In the world of associations, some universes, or pools of membership prospects, are easier to quantify. A medical association, for example, has a clearly defined set of professionals that it hopes to recruit. It’s every association’s goal to achieve as close to 100% market share as possible – in other words, compelling every professional in your universe to join your organization. The ability to appeal to every professional is not only a mark of leadership and prestige, but it also translates into more revenue as that penetration rate increases. But how do you separate your low-hanging fruit from your membership challenges? With a limited budget, is it worth it to pursue certain prospects if you’re not confident in the returns?
Within every collection of non-members, you are bound to have former members, prospects who have had contact with your organization and other professionals who represent “the rest” of your universe. While the middle group represents a custom-made membership opportunity, opinions vary on the first and last groups. On one hand, former members had been a part of the “family,” but chose to leave for some (often unknown) reason, leaving the question of whether it’s worth it to try to change their mind. On the other hand, never members represent that untapped membership reservoir, but information about these prospects can be limited.
We weighed these issues recently with a client as part of a membership recruitment campaign. We identified former members as a key audience, but we also wanted to test the waters with professionals who had never before joined the organization. So the association rented a list of prospects from a trusted source, and we set out to develop a solid value statement based on data analysis and staff interviews. The results: Two e-blasts to former members (one an emotional appeal and one a strictly financial appeal) generated a phenomenal 30% return overall. A direct mail piece using the emotional appeal and again targeting former members generated a very successful 8% return. But when we used this message on the rented list of prospects, our return was less than 1%. Our conclusions? Some outlying prospects simply are not joiners, and it’s worth the time and energy to try to convince former members to return. While this may not be true for every association, it’s important to test messages with both audiences before deciding which offers the greatest membership potential. Without that knowledge, it’s just an educated guess.