Monday 3 February 2014

Your non-members - friends or foes?

Working for an association that does not have a certification or compliance function means being challenged daily to demonstrate a tangible return on investment to renewing, non-renewing and new professionals who do not feel the need to belong.

I believe that associations ignore opportunities to engage with non- members at their peril.  In 2011 my association (The Canadian Library Association) took a brave decision to directly engage with non-members through a new concept that now stands at  twenty four (24) groups and growing.  These discrete units mix members and non-members who share ideas and best practices, develop programs both for our annual conference and for a series of webinars throughout the year and lastly they take advocacy positions on issues of particular interest to them.  

Unofficial surveys of these non-members indicate that there is an awareness of the CLA and the role it plays within the library community in Canada.  Our newest network will look after the needs of new professionals just beginning their careers. The expectation is that at least 10% (approximately 60) of the non-members in these networks will eventually engage as members.  Plans are in train to reach out to these non-members to invite them to join.

I should  perhaps define what I mean by a ‘non-member’.  In my opinion, there are at least four categories of non-member:

  1. The former member (non-member in the sense that they have deliberately let their membership lapse).   We have contacted them on four or more occasions and they have indicated they will not renew.  Their reasons range from budget constraints, no longer in the industry, they have moved and lastly attempts to reconnect with them have not been successful
  2. The episodic non-member.  This is the member who has let their membership lapse only to reactivate it when the annual conference or some other association event is of interest to them.
  3. The peripheral member.  I call these ‘members’ in the loosest sense of the word.  They may or may not be former members who have found ways, perhaps through social media to engage with our association.
  4. The potential member.  The non-member in the industry who has not considered joining to date.

Where the first three categories above are concerned, a critical key to success is the maintenance of an up-to-date database.  I would argue that this is as important as the member database itself as it provides valuable data that can be used to contact individuals who have demonstrated varying degrees of openness to belonging.  Of course messaging would be different depending on which group is being targeted.

I keep a close eye on these membership campaigns, noting feed-back and also paying attention to results particularly renewals from lapsed members.  There are two main reasons why former members will decide to renew.  As stated above, a) our annual conference is taking place in their province and it is worthwhile to re-join for this reason alone or b) one of our advocacy initiatives has raised their perception of our association and they decide to give us another chance.

I would respectfully argue that the fourth and last group is the one that will require the most resources, both in terms of financial and human.  This last group of potential members will be the hardest to recruit.  Studies have shown that targeting lapsed, episodic or peripheral members will yield more immediate results than trying to break new ground with potential members.  In today’s tough budgetary climate where association dollars are closely monitored, potential members will need to ‘kick the tyres’ so to speak before making a commitment and this is where a ‘try us for a month/or three’ might bring some tangible results.  We will investigate and research this option and would be very happy to share results with readers. Conversely, if you have had some success with this approach targeting new members, we would love to hear from you.

In conclusion, I submit that our non-members are very definitely our friends and a careful, measured and thoughtful approach to engaging with them will bring tangible results, perhaps not today or tomorrow, but in the future.  If nothing else it will demonstrate that we care.

This post was provided by Geraldine Hyland, CAE, Member Services Manager with the Canadian Library Association.  She has worked for over fifteen years in the charities and not-for-profit sector in Canada and received her CAE in 2004.

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