Don’t Ask … Don’t Get
Your members — you know, those folks who belong to your association, your zoo, your art museum or your public radio station — want to support you. They really do.
But if your organization is like many that rely on membership relationships for the bulk of their funding, you probably aren’t giving them the proper opportunities to do it.
Dana Hines, president and CEO of St. Louis-based Membership Consultants, says she sees lots of organizations that simply are afraid to ask members — who already are giving by virtue of their membership fees — to give above and beyond those fees. Many don’t want to appear pushy and risk ticking off their members; others peg their members as being interested solely in the value of the membership package rather than as genuinely philanthropic individuals. And still others just don’t know how to ask.
But Hines says it’s worth the risk and the effort.
“There’s just a general reluctance to ask for a second gift or to ask people for more money than what they had been giving,” says Hines, who counsels many of her clients to run membership-upgrade campaigns, often asking current members to at least double their gifts. “What we’ve found is that, time after time, these upgrade campaigns work very well, to the point of that’s the proof we need that people aren’t asked often enough to go ahead and respond by giving more.
“What we’re seeing is our response rate is sometimes between 5 percent and 8 percent,” she says, adding that the upgrade campaigns have a track record of working year after year, rather than fizzling out after the first time. She talks about a client that increased its revenue by $45,000 with its first upgrade campaign and then by an additional $85,000 in the second year.
“There is almost a hunger among their members to do more than what they had been doing, and the numbers proved it, and it’s continued year after year,” she says.
Hines stresses that it’s important to time membership-upgrade campaigns so that they aren’t confused or used as a replacement for renewals. With the right approach and follow-up stewardship, members who respond to upgrade requests often easily can segue into major-donor prospects.
Membership-upgrade requests should, according to Hines:
*Offer benefits and involvement opportunities beyond the basic membership — an additional two to four free admissions to the zoo, for example, or invitations to smaller, more personal events with key people in the organization.
*Be timed so they don’t “step on the toes of the regular renewal process” — for example, sending upgrade mailings in the spring to members who are due to renew in the fall and vice versa.
*Not offer an option to give at the same level. Ask strings should start at nearly double the current gift.
*Be highly personalized, referencing the current membership level and what it offers, as well as the added benefits of the upgrade. “This is a value situation,” Hines says. “You can do the math for them and kind of play their game: ‘If you are a member at the $250 level, you’re going to receive X number of passes,’ and you value that at X number of dollars. So you can really illustrate for them how the upgrade is a good value in addition to helping support the zoo or the aquarium or wherever they might be a member.”
*Ask for the full amount of the upgraded level, not the difference between what the member already gave and the upgrade level.
“We had a client we were doing these upgrade campaigns for, and then they decided to go off and do them on their own,” Hines says. “A year later, they said, ‘Oh, we stopped doing them; they didn’t work.’
“Well, they changed the whole strategy of the ask, and they were only asking for the difference, and then the average gift was smaller. And when they looked at what they spent and what the campaign brought in, it didn’t work,” she explains. “But they did it the wrong way … because they were afraid to ask for the full amount.”
Finally, Hines says, really knowing your members and their motivations for joining is key. Most organizations’ membership files will be made up of two basic types of supporters:
1. Those who are value minded and join simply to take advantage of the discounts, sales and other status or financial benefits of membership; and
2. Those who are naturally philanthropic and join simply to support the mission.
Knowing the difference between the two groups and which members belong to which can help an organization further tailor its upgrade campaigns.
“Even a zoo that might have a good number of members who are value-oriented is still going to have some people who are the philanthropic type,” she says. “So if you have information on what the makeup is of the membership group, then you can tailor the ask accordingly.
“For instance, we’ve done surveys where we’ve been able to look at how the person joined initially and what their most important benefit of membership is and why they joined in the first place. And we can divide those people out and say, ‘OK, here is the altruistic group who joined to support the institution, and here is the group who joined because it’s a good deal.’ So you can target your messages according to who you know your members are.”
Dana Hines can be reached via www.membership-consultants.com