4 Ways to Attract and Retain Members for Your Nonprofit

By: Shelby Vankirk - Guest Contributor on September 26, 2022

The fluctuations in your nonprofit’s membership list tell a story—and it’s essential that you pay attention as the leader of the organization.

  • If the number of paying members at your organization has plateaued, it’s a sign that you need to market your nonprofit beyond your current base.

  • If you’re seeing a slow month over month decline, it’s a sign that you need to keep your members more engaged.

  • If you’re seeing a sudden, sharp drop in membership rates, a closer investigation is in order. For example, did a corporate partner end an affiliate program, taking discounted members with them?

If you can flip these trends around, your nonprofit organization can elevate its impact on its central cause and become a leader in the space. In this guide, we’ll discuss some of the best strategies to recruit new members at nonprofit organizations,then we’ll move on to strategies for retention.

What we’ll cover:

  1. Simplify the signup process

  2. Provide thoughtful, targeted incentives

  3. Use social media

  4. Build camaraderie by hosting events

Tips on membership recruitment and retention

Membership recruitment is attracting and signing up new members for your organization. This can be done in several ways, including online and offline marketing, personal outreach, and word of mouth.

Here are a few tips for recruiting and retaining members.

1. Simplify the signup process

The first step in increasing membership recruitment is to make it easy for people to join your organization or club.

If your application process is long, or if it requires a lot of personal information, you’re likely to lose potential members before they even get started. Instead, streamline the process as much as possible. Here’s how:

  • Request the minimum amount of information from your members: name, address, email, payment information. Once they’ve joined, you can reach out for additional, more targeted information.

  • Send surveys to new members to gather their feedback on the signup process.

  • Integrate your online signup forms with services like Facebook, Google, or Apple to allow users to have a sizable portion of their personal info prepopulated.

On a related note, if your organization recruits members through grassroots, in-person signups, try to digitize as much of the information intake as possible.


Create a customized form for information intake (Source)

These days, you’ll likely have more success handing passersby a tablet for entering their personal and payment information than having them fill out a paper form. Respect your members’ time and you’ll see your membership numbers rise.

2. Provide thoughtful, targeted incentives

Another way to increase association membership is to offer incentives and perks for joining. You’ll be more likely to attract new members if you can sweeten the pot. Nonprofit organizations have a broad range of attractive incentives they can offer:

  • Discounted monthly membership rates

  • Personalized merchandise, including notebooks, keychains, water bottles, and more

  • Coupons that can be used to shop with corporate affiliates

  • Proof of the direct impact made by members’ donations—for example, if your nonprofit serves animals, share photos of ‘adopted’ animals

Just be sure not to go overboard. Too many incentives can look desperate, and it’s important to remember that people should want to join your organization because they believe in its mission, not because they’re getting a good deal.

3. Use social media

These days, social media is one of the most powerful tools you have at your disposal for increasing membership recruitment. Make sure your organization has a strong presence on all the major platforms, and use that presence to reach out to potential members. However, different platforms call for different content. Consider the following:

  • Facebook: Share more in-depth updates and market virtual or in-person events.

  • Twitter: Engage with trending issues in your industry, or related to your cause.

  • Instagram: Promote the work that you’re doing to make an impact in your space.

  • TikTok: Relax and have fun with your topic! Users here are looking for entertainment.

Social media isn’t just about promoting your cause or your organization. Individuals that are engaging with a nonprofit would likely be interested in finding others that share their passion for your cause. Don’t just promote your organization—be sure to create space for your followers to lead conversations from time to time.

To do this efficiently, leverage social media management tools. The right software will help you locate conversations about your organization or your cause, systematically post content to engage with your audience, and measure the success of your social media strategy.

4. Build camaraderie by hosting events

Hosting events is a great way to increase membership recruitment and retention. Events can be for existing or potential members—a free, open event will allow potential members to see what your organization is about and decide if it’s something they’re interested in.

Events also give existing members a chance to socialize and interact with one another, which can help create a stronger sense of community and keep people coming back. This is the key to membership retention: you’ll get people to sign up by offering them a compelling way to make an impact with their money, but you’ll keep them by providing a rich, interesting community. Keep them engaged by offering a mixture of online and in-person events:

  • Online events: These require mostly passive participation, centered around a keynote speaker or presentation. They are easier to produce than in-person events, and are great for maintaining loose ties with your members.

  • In-person events: These often require more planning and overhead costs, but can result in more transformative experiences when executed well. By their very nature, in-person events engage members on a deeper level. They can be centered around community-building activities, such as volunteering for the cause your nonprofit supports.

If you’re not sure what kind of events to host, look around at your peers and see what sorts of events they are hosting. Try a mixture of online and in-person events, and don’t let a weak turnout discourage you from trying again.

Be sure to follow up with those that do attend any event and try to understand what they enjoyed, why they participated, and what could get them to come back. Event management software can work wonders to make sure your events go off without a hitch.

How Software Advice Can Help

Software Advice helps organizations increase membership by providing tools and resources that make it easy to connect with potential members. Our software directory includes hundreds of applications that can be used to manage membership, track engagement, and provide perks and discounts.

Check out our FrontRunners report on The 7 Best Nonprofit Software To Help Your Business Thrive in 2022.