Using Social Media to Recruit New Members

Using Social Media to Recruit New Members


By David Allen, Development for Conservation

One of the people I met this last year at Rally was the Corporate Partnerships Manager for Access Fund, a national organization dedicated to protecting access for climbers to some of the nation’s best rock walls. She told me that Access Fund had completely stopped using Direct Mail to recruit members and had completely stopped buying mailing lists as a result. They were using 100% social media, growing like crazy, and spending far less money than they had before.

I was interested.

So I followed-up last week with the person who directs their recruitment marketing and got the fuller story. I think you’ll find it interesting.

Access Fund uses three social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. They also purchase advertising and push email. A primary (not the only) purpose of all of this social media is to drive people to their website. They do use social media to ask for contributions directly, but it’s infrequent and always related to specific issues.

The website is spectacular: every page includes an amazing photo of a free climber clinging to a wall or crack under perfect lighting conditions. It features a blog, which staff and guests participate in writing, and every page is focused on how the reader can get involved.

I’ve written before about how the pronouns “we,” “us,” and “our” should always include the reader. Access Fund’s website falls into this trap, too, but the overall feeling is one of community action (as opposed to organizational action). We have these challenges, we can take these actions, and we have had this impact – all of us, as a community, working together.

A primary (though not only) purpose of the website is to gather information: name and email to start (they use a convenient pop-up box to gather email), so you can get the blog and news-as-it-happens sent to your inbox. Along with those items is an invitation to get involved by donating, of course. And with the donation comes a mailing address.

And THEN they use direct mail.

So Access Fund:

  • Uses social media to drive website traffic,
  • Uses the website to generate email subscribers,
  • Uses email (and some social media) to generate first donations, and
  • Uses the addresses from first donations to mail requests for membership, renewals, and additional giving.

Access Fund is working nationally, and they are working at a significant scale: 50,000 email subscribers, 6,000 new first givers every year. But their process is scalable, and if you’re looking for a model to use at your scale, this one might be worth looking at.

A couple of other things:

I asked about loyalty: Do first givers become members? Do new members renew? I was looking for data I could compare with other recruitment strategies (like direct mail). Answer: too soon to tell – Access Fund has only been using this strategy for the last three years.

I asked about the decision to stop direct mail: Why not do both? Answer: in part, it relates to demographics – their constituency is overwhelmingly under 40 – and in part, it deals with volume – they’re getting enough traffic with just social media. Why would they need direct mail?

My opinion is and always has been: Try new stuff, but don’t throw out the old stuff that works. Just because something is new doesn’t make it better, and just because something is tried and true doesn’t make it bad.

The parts about aiming your social media at driving website traffic is sound. The parts about redoing your website to be less about organizational accomplishments and more about community impact (with the “community” clearly including the reader) is sound. The parts about systematically gathering email addresses and pushing out relevant information that asks for involvement at multiple levels – including donating – is sound. And the parts about using direct mail to solicit and renew memberships from there is sound.

The part about not using direct mail to recruit new members over 50 (who have both disposable income and time) – maybe not so much.

But definitely add Access Fund (along with Charity Water) to your list of charities to watch and emulate. I recommend signing up for their push email (and possibly even donating) to study further how they’re using it.

Have a great week!






PS: For some real fun with words, check out The Language Rules We Know, But Don’t Know We Know. Ablaut Reduplication, indeed!


Photo by Isak Dalsfelt courtesy of


Share this!
No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.