Recruiting New Members – Part 1

Recruiting New Members – Part 1


17 May 2022


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


A few weeks ago, someone asked for a post about recruiting new members. This post (and next week’s) is for them and for anyone else looking for the same information.


For the purposes of this post, I am defining “member” as anyone who makes a gift to your organization of any amount of money. Greater that zero. Most of the time, “member” refers to “household” in the sense that one checkwriter or online donor represents two adults in the house. Occasionally you will find two or more renewable members in the same household, but it’s not a common experience.

I field a lot of pushback these days about using the word “member” to describe “someone to gives money.” And the bottom line for me is that I don’t care. If your organizational culture can support the idea of membership, then I suggest that the language is convenient and easy. If not, you will need to substitute your own language. Either way, it can work for you.

But here’s an important point: I don’t necessarily ask that someone consider “becoming a member” anymore. Just like I don’t ask them to “become a giver.” THAT part of this fundraising world HAS changed. Most new members will not be giving because they want to belong. They give because they want to support what you’re doing. “Member” is simply what we call people who give.

Regardless. the ideas presented here are not dependent on members giving more than some threshold amount, or even whether your organization actually calls them members.


BEFORE you start working on recruiting members, consider these three questions:

  • WHY do I need members?
  • What kind of assumptions can I make about renewal rates and average gifts?
  • How many members will I need?


WHY do I need members?

Sounds like a trivial question, but it’s not. Most organizations need members because they need money. But consider that if you need $1,000,000 and someone steps forward and gives you $1,000,000, you would not be satisfied. We need members for more than just money.

Some organizations use members for political clout. The more members, the greater the clout. Or as a measurement of community support – the more members, the greater the community support.


What kind of assumptions can I make about renewal rates and average gifts?

Renewal rate refers to how many, as a percentage, of this year’s members will give again next year. Average gift is the total amount of money raised divided by the number of members giving it.

If the reason you need members is related to raising money, you will need to make assumptions about renewal rate and average gift. And “more” is not a goal. “More members” and “more money” won’t help you.

The planning standards I start with are 70% renewal rate and $400 average gift. You will need to make your own assumptions.

Note that the 70% renewal rate is based on direct mail and recurring (or monthly) members. Renewal rates are HIGHLY dependent on how members were recruited. Members recruited as gifts, or from events, or coincidentally with a purchase (often to get a discount) renew at a very low rate. I refer to such members as “transactional members” and take them out of count, renewal, and average gift calculations until they make a second gift.

Just to be clear: I TREAT them as members, but I don’t COUNT them as members.


How many members will I need?

Again – “more” is not an acceptable answer to this question. If you are looking for political clout or community engagement, your goal might be expressed as a percentage of the number of households in your area. Both “your area” and the number of households are quantifiable ideas.

If you are looking to raise money, then the number of members needed will be related to the amount of money you need to raise each year – another quantifiable idea. Let’s say you need to raise $400,000/year. Divide $400,000 by your average gift – say $400 – and you get the number of members needed – 1,000.


Now you know what your membership recruitment program needs to look like. If you need 1,000 members and your renewal rate is 70%, you will need to recruit 300 members – every year – to reach and maintain that number. The way the math works, if you did recruit 300 new members each year, you would get to 1,000 in about 15 years. To get there faster, you would need to recruit more new members every year.


There are many strategies for recruitment. I’ll cover several of the most common in next week’s post.


Cheers, and Have a great week!




PS: Your comments on these posts are welcomed and warmly requested. If you have not posted a comment before, or if you are using a new email address, please know that there may be a delay in seeing your posted comment. That’s my SPAM defense at work. I approve all comments as soon as I am able during the day.


Photo by Michael_Fotofeund courtesy of Pixabay.


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  • Julia Landstreet
    Posted at 07:00h, 17 May

    For better or worse, and it has been heavily debated, our organization was founded with a membership model. The members who are consistent with their giving seem to give three times a year, membership dues, sponsor the summer fundraiser, and fall annual fund, and it’s the same sum x3. There is interest in making membership go away, but anxious about eliminating the opportunity to ask and 1/3 of the steam go away. Any thoughts or insights would be appreciated.

    • David Allen
      Posted at 07:29h, 17 May

      Thank you so much for this comment. If I had a membership program in place, I would NOT change it, or at least not change it without some testing. I discussed this at some length about two years ago – To Member or Not to Member. The bottom line is that membership is a language that is easily communicated and understood. If your membership is more about “program,” maybe it’s the program that can change without changing the language. And as I said in this post, I do NOT advocate asking people to “join,” because joining is not a motivating factor for most people. But when people give to support the mission and/or one of the projects, I refer to them as “members.”

      Thank you for the comment!