Attracting and supporting new members

Clubs will only survive over time, if new members are regularly joining as older members leave.

We spoke to a variety of clubs, small and large, young and not so young to find out what works to attract, support and retain new club members. The main themes that we kept hearing were;

  • Be willing to change the way your club operates
  • Make people feel welcome when they are approaching the club
  • Make it easy for people to get involved and to become a part of the club community

 

Thank you to the following people who contributed ideas and content to this resource;

  • We re-published material from Shaun Barnetts article “Clubs, Membership and FMC” in the  June 2009 FMC bulletin
  • We interviewed Megan Sety of the Wellington Tramping and Mountaineering Club and published an Outdoor Community Blog article titled “Big clubs getting bigger
  • Kelvin Shaw of the Napier Tramping Club wrote an article about his club’s project to increase it’s membership after Shaun’s articles. We got back in touch with him and republished his “Rejuvenating a Tramping Club” here on the Outdoor Community Blog with a few updates from our recent contact.

If you’ve got more ideas or advice to contribute to this resource, then please get in touch.

 

Be willing to change the way your club operates

A number of clubs have reported static or declining numbers, and an aging demographic. A theme from many of the clubs we interviewed whose membership has been on the increase is that the best thing a club can do to revitalise itself, is being willing to change. Many clubs report some resistance from more senior club members, but all report that considered and careful change has brought about some great improvements for their club.

Encourage your club committee to investigate the performance of the club with respect to membership;

  • How has the the membership changed over the last 5 years?
  • What has the club done to attract and support new members?

Once you’ve taken a look at a few facts, and how the club thinks it is doing, analyse your club through the point of view of a potential new member

  • How can someone find out about your club?
  • Is your website attractive, easy to use, have the right information and is up to date?
  • If someone contacts the club, is that contact followed up?
  • Do new people feel welcome at club nights?
  • Is it easy to join the club?
  • Once they have joined, do they feel supported, welcomed and part of the club community?

A busy night at WTMC!

Attracting new members

First impressions are important: take a look at your club website

There are very few people these days, who wouldn’t take the time to do some internet research on a club or group they are considering being a part of. Therefore, a website is often the first impression someone has of the club and has the power to quickly turn someone away, or encourage them to find out more.

A good looking, easy to use site takes a little bit of know how to put together. If there’s no one in your club who has the know how, consider asking friends of friends and be prepared to budget a little money for an upgrade. The Napier Tramping Club paid a friend of a friend $200 to upgrade their site, which received 25,000 hits in the first few months of operation.

The key elements of an effective website include;

  • Clear, readable information; many amateur sights are far too cluttered.
  • An outline of the activities the club participates in
  • Simple ‘how to join’ information,
  • A schedule of up-coming trips and club nights
  • Attractive photos of club activities
  • A good club history
  • Links to other useful sites

Even if you get someone else to build the site, your club will need a member to keep the information up to date. A very quick turn-off for a potential member is to get a ‘un-delivered’ message to an out of date club email address, or see info about the next ‘up-coming trip’ which happened 2 years ago…

 

General promotion of the club

As well as an effective website, which people can search for online, clubs can consider other promotion and advertising to let people know about the club and it’s activities. Whatever promotion you do, make sure the club’s website is included prominently; thats where most people will go as a second step towards making contact with the club.

Here’s a few general ideas for promoting your club in the community;

