Membership Q&A: Why Won’t They Join?

Asian woman making "talk to the hand" gesture

Why aren’t our prospects joining our association?

They don’t see value in joining.

Let’s unpack that a little bit.

The reason they don’t see value in joining may be because they don’t see it YET, or it may be because it isn’t there.

They don’t see value yet.

What that means is that you’re moving too fast. Your prospect hasn’t had a chance to get to know your association and how associating with your organization and its other members can help her achieve her goals and solve her problems. You need to slow down and give her a chance to get to know you before you ask her to commit to joining. What that means is creating a ladder of engagement and giving her time to work her way up it BEFORE you hit her with “please join.” Then when you do, she already knows you and what you bring to the table, so she’ll be inclined to say “yes.”

The value isn’t there.

Even though they might superficially look the same, prospects are different from members. For one, they haven’t, in fact, joined your association. What that means is that they may have different goals and face different challenges than your existing members. So when you pitch all your great member benefits to them, you’re trying to help them solve problems they don’t have or achieve goals they haven’t set for themselves. You may be a bad match. This might be a coffee date that doesn’t go any farther. They swiped left.

Which is OK if we’re talking ONE prospect, but what if a significant percentage of your universe has taken a look and said, “Pass”? Now you have a problem, one many associations are familiar with from struggles trying to attract younger (aka Millennial) members.

How do you learn what they want?

You can conduct a survey, but nonmembers have very little incentive to invest time in taking it. Providing a small gift for participating might help. It’s also hard to construct survey questions to learn what you don’t know – you can only ask about what you know to ask about.

A better way to learn what’s going on with nonmembers is to talk to them, in interviews or focus groups, at least as a first step. Now again, they have little incentive to invest the time, so you will need to find a way to compensate them that’s meaningful to them (which means it probably can’t be “free registration for our conference”). Once you’ve had the opportunity to hear from them, in open conversation, what’s going on in their worlds, looking for places where that differs from what your paying members are facing, you have firm foundation for further research.

That could look like a more well-informed survey. That could look like a lean startup style MVP test. That could look like further interviews and focus groups. That could look like a town hall at an in-person event, or a series of roundtables. That could look like piloting something new with one of your chapters. That could look like industry market research, or other kinds of secondary research projects.

The point is, if a sizable chunk of your prospect base has taken an informed look at what your association is offering and decided it’s not worth it to them, continuing to push something they’ve already said they don’t want on them is the proverbial definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Try something different instead.

Photo by sarah richer on Unsplash