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Addition by Subtraction

AMS Blog - Addition by Subtraction

The story

Upon beginning my work as a Membership Coordinator with an organization, I inherited a couple of programs whose goal was to aid membership growth from a recruitment standpoint. One was a referral program designed to encourage recruitment on an individual level, and the other challenged chapters to double their membership over a membership cycle. Once individuals and chapters met the recruitment criteria, they were to fill out an application to be entered into a drawing for prizes. Prior to my arrival, there had been virtually no participants in the programs, so I had to decide what to do with a set of programs that have been completely ineffective? Should I try a new approach to selling the programs? Should I lower the recruitment criteria for being eligible for the drawing? Or should I go against popular convention and just get rid of the ineffective programs? Well, I made the controversial decision to get rid of. . . . . . the application. Why the application? Because meeting the recruitment criteria was all that matters to the program’s goals. The application was an unnecessary burden for the membership and proved to actually be a barrier to unlocking the program's potential.

Upon removing the application, the participation count went from 0 to 10+ for each program over the next fiscal year. We then brought the program participants on stage at the annual convention in front of the entire organization and celebrated them. All of a sudden, we began to see an energy and fervor for these programs that we could only dream of! The following year, there were many chapters and individuals contacting the headquarters office trying to find out where they stood in terms of meeting the recruitment criteria. We began to have 20+ and sometimes 30+ participants in the programs each year. Most importantly, the organization began to feel the impact of the programs as it doubled in membership in 5 years. None of this phenomenal growth would have been possible if I had not removed the application.

The Lesson

The above story illustrates one of the greatest lessons that I’ve learned in Membership Development. As Membership Professionals, it is our duty to eliminate the deterrents to membership. In this example, the programs' applications hindered their potential, deterred the membership from participating, and left me with a challenging problem. Now I could have made the decision that gave me the most relief (getting rid of the entire program), but the barriers that the application created for the members and the program's potential to help grow the membership were more important. So eliminating the application was the right move to make (as the amazing results showed!)

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