Retaining Members

New members are the lifeblood of every organization. They bring new ideas, increase the organization's person power, foster organizational growth, prevent member burn out, and take over leadership roles when you leave. People join organizations for many reasons. They want to get involved, meet people and make new friends; they want to develop skills and have fun. Groups need new members because they bring new ideas and talents, in addition to replacing old members. It is vital that an organization has a well-conceived and executed recruitment and retention plan.

Developing and conducting an organizational recruitment campaign is very important, but retaining these members is another matter entirely.  All too frequently groups skip any form of orientation and just place their new members directly on committees or organizational projects.

It takes six times more energy and expense to recruit a new member than it does to retain one. This expense can be the financial cost of publicizing recruiting efforts or it can be the total member time needed to recruit new members instead of working on projects. Most people will stay motivated when they can take ownership for projects. Remember to delegate responsibilities. The motivation level of your organization’s members may be affected by the level of comfort they have with each other. Be sure to provide time for members to meet each other to share ideas and expectations. Other suggestions for membership retention are:

  • Use people’s names often
  • Build prestige into the job through use of recognition and rewards
  • Give individual attention and demonstrate you understand members and accept their strengths and weaknesses
  • Involve members in goal-setting and decision-making processes of the group
  • Be courteous and respectful. Be fair, honest and consistent.
  • Use team-building exercises to reenergize the group.
  • Schedule fun into some meetings
  • Do trust exercises to build member relationships
  • Spend some personal time with members outside of official organization time

Plan a Special Welcome Meeting
Many groups find it beneficial to have a meeting or ceremony to welcome new members. Group participation in some form of official initiation process is one way to make your members feel wanted, needed and appreciated.

Host an Orientation for New Members
All too frequently groups skip any form of training and just place their new members directly on committees or organizational projects. Although involvement is crucial to the longevity of the group, understanding the organization and its goals, objectives, structure, norms and taboos is equally as important. By taking the time to orient new members to the privileges and responsibilities of membership, you create a more educated membership, a more productive organization, and people who can and will make significant contributions to the organization.

A successful organizational orientation program should include:

  • Welcome to the group and proper introductions
  • Organizational history, traditions, governance, procedures, and programs
  • Assimilation of new members into the organization
  • Rights and responsibilities of members
  • An overview of campus services, activities, and programs for student organizations
  • Information about any support groups or affiliations the group may have
  • Provide training, supervision and feedback to assist them in learning the skills necessary to do their job successfully.
  • Plan their development in the group. Do not leave their growth up to chance.

If there are written records, give everyone a copy including organizational charts, officer descriptions, and a complete membership list.  If you do not have a written history, have the group write one. You can do research regarding the groups information online or ask members what they know about the organization.

Your orientation program should familiarize your recruits with one another and the organization.  Knowing group information is one aspect of being in an organization.  People also join groups for many different reasons such as wanting to get involved, learning new skills, making friends, and having a good time.

  • Train New Members: All to frequently, groups skip any form of orientation and just place their new recruits directly on committees or organizational projects.
  • Teach New Members about the Organization: Although involvement is crucial to the longevity of the group, understanding the organization and its goals and objectives, structure, norms, and taboos is equally as important. By taking the time to orient new members to the privileges and responsibilities of membership, you create a more educated membership – people who can and will make significant contributions to the organization.

Successful Orientation Program Guide

  • The rights and responsibilities of members
  • Organizational governance, operating policies, and procedures
  • Organizational history, traditions, and programs
  • Assimilation of new members into the organization
  • An overview of campus services, activities, programs for student organizations

Motivate New Members
Motivate your members and get them excited about the group.  Provide time for “older” members to meet the new recruits and share ideas and expectations.  Below are good discussion topics for members:

  • Outgoing Members: These members have experienced all stages of group membership and should be used as a learning resource for new member training & leadership development.
    • What accomplishments are you most proud of?
    • What advice would you offer to new members?
    • If you had your year to do over again, how would you do it differently?
  • New Members: These are the new members of your organization, and they can learn from every avenue and resource of your student organization.  Many new members also have new ideas that can positively impact the structure and success of the organization. Their feedback and ideas are an important piece of the student organization dynamic.
    • What would you like this organization to mean to you one year from now?
    • What would you like to ask the old members?
    • What goals would you like to accomplish this year?

It is also important to find out what the new members’ interests are and what skills they bring to the group.  Using this information, give tasks that will successfully use their talents and give them a reason to be committed.  Whenever possible, recognize members’ accomplishments both publicly and privately.

By completing a new member orientation program, you will build group cohesion; help new members get to know the organization, and help members understand their rights and responsibilities within the organization.

Training
When organizations strive to select high-quality individuals in the recruitment process, then their training process will start at a higher level. Training needs to take into account the knowledge level of the members. Less experienced members will require more detailed training than more experience individuals. The higher standards set in recruitment and training processes the sooner the organization and individual members will be able to reach their goals and maximize their achievements. Developing a coordinated effort between recruitment and training that focuses on a specific experience for an individual will result in more successful and satisfied members.

Incorporating a new member into the organization is critical in the person’s first few weeks of participation. In the recruiting process the new members were promised certain benefits, opportunities, and rewards. Training is necessary to move an individual from new member to an active participant in the organization. Training involves more than just information, it needs to include attitudes. Lip service or fancy handbooks will not replace actual experience and involvement.
Organizations need to provide each member with a core training program which covers the basic and necessary information to get started in the organization. Training should be individualized by having a senior member or officer responsible for every new recruit. Create an ongoing educational program allowing students to advance through levels of training at their own pace to successfully advance in the organization’s hierarchy. Develop a training progression where an individual will learn the knowledge or skills necessary for his or her position based on skill building techniques in sequential stages. This process helps move the members from simple tasks to complex problem-solving responsibilities for the organization. There are many ways to provide training. Here are some suggestions:

  • Written material such as job description, expectations and policies, and manuals should be covered and negotiated with the volunteer very early.
  • Define terminology, organizational lingo, and any technical jargon the member needs to know.
  • Establish knowledge and skill level of the individual and customize training programs to meet their level.
  • Determine an evaluation period and feedback process which allows the individual to feel supported.
  • Determine delivery techniques for specific skill development (manual, lecture, role-modeling, hands-on, etc.).
  • Use each task, responsibility, or duty assigned to a member as a “Training Moment.”†
  • A training moment is an opportunity to provide a member with a learning opportunity using his/her day-to-day participation.