Using Events to Attract and Recruit New Members

Using Events to Attract and Recruit New Members


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


This week, I’m continuing a series about recruitment strategies. The series stems from a post I wrote two weeks ago called the 300-Member trap – the phenomenon that many organizations face where they have essentially the same number of members each year – about 300 – regardless of what they do to grow.

The trap exists because the number of new members recruited each year exactly balances attrition. The way out of the trap is to turn your attention to recruitment.

This week, I want to talk about using events to recruit new members and donors. The bottom line is that it doesn’t work very well. (Sorry!)

There are lots of ways various different organizations use events to attract new donors and encourage them to make a first gift. The most obvious is to make the difference between what members and non-members pay to go to the event equal to the basic membership gift. It’s $25 to get in if you’re a member; $60 for non-members. Presto! Instant new $35 member.

Other organizations make it a bit less coercive by making buying a membership an optional item when you sign up for the event. Or having a membership table set up for events that are free to the public.

For larger, public events, I recommend stickers and roving volunteer recruiters. Ask each person when they arrive whether they are a member already. If they say Yes, hand them a sticker to wear. Ask Board members and other volunteers to say thank you to everyone wearing a sticker. For those who say No, tell them a one-liner about what the event supports and to look for a brightly colored volunteer to join. Then have several volunteers in neon shirts with “Ask Me How to Become a Member” boldly printed on the back. They can have a Square card reader and an I-Pad or similar collection device to sign people up on the spot.

Some events are mission experiences, like paddles down a protected river or hikes through a protected preserve. Others are mission-related, but tamer, like a lecture, a gala fundraiser, or plant sale. Still others are nearly completely unrelated, like a golf tournament or music festival.

All these different events have at least three handicaps related to building membership that are hard to overcome. First, they are inherently transactional. People who participate pay a certain price, engage in the particular activity, presumably come away with some sense of fair value for what they paid, and move on. There is no particular embedded loyalty or even recognition of the program, project, or organization being benefitted. (Many golfers, runners, and music festival patrons can’t even name the recipient organization the following day!)

Ergo, first renewal rates are typically low without additional inputs.

Second, they are very difficult to scale. If you need to double the number of members you recruit each year (to get out of the 300-member trap), doubling the size of your event or the number of your events is often not possible.

And third, people tend to give again in the same manner that they gave in the first place. You will have much better luck renewing someone by asking them to go on another hike than you will by sending them a renewal notice in the mail.

All of which leads me to the following conclusion: Event donors are not really donors yet. (See also Transactional Donors Are Not Really Donors – Yet.)

So, what can you do to “convert” event donors into mission donors? Here are four ideas:

  • Follow-up right away with anyone who attended who was not already a member. This might be impersonal – like a welcome packet – or more personal like a personal note, phone call,  visit, or open house (a follow-up event!) at the office just for new members. There is a huge payoff here in surprising your new donors with GREAT customer service. Getting personal thank notes and/or welcome packets out the following day is a great way to make a lasting impression.
  • Use photos, and I mean old-fashioned, real, glossy, 4X6ers. Taken at the event. Include them in the follow-up communication. Real photos often end up under magnets on the refrigerator.
  • Ride the transactional reality, by asking for money again right away – like within just a few weeks or months. If you accept the premise that they really haven’t actually given you anything yet – that the event was essentially transactional – then asking them make another gift right away is perfectly acceptable. At the very least, ask them to sign up right away for next year’s event!
  • Use a “trial membership” concept. Any “membership” they may have “purchased” at the event could be a trial membership, expiring after 4-6 months instead of 12. Carefully planned new member communications could be implemented, culminating in a request for “renewal” relatively quickly.


You could also simply treat events as a way to add folks to your mailing list. Send them recruitment mail as a separate issue. If you do this, use a source code to tailor the first paragraph of your recruitment letters to reference the event they attended.

Got a great idea that works for you? I’d love to hear about it.

Leave me a comment or call me.


Cheers, and Have a great week.




See also Ideas for Getting the Most out of Your Events


Photo by Brandon Montrone courtesy of


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1 Comment
  • reneecarey
    Posted at 06:41h, 14 May

    : – ) Once again you’ve created a written summary, by an outside expert that can be shared with Board members and volunteers to hopefully help guide the conversation away from events and back to directly asking people for money. Thank you!!!!