5 Surefire Ways Associations Can Improve Member Recruitment

Callie Hinman
November 2, 2023

It’s reasonable for your association’s membership numbers to ebb and flow throughout the year. But if you’ve noticed that recently your membership tide seems to be ebbing a bit more than it’s flowing, it’s time to make some changes.

Here are five tried and true ways you can improve member recruitment.

Harness the Power of FOMO

Take advantage of the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) without resorting to overly salesy language. Designate specific months for intensive recruitment, promoting time-limited incentives like discounted first-year memberships, access to exclusive reports, or invitations to special events.

While you should work to recruit members all year, you should also specify a particular month or two as the time your association focuses heavily on recruitment rather than retention. Promote limited-time offers such as a discount on the first year’s membership fee, access to a helpful report your association created, or an invite to a special event your association is hosting. Inform your target audience that these perks are only available if they sign up by a certain date.

Most importantly, make sure you enforce the deadline each time. If the benefits aren’t actually time-constrained and prospective members find out, not only is their FOMO no longer a factor, but your credibility will also take a hit.

Enlist Current Members to Be Recruiters

Far and away the most effective strategy for increasing membership is referrals. In other words, if you’re taking good care of your members, they can be your best recruitment tool.

Create a referral program where members receive special incentives for each new member they bring on board. During the designated recruitment drive, up the ante by making securing referrals a competition and award a killer prize to the member who recruits the most people.

The other upshot of using current members to recruit new members is it can help re-engage members who may be feeling a little lackluster about the association. Reminding prospective members about the perks of joining can help them remember why they joined in the first place.

Seek Member Feedback

In addition to being potentially great recruiters, current members can also give you honest feedback on what your association is doing right and what it can do better. Ask them what about the association appealed to them originally as well as what has encouraged them to stick around.

Likewise, find out what kind of benefits you don’t offer that your members wish you did. Invite them to share the aspects of membership that can be disappointing. This information will help you know what to focus on in your recruitment messaging as well as ways you can make the association more attractive to potential members.

You should also ask members where they learned about your association. Was it passively via a Facebook post or LinkedIn discussion? Or were they actively looking for an association connection and stumbled across your website? Did they attend one of your events? Or hear about you from a friend? Were you featured in an industry publication they subscribe to?

With these insights, you can improve member recruitment by making better decisions about how you market the association. You’ll know where to invest your time and budget to get the biggest ROI.

Pro Tip: Don’t neglect retention in favor of recruitment. It’ll be challenging to bring new members in if your current members are leaving in droves. Pay attention to what keeps them around because that will be what brings new members in.

Optimize Event Strategies

When you open up an event to non-members, ensure members don’t feel snubbed. Allow them to attend the event for free or a reduced rate but charge non-members an entrance fee. Alternatively, you can invite members to bring along a colleague to certain events. This gives prospective members a sneak peek at the kind of high quality professional development and networking opportunities your association offers.

The “high quality” aspect is critical. The types of events you host and the speakers you bring in will influence your audience's perception of your association. Hosting a lunch and learn on upcoming changes to the industry by a well-known pundit is more likely to attract prospective members than showing a recycled presentation of “10 Career Development Tips” all of your members plus every individual you’re trying to recruit have seen countless times before.

If geography is a challenge for your association, webinars are an effective recruiting tool because they can be viewed on demand at any time from anywhere, which increases their reach. Place the webinar behind a form and require non-members to enter their email address to view it. Now you have a direct line of communication to the prospective member and can send them association news and announcements to further encourage them to join.

Streamline the Sign-Up Process

Membership in your association undoubtedly has its benefits. But inviting people to join is still asking them to take a risk and trust you’ll hold up your end of the bargain. So to improve member recruitment, you need to remove any potential barriers.

This means keeping the online application and payment process short while asking for as few details as possible — e.g., name, email address, phone number, required industry information (e.g., license #), and payment information. That’s it. Taking another page from the marketer’s playbook: fewer form fields have shown to have a positive impact on conversion rates. You can always gather any more details after they’ve signed up.

Additionally, consider offering a monthly payment plan instead of requiring the full year’s dues upfront. Even though they’ll be paying the same amount in the end, budgeting $20-$25 per month can be easier for prospective members to justify than dropping $250-$300 right off the bat.


Make sure your approach to recruitment is just as impressive as how you manage the association itself. Apply the five strategies above and look forward to seeing waves of new members.