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Your Association Needs More Members? Try an Affiliate Strategy

Copyright (c) 2005-2020

The key to growth for many associations and non-profits is the growth of their membership. Each year the membership grows but also there can be a drop due to attrition, making it even more important to attract new members.

The associations are dependent on not just their membership fees but also external funding. However, this funding source is usually tied to the membership growth numbers so it still all comes down to membership numbers being the key to success for an association. Marketing costs can make it expensive for an association to grow.

Marketing involves offline and online marketing such as a website and email campaigns. Most associations don't have the resources or skills to market online, so they resort to the tried and true methods of paper newsletters, ads in local business publications, and possibly an occasional email campaign.

When an association needs to market more to increase growth in membership, the costs to do so can be high relative to the return they get in new membership "sales". What are some ways that an association can use to increase the growth of their membership without the high cost of traditional marketing?

One idea is to use the concept of affiliate marketing, which is a type of online marketing that has been around for several years but only now is beginning to branch out beyond pay per click or pay per sale. Affiliate marketing used effectively can increase membership without the high marketing costs associated with the traditional methods.

So how does an affiliate strategy work in the context of an association or non-profit looking to increase their membership? The fundamental idea of affiliate marketing is to reward someone for referring you business. That referral can take many forms such as a sale, a lead, or a click on a website. Another name for affiliate marketing is performance marketing. In other words the merchant pays when an event tied to their performance occurs. In the case of an association wanting to increase performance in signing up new members, we could set up a system where a reward is paid to someone referring a new member.

Most non-profits and associations may not be comfortable with paying for new members, but there are other ways. For example the referring member could get points for making a successful referral. At the end of the year the members with the most points could get some special recognition - e.g. a bottle of wine, or their names on the association's website, or invitation to an executive dinner. It doesn't always have to be money in exchange for the new membership. If money is not a big issue, the referring member could maybe get a small discount on their next year's membership.

The key idea is to make the members affiliates for the association. The affiliates who refer the most new members get recognition from the organization and some sort of reward for helping the association boost their membership numbers.

Communication is one of the extra benefits of establishing an affiliate strategy for your association. You get to communicate the new programme to all the members, who can now also be called affiliates. They will be incentivized to go out and talk up the organization, creating an army of sales people spreading valuable word of mouth advertising to new members. Communication can also be online in the sense that the new members could have an affiliated link back to the website of the mother organization, from their own websites. Increasing qualified traffic to your site can also result in higher conversions or new members signing up.

Competition is a good thing too. Some of the existing affiliates will try to compete with each other to see who gets the most new members at the end of the year or whatever period you have chosen.

Another benefit of the affiliate strategy is that the affiliates can take the new members under their wing, invite them to the first few meetings, and introduce them to other members. In other words, a mentorship system has been enabled as result of the affiliate programme. The increased competition and communication between the association, affiliates, and new members can result in not only an increase in membership, but a closer relationship with all the members and the organization.

Websites are one way to route qualified new members to your signup page. The affiliates put links or banners on their sites and have a link back to your site, with their affiliate code embedded in the link. If the new members signs up after visiting via an affiliated link, then the affiliate gets the credit for the referral. Coupons can also be used in such a way that the affiliate id is encoded in the coupon they give out. Some coupon systems can also provide a discount to the purchaser so that they have some incentive to use the coupon, guaranteeing the referring affiliate their credit.

Email can also be used as a way to recruit new members within the affiliate strategy. Some of the affiliates may have their own mailing lists of customers, partners, employees etc. They probably send out a newsletter now and then to their base of contacts. In this newsletter they could mention your organization and the benefits of joining. The email could include a link to your site and once again it could have the affiliate id embedded in the link.

Email campaigns should be managed carefully so that the affiliates are not seen to be spamming their readers with your signup page. It is vital that your members have an email opt-in system so that their readers have agreed to get email from them and also have a way to opt-out at any time.

Automation of the affiliate programme is important. You don't want to have to spend hours explaining to your members how it all works. Make sure you have a plan to train your staff in the use of the system, and get a system that makes most of the signup and tracking automatic, so that you can focus on evaluating the benefits and tweaking your programme. Otherwise you will be back in the situation of having high marketing costs which may not justify the added memberships for that period.

The image of your organization will improve just by the fact that you have adopted some clever internet marketing technique to the special needs of your association. Some members will appreciate the fact that their member fees are not being spent on expensive offline ads, but instead on building the membership from within.

Make sure you spend the time in the upfront planning of your affiliate strategy and select the right software based on your requirements. There are many packages - hosted and non-hosted available. For an association needing just the basics, there are several which could meet your needs. The key is to plan as much as possible before jumping in and purchasing a system.

Done right, an affiliate strategy can bring you value in terms of new members and improved relationships with your existing members.


About The Author: Shop Amazon - Top Gift Ideas
Peter Koning is the founder of www.Affiliate-Software-Review.com. He has over 20 years experience in the international IT, telecom, and Internet industries. Merchants can compare affiliate software and networks side-by-side, see examples of products in the categories mentioned, and instantly create free feature comparison charts by visiting http://www.affiliate-software-review.com

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