30 Apr The 300-Member Trap
By David Allen, Development for Conservation
I’m closing in on ten years in the consulting business. Along the way, I have worked with dozens of land trusts, and doing so has afforded me an interesting vertical window into the land trust community.
In other words, because I have worked almost exclusively for land trusts and other conservation organizations, I am in a unique position to form insights into that community.
And one thing that has always struck me as interesting is how many land trusts have “about” 300 members. Certainly between 200 and 400.
And they are “stuck” there. One Board member even told me that “the same 300” members gave them money each year. Never mind that it would be nearly impossible for that to be true, the underlying truth in what he was saying is that his organization had had the same number of members for many years.
And this is the pattern I have observed in many, many land trusts across the country.
There are several variations. Land trusts with staff and/or talented Board members who are dedicated to outreach work often have 500-600 members. Land trusts who raise money for highly public projects often see a “blip” of several hundreds of members before returning back to the 200-400 range.
I call it the 300-member trap, and the root cause is not difficult to understand.
The number of members an organization has is related to two variables – the rate of attrition (renewal rate) and recruitment. Land Trusts will lose a certain number of individual supporters each year regardless of renewal efforts. Like road friction for a moving car, annual attrition will inevitably slow down an organization’s speed (number of annual donors). And incremental improvements in reducing friction will reduce the rate of that slowing down.
Recruitment is the accelerator. To maintain a current speed, acceleration must exactly counter the effect of the friction: recruitment must match the rate of attrition. To increase the number of annual donors, the land trust needs to step on the recruitment gas (marketing) until the organization reaches a new stable speed.
But once there, any backing off of the recruitment will result in the number of donors decreasing as well.
Back into the 300-member trap.
The truth is that stabilizing at 300 members is not hard. If a land trust loses 30-40% (about 100) members every year, those can be easily balanced by what I call “background” recruitment – lapsed members coming back, volunteers who join, events, tabling, and so on. Land trusts that reduce attrition to just 25% might even use this 100-member background recruitment to grow to 400 members or so.
But any interest in growing substantially beyond 400 members will take new investment in member recruitment.
There is a problem with the 300-member trap: it’s probably not enough. 300 members giving an average of $200 only amounts to $60,000 in annual operating revenue. A substantial major gift development program might bring the average gift up to $600 or more ($180,000), but where will the staff time come from to implement it?
It’s a trap.
I’m going to devote the next several weeks of this blog to recruitment stories.
To strategies for stepping on the gas.
And climbing out of the trap.
If you have some stories to share, I’m all ears. What are you doing to avoid the 300-member trap?
Cheers, and Have a great week.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay