Growth in a non-profit isn’t just about raw numbers

11 February 2022

Growth is a natural desire of any non-profit. Growth, at its base, could mean an association increases membership. Growing up, in terms of rising membership, is not always the same as growing out. Non-profits can grow out — i.e., from within — by not only gathering new members but, more importantly, retaining them.

How to best retain members? Create a feeling of passion toward an organization, fierce loyalty to the goals of the non-profit. It is one thing to retain a member, but a complete other to gain their loyalty. Non-profits should create an environment that not only fosters high growth and retention but instills a culture of loyal, active members.

Focus on the Bigger Picture

To be loyal is to show support and allegiance for a non-profit — the keyword being show. Any show of loyalty from members begins with the organization, which makes it critical the non-profit has a clear idea of what to look for.

According to Jill Griffin in Decision to Join, “a loyal customer is someone who makes regular repeat purchases; purchases across product and service lines; refers others to the non-profit, and demonstrates an immunity to the pull of the competition”

In other words, collecting annual dues from a member doesn’t automatically prove loyalty. If a member renews this year but doesn’t take advantage of member benefits, then dues are not always a reliable measure of loyalty. That member may search for individual benefits like networking, instead of non-profit-oriented benefits like continuing education and community.

Non-profits should always focus on the bigger picture. Ask, “What do we offer that keeps members renewing their membership?” As Sheri Jacobs and Sara Miller explain in their book Membership Essentials, For non-profits, [the] total share of a customer is not just about whether members renew. It takes into account the other benefits and offerings you have for your [membership] and the member’s level of participation."

The pair offer a further list of questions to consider when it comes to member loyalty: Do members participate in grassroots activities? Do they attend your conferences? Do they contribute to listservers or special committees?

By taking into account the full member experience, you get a better idea of the person’s motivations for continuing to renew, as opposed to relying on headcounts.

Create the Ideal Member

While loyalty is paramount to a non-profit, it’s important to remember that not every member needs to take advantage of a non-profit’s every offer to feel connected to the organization. Loyalty can show in many ways. In turn, it’s more important to focus on providing members opportunities to participate if they so choose.

But what are these opportunities? One idea is to create the ideal member. Picture the utmost engagement and passion, think of participation and connection. From there, build a roadmap to what would allow the ideal member to exist by creating a list of all the activities and benefits the non-profit can offer. This can provide insight into the non-profit’s strengths, as well as present opportunities for growth.

For example, say the ideal member goes above and beyond for continuing education credits. If so, then it would behoove the non-profit to see if their offerings line up with that level of expectation.

The ideal member is a tool to measure against the average member. If the ideal member goes above and beyond for continuing education, the average member will likely do only what is required. Still, offering a benefit for the ideal member is more likely to have average members feel more loyal because of the advanced levels in which they can participate.

Aim to Achieve Non-Profit Greatness

A good non-profit will aim for retention. A great non-profit will aim for loyalty. By analyzing the full member experience, non-profits have a better chance of understanding the level of loyalty a member feels, and, more importantly, the ability to increase that loyalty. As Jacobs and Miller say, “If you increase a person’s engagement, you have presumably increased the value of the organization to the person and, subsequently, increased their loyalty.”

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