Association Insights


Can I Have Your Email? The Art of Turning Strangers into Members

May 09 2017

By: Matt Bradford

In the world of association marketing, a stranger is a member you just haven't met. Even so, many organizations are still reluctant to look up their old email lists and reach out to these unknown (yet potential) recruits.

Surely, if growth is truly on your association's agenda, then relying on the same members lists and promoting in the same circles simply won't cut it. Says Suzanne Carawan, Chief Marketing Officer with HighRoad Solution, it's time to move beyond established boundaries and make new connections: “That's one stumbling block I see a lot of organizations facing right now. They have their 'tried-and-true' email lists that they've been using forever, but they aren't really thinking about getting in front of new people who might not know they even exist. And if they are, they're wondering how to even start and build those new relationships.”

Starting begins with having a solid understanding of which “strangers” would gain the most from becoming a member with your association. Once that “persona” is built, associations can use a wide range of tools to find out where to find those potential members live online and in the real world; and use targeted digital ads, social media messaging, radio spots, and TV ads to attract their interests.

Step two, however, is convincing strangers to respond. It's tailoring your brand and value proposition so that people want to come to your website and willingly give up their emails.

And that, says Carawan, can take some persuading: “People used to just hand out their emails without thinking, but now they've escalated in value. They're tired of having their inboxes filled with spam and seeing their emails wind up on marketing lists. Now, emails are as important as phone numbers, which means people aren't going to give them out without a solid reason.”

The solution? Give them that reason. Use your personas to speak with potential members in their language over social media, offer targeted offers that appeal to their career needs, and cast your net wide over digital channels such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube to make sure your message is getting through.

As well, don't forget about traditional media. Associations hoping to attract new members can also use billboards, radio spots, and TV ads to communicate the value of their services and why you – yes you! – should give them a call or visit an association's website today.  

However one chooses to connect with “strangers”, the ultimate goal is to draw in people who are an ideal fit for your association and willing to strike a relationship.

“You can't be lazy about recruitment anymore,” insists Carawan. “You have to really invest time into your messaging and put content out there that convinces people you don't know that it's of benefit to them to get in contact with you. That's a very different approach than passing around a clipboard for emails at a convention or going up to people and simply saying 'join us!' People are more leery about that kind of thing, and they're less likely to start that relationship without some convincing.”

If this all sounds like work, that's because it is. Growth doesn't happen by shouting your message to the same audiences; it occurs when associations invest in the skills and tools to learn more about their target recruits and how best to bring them into the fold. 

From that point forward, it's tools like marketing automation, digital advertising, and data and analytics, that will not only build those relationships, but turn those former strangers into champions for your association.

“Recruiting requires a new mindset and capabilities. Associations have to work a bit harder to make those first contacts, but in the end the payout is a bigger audience and more funds,” says Carawan.

Suzanne Carawan is Chief Marketing Officer with HighRoad Solution. For a copy of the 2016 State of Digital Marketing in Associations Research Report, visit, or go to where associations will find free research, toolkits and on-demand webinars.