By Guest Blogger:

Emma Nicolson, Director

Mulberry Advertising

Recently we’ve seen a trend within membership organisations, not simply to increase the membership base but to cultivate members that are highly engaged with the aims and ethos of the organisation. There are many good reasons to do this: to increase the number of volunteers, encourage the next generation of committee members, create more ‘brand’ advocates, have a stronger campaigning group or develop a more authentic and diverse voice to the wider world. It is becoming important, now more than ever, to attract members who want to make a difference.

In a world where many organisations are seeing a dip in membership numbers, this may seem like an impossible dream – BUT there are a number of membership hacks that can help you reach out to the right people at the right time and increase the numbers of active, engaged members.

As with most membership issues, your first stop should be calling on a good Data Partner. If you haven’t already segmented your membership, now is the time to employ a data analyser and get to the heart of who your current members are.

Brief the analyst carefully. Explain that you need to identify member types most likely to be active within your organisation and what their ‘join-trigger’ was. Ensure their member journey is clearly mapped.

I can’t overstate how important data analysis is when it comes to understanding your membership – however I am also a realist. Undertaking proper member segmentation requires investment. It is a very worthwhile spend of your budget, but it takes a significant chunk. If you’re not in a position to splash the cash, don’t worry. It shouldn’t stop you from putting a few steps in place to improve your chances of encouraging more involvement from members right now.

In my years working in membership there seems to be one rule that goes across the board. The majority of active members will have been with the organisation for 3 years or more. It would appear that there’s a three year cultivation period where members take their time to get to know the organisation and develop their position within it. The three year mark is when those likely to convert to volunteers begin to shift in that direction.

Most membership organisations have enough of a handle on their data that they can identify members who have been with the organisation for 3+ years.

Once you’ve identified these members you can target them with communications around volunteering/advocacy etc.

But what should you say to them?

This is often where we all fall down. We concentrate so much on what we need from these members that our communications can feel at best desperate and at worst aggressive. Neither tactic is conducive to cultivating engagement.

This is where you need to really concentrate on what a volunteer or advocate gains from being more involved in the organisation. Make them the focus of your marketing material. If all your sentences start with “We need…” “We want…” “We can…” you need to take a step back and see how you can start those sentences with “You gain…” “Your involvement…” “You are…”

To create convincing and engaging copy to attract members to be more active within your organisation – take a look at the work and research from The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO).

It’s worth noting the following:

  • In 2017/18, 20.1 million (38%) people in the UK volunteered formally at least once a year and 11.8 million (22%) of people did so at least once a month.
  • ‘Wanting to do good’ is the most common motivation to volunteer. In 2017/18, 46% of people said that they volunteer to improve things and help others.
  • In 2015/16, there were around 166,000 voluntary organisations in the UK, most of which rely on volunteers.
  • In 2015, volunteering was worth more than £22.6bn to the UK economy. This is equivalent to about 1.2% of GDP.
  • 67% of volunteers give their time to charities and community groups, but many others also volunteer in the public and private sectors.

With this in mind, in any communication around volunteering, start by highlighting the ‘good’. E.g “By volunteering you’re improving X,Y and Z” or “Your involvement in X means that Y and Z can be improved for….”

It’s important to recognise your members time limitations too. Are most of your members employed during regular office hours? If so, then focus on activities that can be undertaken in the evening or at the weekend. If your organisation attracts a high number of teachers then look at offering opportunities to them during the summer holiday. If you have a high proportion of shift workers then focus on flexible tasks that can be worked around their schedules.

The most important aspect of good member communication is understanding your members’ individual relationships with your organisation and how this fits in with their unique lives, wants and needs.

From a marketing point of view, regular and timely communications go a long way to ensuring that your messages reach your members at a time when they can respond. Ensure that you have a sound strategy behind your volunteer communications program. For example, set up a volunteering email to be sent shortly after a member’s year 3 renewal. Make sure information about volunteering/getting involved is easy to find on your website’s navigation (not hidden deep within a drop down menu).

Most importantly, understand your members and tailor your messages to them.


Mulberry Avertising is a specialist creative design and marketing agency for membership organisations with a company legacy stretching back 30 years.