Recruiting New Members – Part 2

Recruiting New Members – Part 2


31 May 2022


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


If you were starting a new restaurant in town, its long-term viability would depend on getting people to try it right away – within the first couple of months. That means they would need to hear about it first and then begin to see it as one of their evening options.

What do we know about launching such a venture?

  • That people need to see something more than once before it “takes” in their heads;
  • That people need to see it as “interesting” enough, or perhaps different enough from their other eateries, to try;
  • That people are influenced by what their friends and other opinion leaders think; and
  • That some people aren’t going to like the food there no matter what.


One of the standard questions I ask land trust organizations all over the country is “How well known is your organization in the community?” The most common answer is “not well,” and sometimes “not well enough.”

We need to think like we’re starting a new restaurant. We need to start thinking like our long-term viability depends on becoming better known.


In that regard, I believe we make two mistakes. The first is that we fail to budget adequately for marketing. We need to start putting something in the budget every year for marketing. Think of it as sending out a menu for our restaurant. It needs to be highly visible for a concentrated period of time. The messages need to be repeated through several different strategies (because people need to see it more than once). And the metric we are watching is the number of people who make a first gift. How many first givers can we recruit for the money we invest?

One of the reasons we don’t budget for marketing is that we expect an immediate return on investment. We spend $X on a mail piece, for example, and we expect $X+Y in return. When we get less than $X back, we declare it a failure and stop doing it.

My advice is to budget $X and expect NOTHING back. Every dollar we raise from the effort is gravy. Instead, measure the value of marketing based on how many first donors we recruit. Break even is probably two or three years later and the median five-year value of new donors is around $800.


The second mistake we make is that we fail to concentrate for effect. For most land trusts (not all!), their service territory is larger than they can really handle effectively from a marketing standpoint. Worse, the places we work are not the same places where people live. The result is that any marketing gets spread out too thin to be effective.

Instead, think about marketing in a concentrated way to a much smaller area. A neighborhood, for example. Or a zip code. Treat it like a campaign – a marketing campaign. After some period of time – say two or three years – pick up the campaign and move it to another neighborhood or zip code.

Concentrating for effect has another advantage. It allows us to change the message to meet the needs of each area. We don’t need our messaging to be intellectually convincing. We don’t need it to convince those who will never eat in our restaurant to try our food. We need it to efficiently find those already interested. We need it to feed the reasons why these people might say YES. And these reasons might change from neighborhood to neighborhood. HINT: This might take some experimenting!


So with all that, here’s my list of effective marketing campaigns. They can be taken separately, but combining them will magnify the effect of any one of them.

  1. Every House Mail – Also known as saturation mail, this is the equivalent of a restaurant sending out a menu to every mailbox in a specific area. Every House Mail is not addressed, other than to “Postal Patron.” It may be a postcard, such as political postcards. It could also be a piece printed on newsprint. Both are relatively inexpensive. In creating Every House Mail, focus less on what the organization does and how it does it. Focus more on the people involved (including Board, staff, and volunteers) and WHY doing this work is important. Focus on what you BELIEVE. As Simon Sinek says, you will attract people who believe what you believe. Note that once designed, you can send the same piece into the same neighborhoods multiple times. I recommend mailing three or four times within a two-year window. The more people who see it the second and third time, the more effective it will be.
  2. Direct Mail – Finding lists is the challenge here. The standards are TNC and Audubon lists, but you should be able to beg, buy, borrow, or steal other lists as well. Make it a game. There’s a donor wall at the local nature center. Or a plaque down at the county park. How many of those people’s addresses can we find? How about lists of volunteers? Event attendees? And don’t forget about lists of lapsed and former donors.
  3. Events – Social events, family fun events, educational events, field trips, hikes, open house (or open preserve!) events, ribbon cutting events. All of these events can be used to generate interest and recruit new donors. Try printing three-inch stickers with your name and logo on them. Ask everyone who attends whether they are a current member (or donor). If they say yes, hand them a sticker and ask them to wear it. If they say no, hand them a brochure. Have an I-Pad handy with a card reader attached to accommodate on-the-spot donations. And remember that people who pay to attend an event are not donors yet – they can be solicited through the mail in the next several weeks or months. Consider that some type of event could be the culminating event of an Every House Mail campaign.
  4. Tiny Donations – QR codes on trailhead signs, E-News click-throughs, and pop-up ads on the website can be used to attract small donations inspired by the experience of the moment. These donations can be very small ($1, $2, or $5), because the purpose is to capture the donors’ address information. Then you can mail to them.


This is an area where we have a significant level of experimentation going on in the community. If you are trying something new, I am very interested in you sharing your experience. Some campaigns will not be effective everywhere, but others can be adapted to local circumstances. If you have a story, please use the comments below. Or send it to me, and I’ll get it out more anonymously.


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 Nottmpictures courtesy of Pixabay.

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