  • Design and print a ‘club sticker’ for putting in hut log books. You could run a club competition for the design.
  • Club T-shirts or patches for sewing on packs can support the feeling of club community, as well as being a conversation starter with interested people.
  • Make a point of taking along recent copies of your club newsletter (and FMC’s Backcountry) to drop off in huts that you visit. There’s no better way to reach a tramping clubs ‘target audience’!  As you drop of recent copies, make sure you remove any old, tatty or unreadable material from the ‘hut library’.
  • Recent newsletters and Backcountry issues should also be left in waiting rooms, staff rooms and other public spots where there is communal reading material available.
  • Print a few extra trip cards each season and pop them in a small card holder at the local outdoors shop. Form a relationship with the owners, looking for sponsorship/discount opportunities for members.
  • Maybe your local DOC visitor center could display a poster, trip cards or newsletter for you?
  • On your website, make it possible for anyone to sign up to a mailing list to receive your club newsletter. Ensure the newsletter has a section near the start which is aimed at prospective members;  “If you want to join, visit our website for more info” etc…
  • Encourage club members to share photos/stories via the club facebook page, and ensure there’s a link from your club website.
  • Send trip reports and club events to FMC for publication and promotion via Backcountry, Wilderlife and FMC Facebook. All you need to do is get in touch, and we’ll help you out!

Make people feel welcome when they are approaching the club

Consider appointing a ‘new member’ coordinator

Pick a keen member who is social, organised, and is on board with your clubs plan of growing membership.

When a person makes an inquiry via the club website, or social media, the new member coordinator should get back to the person with a warm welcome and an invitation to the next club night. A few questions from the coordinator about the person’s experience and reason’s for approaching the club will make the person feel like they are welcome, plus give the coordinator some information to suggest a good ‘next step’ for the person.

The Napier Tramping Club sends each person an info pack, containing an introduction letterinformation for new members,  and an initial registration form to record a few basic contact and safety details about the person.

The next step after the club night could be a normal club trip, a specific trip or activity for new members or a club course.

The new member coordinator should keep tabs on the new folk, following them up if they don’t seem to get on a trip. If they do get on a trip, chat to the trip leader to find out how it went. Drop the new/prospective member an email to find out how they like the experience, and be sure to point out future trips which they might like. Make the effort to follow up in person, next time you see them at a club night.

 

New people should feel welcome at club nights.

Many people find it very intimidating to approach a new group as an outsider. Someone who turns up to a club night, sits in the corner alone then disappears without anyone noticing is unlikely to ever join the club.

The new member coordinator(s) should be on the lookout for un-familiar faces at club evenings, and make a point of welcoming those people.  In smaller clubs, the job could be reasonably handled by one or two people, but for larger clubs, a small rotating team will probably be more appropriate.

At the very least, a warm welcome, a few questions about the person’s background and a point in the right direction to a person who they might get along with will make a huge difference to the person’s impression of the club.

Wellington Tramping and Mountaineering Club rosters a ‘greeter’ on the entrance to the club rooms each social night. They say ‘gudday’ to the familiar faces, plus make the new people feel welcome. The new folk get handed one of the club’s trip cards, and then have the trip leaders for the next few weeks pointed out to them.

The leadership of the club needs to take ownership of setting a club culture of being welcoming. Appointing a new member coordinator is a great start. But the rest of the club leadership needs to take all the opportunities to be welcoming and lead by example. Making a brief welcome to new people and new members at club nights, welcoming new members in club newsletters, praising the efforts of new members and the new member coordinator all go a long way to ensuring the right club culture is developed and supported.

 

Run a ‘new member evening’

Consider scheduling a new member evening once a year, and making a specific effort to attract new people to the event. Try to time it early enough in the new year that there’s time to go on a few trips before the weather turns, but not so early that there’s no time to advertise after the Christmas holidays.  March is probably a good compromise, or try October; well before the Christmas craziness!

There are quite a few ways to advertise your new member evening at minimal expense;

  • Make a flyer and ask to display it in the window or at the counter of the local outdoor/sports stores.
  • Send the flyer electronically to your members, and ask them to pass it on to their friends and family.
  • Make an event on your club’s facebook page and ask members to share it.
  • Send an article/press released to the local community news paper. (Like North Otago TMC did here)
  • Find out which local publications have a free ‘whats on’ section of classifieds.
  • Set up an event here on Wilderlife’s “Whats on” event calendar. If you let us know, FMC can make an effort to publicise it through our publications.  If you’re not sure how to set up an event on Wilderlife, just get in touch and we’ll help you out.

