What Will it Take to Meet Our Goal of “More” Members?

What Will it Take to Meet Our Goal of “More” Members?


by David Allen, Development for Conservation


Most land trust organizations I’ve met tell me that they could do more if they had more money. Most have raising more money in their strategic plan. And one of their primary strategies for raising more money is to have more members – to grow the membership or donor pool.

How many more will you need?” I often ask. I get very few real answers to that question. “More” would seem to be enough for many Strategic Plans.

But we can figure it out!

  • The amount of money you can raise from your donors is related to the number of donors you have and their average gift – both numbers are metrics common to most land trusts. To increase that amount of money, you need to increase one the other or both.
  • You can influence the average gift simply by asking for more money.
  • The number of donors you have is almost entirely related to how many donors you can recruit each year. When you are recruiting the same number of donors you lose to attrition, you have reached your zenith.
  • The number of donors you can recruit is related to how much money – if any – you make available to marketing.

Most land trust organizations can trip over 60-80 new members each year. Events, publicity, volunteerism, tabling at public events, and many other normal outreach activities will bring in 60-80 new donors each year. The problem is that these organizations tend to top out at 300-400 members because their activities are not scalable.

And 300-400 members is not enough to get everything done. We need “more.

I would wager that the great majority of land trust organizations in the nation have between 250 and 500 members. Land trusts that have more than 500 members, spend at least some money each year on marketing, and land trusts that have more than 1,000 members spend a lot of money each year on marketing.


* * * * *

I think about this a lot, but even more so recently because I’m doing a session on (fundraising) metrics at Rally this year, and I’m specifically interested in how organizations use metrics to make decisions.

This issue of a) having a marketing budget, and b) using a metric related to members recruited to help decide between strategies is exactly the kind of story I’d like to chase down. I know of a few organizations actively tracking this information.

I’d like to find a few more.

The first challenge is to isolate the marketing budget. Marketing budgets are often confused with outreach budgets. Everything gets thrown in, including the newsletter, T-shirts and hats, decals, and social media. In most ways, these things are all media that contribute to the organizational brand but don’t actively contribute to a sense of urgency around the act of giving. They don’t ask non-members to become members.

The second challenge is to keep track of what new members pick up on that motivates them to make a first gift. But even that is not completely satisfactory if they make a first gift and never make a second. We see this a lot with project gifts: donors make a first gift in support of a specific project and then ignore invitations to “renew” a year later.


* * * * *

Here’s the scene: You have X dollars – say $10,000 – in your marketing budget. The challenge you face is to invest that money in such a way that it increases the land trust’s capacity to raise money for years to come.

I have argued before that the metric of choice would be the number of “first renewals” that the money creates. (See The Importance of Recruiting First Renewals.) The first renewal is defined in this case as the number of people who make another gift between the 13th and the 24th month following their first gift. If you divide the number of first renewals into the $10,000 marketing budget, you should be able to calculate the cost of recruiting a first renewal.

I’m still working on evaluating the metric, but the sense I’m getting is that if your cost of recruiting a first renewal is $250 or less, you’re doing pretty well.

In the above scene, I’ve applied the metric uniformly to the entire marketing budget. But what if I was more specific? What if I calculated the cost of recruiting a first renewal for each marketing strategy? Small events, Large events, Special project appeals, Email, Social Media, Crowdfunding, Table/Booth, Member-get-a member campaigns, Gift Memberships, Direct Mail and so on?

Where would I draw the line, deciding that a specific strategy was simply not cost-effective? Is it worth spending $400 to recruit a first renewal? $500? More?

Where would you draw the line?


* * * * *

The reason to do all this to inform your planning – to reverse engineer the process and project what kind of marketing budget would be required to achieve a certain specific “more.”

Let’s say, for example, that your land trust wanted to go from the 300-400 members you have now to 1,000 members – and maintain that level of membership thereafter. How much of a marketing budget would you need?

I’m still working to refine that calculus, but the answer is very likely in the $25,000-30,000 range. In other words, to have and maintain a membership of 1,000, an organization needs to sustain the recruitment of 100-120 first renewals each year.


I’d be interested in your thoughts and experience here – including that related to other metrics. What are you measuring, and how are you using what you learn to change or adapt your strategies?


Cheers, and have a great week.




Photo by Khürt Williams courtesy of Stocksnap.io.


Related Posts:

Using Social Media to Recruit New Members

Adaptive Management and Membership Models

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