Membership Growth Strategies : Restoring the Missing Link


It is wonderful to have a campaign, once in a while, for membership growth in a club, society or even a professional association. This clearly indicates that the leaders of the body concerned realise that their membership is dwindling or some current members are staying away for a variety of reasons.

What exactly are the reasons for this lack of interest in the affairs of the club, society or professional association? This matter needs to be investigated in a truly critical and business like manner. The body concerned also realises that it needs to be rejuvenated with an injection of new blood. All of that is well and good. But the larger and pressing issue remains:  is that all there is to the problem?

Different Strokes for Different Folks

If one were to study the objectives of these clubs, societies or professional associations, one will soon discover that they all have fine and noble objectives.  Members, on joining these bodies, individually and collectively support and embrace these objectives.

However, there is a big difference here on the objectives that matter to certain folks.

Some are drawn to the continuing professional education (CPE) programmes that are offered by the body from time to time. They wish to update their professional toolkit and remain on the cutting edge of their profession. Others are drawn to the fun fellowship programmes that are organised on a regular basis. Some particularly like the regular after dinner talk programmes because they do educate, amuse and occasionally entertain the members.

Wish to Serve Society

Still others wish to participate in community service programmes as a means of giving back to society in a small but meaningful way. I know of an individual who enjoys the once a year role that he takes on in December as Santa Claus. He does this with good humour and a dose of passion. That is his only involvement during the course of the year.

In short, different programmes appeal to individuals who are likely to support programmes that matter to them. We need to seriously factor this aspect when planning our programmes so that we are seen to cater to the needs of the various parties. How many clubs, societies and professional associations actually do cater to the differing needs of its members?

Poor Leadership and Indifference

Others stay away because of an alleged indifference by the leadership. Sometimes regular meetings are badly managed. They are noted for starting late, veering off course during a meeting and for permitting distractions during meetings.  When members behave poorly, it reflects badly on the body concerned and it does have a negative bearing on the health of the group as a whole.

Still others are disappointed by the lack of proper time keeping. Often the early birds are penalised by having to wait too long for the usual troop of annoying late comers. These ‘ perpetually ‘ late people are unapologetic, ready with any and every excuse under the sun, and seem blissfully unaware of the damage they inflict on the morale of the membership as a whole.

Overselling  Benefits of Membership

When problems like these persist, without any effective remedial measures being taken, then do not be surprised when membership attendance begins to drop. In some cases that I am aware of, the number of members dropping out is almost the same as that of new members joining the club! Is this a classic case of overselling the membership benefits before joining the body but then, through mismanagement, under delivering the benefits when it really matters?  In many progressive companies, for instance, they have a practice known as exit interviews. How many clubs and societies actually bother about this matter? This is a clear failure of leadership because they too assume that this is the norm and is something that can be tolerated.

Leadership of the Club, Society or Professional Association

Far too often, this matter has not been properly thought through by the leadership of the body concerned. They tend to gloss over the matter in a careless and irresponsible manner. Sometimes they give far too much weight to the opinion of the president of the body without realising that the leadership of the body comprises the entire executive committee or council.

This could be a cultural phenomenon in this part of the world and in the process it cultivates a timid ‘ docile yes man ‘ culture where the other leaders readily relinquish their responsibilities without realising the damage they do to their club, society or professional association. If being a member of the executive committee or council simply means ‘ rubber stamping ‘ every decision of the president or vice president for that matter, then why bother standing for office in that organisation?

Sometimes, a president intent on having his way, will confront his non supporting executive committee / council members by stating that: I thought that I have your support in this matter! Do not fall for that cheap gambit. Support or lack of support must always and every time be for the issue at hand …it should never be taken on a personal level.

Has the Membership Growth Strategy been communicated to Key Stakeholders?

Has your club drawn up a carefully crafted Membership Growth Strategy?  Has enough thought and ideas been generated to make this strategy a success? Has the membership growth strategy been communicated to all the current members in the national, branch and regional centres?  

Who is monitoring its implementation at the club, branch and centre level? And have you factored in remedial measures to address weaknesses in the implementation of the plan?

The Missing Link: Membership Retention Strategies

It is, of course, laudable to have a membership growth strategy. But why do it in half measures? In my view, a membership growth strategy should be run in tandem with a Membership Retention Strategy! Only then can you say that you have a complete strategy in place. Let me illustrate this point for effect. For instance, why do you bother to fill up your petrol tank if you do not first fix the leak(s) in the petrol tank? For far too often clubs and societies are more concerned with frequent recruitment campaigns but fail miserably to give equal and more pressing attention to investing in sound membership retention strategies!

How many clubs and professional associations actually have specific Membership Retention Strategies in place as a matter of principle? This is something far too important to be neglected or overlooked. The leadership of these bodies must do something positive to address this often neglected aspect of membership growth.

For starters, what retention strategies are there currently in place? Has this membership retention strategy been communicated to the entire leadership team? Has there been regular monitoring at national, branch and centre level to ascertain whether the strategy is achieving its desired goal?

The Way Forward

It is my hope that I have succeeded somewhat in alerting you to view membership growth in a more comprehensive and realistic way. It is also my contention that membership growth and membership retention should always be tackled together.

The success of your membership growth policy is determined by how seriously you undertake this exercise. Only then will membership have its benefits for all concerned.


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