Membership Incentives Nonprofits and Associations Can Offer During a Crisis

Attracting new members to join your association or nonprofit is a challenge in the best of times. But during a pandemic when so many people have been laid off or are facing financial and personal struggles, it can seem downright impossible. Membership in a charitable organization or a professional association may be the last thing on most people’s minds and might seem like a luxury they can’t afford right now.

However, this time can also be an opportunity to grow your membership. Those recently laid off may be looking for an organization that can help them enhance their skills and connect with potential employers. Those with means may be looking for a way to contribute to their community in its time of need. And everyone is looking for new ways to connect.

The COVID-19 crisis has caused organizations to find creative ways to keep their institutions afloat and growing. One way to encourage memberships during tough times is to offer incentives.

It’s time to rethink your membership perks.

Before you set about trying to attract members in a new way, you should first take a hard look at what you have to offer potential and current members. Are your membership benefits still relevant in the time of coronavirus? If your perks mostly consist of in-person networking opportunities, field trips, discounts at industry-specific venues and in-person educational opportunities, these things aren’t going to be much of a draw during a time when people are trying to social distance.

Consider revamping your offerings at least temporarily. Poll some of your existing members to see what kind of perks would be most relevant to them right now. This is the time to get creative. Some ideas for perks during a pandemic (and anytime):

  • You could sponsor online classes and webinars.
  • You could offer online professional counseling, mentoring or consultations of some kind.
  • You could create a searchable database of members on your website to help them promote their services to other businesses and the public.
  • You could offer a free subscription to a magazine or professional news source, or if you offer one already, you could add others.
  • If there is a certification process for your industry, you could offer coaching and possibly paying the application and testing fees.
  • You could offer software subscriptions to apps that are used in your industry.
  • You could offer social media marketing services to help your members promote their businesses.
  • You could offer monthly videoconference meetings for networking and sharing ideas.
  • You could create a members-only job board. (You should really offer this regardless of whether there is a pandemic.)
  • You could create some online or safe and socially distanced volunteering opportunities.
  • You could offer industry-specific insurance at a discount.
  • Do you have an online store or merch? Offer free giveaways or a gift card good for use at your store.

These are just a few ideas of perks you could offer your members that aren’t dependent on being able to meet with others in person. A bit of brainstorming will allow you and your board to come up with some other ideas that would appeal to your membership.

[ Related: Tips and Tricks for Membership Recruitment and Retention ]

How to attract new members in the time of COVID-19

Now that you have revamped your membership benefits, there are other incentives you can employ specifically to attract new members and convince them to commit and sign up.

Offer a free trial or discounted intro membership.

This is one of the best ways to convert anyone sitting on the fence. Offer a no-cost intro membership for 6 months, one year, whatever you decide. Anyone seriously considering joining your organization will find that no-risk offer tough to pass up. Then be sure to use that trial period to get them involved right away, touch base regularly and promote the benefits of membership to them.

Set clear deadlines.

If you offer a discounted or free trial membership deal, be sure to set clear deadlines as to when the deal will end. Let’s say you do a promotion for 50% off the first year of membership for anyone who joins in the month of October. Just be sure to set a clear deadline of when the offer will end, and that will help the interested parties to commit and “get off the pot.”

Offer discounted rates to students or young professionals.

The reduction in fees will pay off in the long run if you acquire a member new to your industry who converts to a long-term member. You could also offer discounts for those who serve on a committee or volunteer a certain number of hours to the organization. Hands-on involvement can be more valuable than fees and leads to long-term personal investment by the individual.

Offer to make accommodations for financial hardships like layoffs.

You may be wondering whether to require proof that someone has actually been laid off or is receiving unemployment. Don’t. Very few professionals will lie about financial hardship and it would be embarrassing and tedious to expect them to prove their employment status or income just to get a discount on membership. Go with the honor system and trust that the majority of your members won’t take advantage.

Enter members into a drawing for a big prize.

Do a “membership raffle” for a coveted item or service. This can work in a couple ways. Let’s say you run a local branch of a professional association for architects. New members could be entered into a drawing to get a behind-the-scenes tour of a high-profile building with the designer or perhaps a 1-year subscription to some cutting-edge CAD software or hardware. You could include in the drawing all new members who join within a certain time window, and you could also do a similar drawing with existing members who recruit at least one new member.

These are just some of the ways you can foster membership during difficult times. Contact us at J&M Business Solutions to discuss how we can help you manage and grow your association or nonprofit.