Promo for the WTMC new members night

Organise a number of volunteers with the specific job of meeting and greeting new people as they arrive, and to make them feel welcome through the night. Make sure you’ve got plenty of club ‘trip schedules’ to hand out!

Larger clubs in main centers might consider following The Wellington T&MC’s format:  The club rooms are set up like a ‘mini-expo’ with tables and volunteers dedicated to each of the activities or aspects of the club:  Tramping, Climbing, Club hut, Gear hire, etc. The volunteers then chat to interested people about the aspect of the club, and new folk are encouraged to sign up for up-coming trips.  Part way through the evening there is a 10 minute presentation about the club, it’s history, what club activities are like and how to join up.

Smaller clubs might consider a condensed version, where the 10 minute presentation is just the ‘introduction’ at the beginning of a normal club night. Just make sure the main speaker is a good one!!

Encourage prospective members to jot down their contact details, so the new member coordinator can follow them up after the evening.

Make it easy for people to get involved and to become a part of the club community

Run trips and courses specifically aimed at new members.

Especially if you make the effort to run a ‘new member evening’ it’s important that there are club activities happening soon after which specifically caters for new members.

For example, the Otago T&MC always schedule their annual Bushcraft course a couple of weeks after their new member night.  

Napier TC schedules ‘Eezee Tramps’ which are aimed at new members. The trip leaders take extra time before the trip (maybe a few days beforehand) to make sure the participants have arranged the right gear and understand what they can expect. During the trip, the leaders spend time talking about the club, and making an effort to explain a few of the elements of bushcraft (navigation, river crossings, weather etc) to give people an awareness and interest in the skills and experience which go into a successful trip.

Wellington T&MC run ‘Jump start’ sessions for new members.  These are a handful of sessions that are scheduled for 1hr before the normal club night at the start of the year.  At each session, the presenter gives a ‘crash course’ about Tramping in New Zealand; aimed at those who have very little experience. They cover things like; what to bring (and what not to bring), how it all fits in a pack, what clothes to wear, the food to eat, and what to expect on a day tramp.

Learning about shelter on a WTMC Bushcraft course. Photo/Kevin Cole.

There are bound to be prospective members out there who haven’t had many opportunities to learn about the outdoors, clubs are just the avenue to support them into a wonderful new world of mountain recreation.

Include all these new member activities in your adverts for the new member evening;

“Come along to our club night to learn about the club, meet some new friends, and sign up for XYZ trip/course.  Don’t know much about tramping? Come along to a ‘jump start’ session to get a great introduction to what it’s like”

 

Make it easy to join

If you want new members, then you need to make it as easy as possible for someone to join!  Some clubs traditionally required a prospective member to come along on a few trips before they were ‘allowed’ to join the club, or member applications had to wait weeks for committee meetings to be approved. If your club can think of legitimate reasons why you wish to ‘vett’ your applicants then so be it, but there aren’t many clubs in the country which are in a position to be choosy about who joins up.

The process should be as quick and simple as other ‘registration’ type tasks that can be done online. If it isn’t you’ll be likely to loose people along the way. It should be as easy as filling out a simple form, then paying the fee to the nominated bank account.

To make life easier, the membership form should automatically enter information into your member management system.  This is a whole separate topic, which we’ll be hopefully be covering before too long.

 

Thank you to the following people who contributed ideas and content to this resource;

  • We re-published material from Shaun Barnetts article “Clubs, Membership and FMC” in the  June 2009 FMC bulletin
  • We interviewed Megan Sety of the Wellington Tramping and Mountaineering Club and published an Outdoor Community Blog article titled “Big clubs getting bigger
  • Kelvin Shaw of the Napier Tramping Club wrote an article about his club’s project to increase it’s membership after Shaun’s articles. We got back in touch with him and republished his “Rejuvenating a Tramping Club” here on the Outdoor Community Blog with a few updates from our recent contact.

If you’ve got more ideas or advice to contribute to this resource, then please get in touch.

Last updated: 12 April 2018

Wilderlife