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4 Best Practices in Member Marketing and Recruitment

By Tom Quash, CAE

The American Counseling Association turned to its current members when it was looking to recruit new student members. By using four tactics, it achieved great results: 14,340 new student members, which was a 15 percent increase over the previous year, a 9 percent increase in revenue, and a Gold Circle Award.

When the American Counseling Association (ACA) was looking to launch its new student membership recruitment campaign, the group turned to its most valued resource to help: its own professional members.

"We felt like this would be an opportunity for us to involve our professional counselor educators in a member-get-a-member campaign. The counselor educators are the best advocates for us, and we provided them with tools and information they needed in order to share these resources, in the classroom and on college and university campuses, with the students to make it easier for them to sign up for membership or direct them to our website," says Denise Brown, ACA's senior director of membership relations.

Here are four ways ACA recruited student members (and why it also earned the 2014 ASAE Gold Circle Award in the Member Recruitment Campaign category).

Research Your Markets

Before implementing a student member recruitment campaign, ACA surveyed its members and hosted focus groups to ensure its messaging would resonate with the targeted audience. This practice is an effort that ACA takes much pride in merging into plans for any of its initiatives or campaigns.

"Staff can't represent the members without the members' input. We host many focus groups, and we conduct a lot of research," Brown says. "All of our recruitment and retention programs are developed based on feedback we get from surveys, focus groups, leadership, and our governing council, which is made up of counselor educators, private practitioners and students. We take what we learn from our membership at face value and integrate all of that into our marketing materials."

Remain Visible and Accessible

ACA then leveraged its professional members and considered the academic calendar year to stay visible and relevant to prospective student members at colleges and universities.

"We provided our professional members with PowerPoint presentations, classroom posters, and talking points to help promote student membership," Brown says. "A lot of classrooms require students to become affiliated with an association. It's often a part of their curriculum—they have to connect to a professional counseling association. Of course we want ACA to be the organization that they connect with for their professional development, not only as a student but throughout their professional career."

Be Innovative

Though ACA had experienced success in the past with traditional methods of member recruitment, such as direct mail, it was time to try something different: a video. Again, using member feedback, the video content was developed through a dialogue with members before the final product was completed.

"The concept features a day-in-the-life of a counselor to include the value of their membership as well as the role that counselors play in our industry," she says. "This conceptual video was well received."

Evaluate Your Campaign

ACA recognized that it has a huge support system of professional counselors at colleges and universities. The success of the campaign would rely heavily on their collective engagement.

"We've been around for more than 60 years, and I think that our name recognition as well as the professional members communicating our strengths as an association is what made us be very successful in this campaign," Brown says. "We needed our professional members to underscore our value … and they delivered."

So, how successful was the ACA student member recruitment campaign? ACA yielded 14,340 new student members, a 15 percent increase over the previous year and a 9 percent increase in revenue. By establishing a robust online presence and promotional video, ACA also saw 86 percent of its new student members join online.

Through smart planning, market research, and leveraging the association's brand positioning and community of members, ACA was able to take risks and demonstrate its relevance to its student population. The result? A proven formula for effective membership recruitment.

"If I could, I would visit every college and university and hug every counselor educator to thank them for being that voice for us," Brown says. "We've been so successful with this recruitment campaign that I don't think there's anything different I would have done."