now, have I convinced you? If you’re on board, I’ll reveal the key to this strategy—you have to have the chops to then convert these to paying members. It all starts with a plan of successive touchpoints and the use of multi-channels to magnify your message in surround sound to these new (non)members.

See more on this conversation here, here and here.