Question: With regard to your association, what’s keeping you up at night?
Answer 1: Not gaining new members.
Answer 2: Figuring out how and where to acquire new members.
These aren’t hypothetical examples. They are direct quotes from Marketing General’s 2017 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, which lists new member acquisition as one of the top three priorities for associations.So how can you lose less sleep and attract new members to your association? There’s an endless list of tactics you can try, but one of the quickest and most sustainable ways is to demonstrate your association’s value with an online mentoring program.
Unlike traditional mentoring programs, online mentoring can combine both in-person meetings – such as at your annual conference or chapter events – with the flexibility of the internet. With an online program, mentors and mentees can connect and communicate regardless of location and time zone, providing more opportunities for growth.
Online mentoring programs help attract new members from three key demographics in different ways.
The number one member benefit millennials are looking for is jobs, according to a study by Abila. Unfortunately, millennials and the following generation, gen Z, aren’t adequately prepared for even entry-level jobs when they leave college. Only 15 to 37 percent of employers feel that new graduates are well prepared for jobs with skills such as teamwork and analyzing problems.
A mentoring program is one of your best tools for filling in the gaps left after formal education, teaching young or inexperienced professionals the skills they need to succeed in the professional world. Unlike formal education, mentoring typically focuses on practical skills that mentors have learned throughout their career, such as creating pivot tables in Excel or brainstorming creative solutions to problems. That makes mentoring a perfect next step for students, recent graduates, and even young professionals who are still trying to learn the ropes in new jobs. For those without a job, your mentoring program may also help build connections that mentees can use to find and land a professional position.
Expert Tip: To make the most of this, be sure to market your mentoring program and any industry job boards you have. Use research such as GetMeSpark’s white paper on the education-skills gap back up your claims, then gather success stories for social proof. Once prospects are hooked, have them join your association to participate in your mentoring program.
Millennials and gen z aren’t the only new members your association should target. Experienced professionals working in other fields can also be valuable, bringing a fresh perspective and new ideas to your industry.
These experienced professionals may be years into their careers but want to make a change to further their career or land a job that’s more meaningful. An online mentoring program is an accessible, low-pressure way for these professionals to get a taste of what people in your field do. They can learn the skills they need from in-the-trenches workers and hear first-hand what jobs are like so they can make an informed decision about their own career change.
Expert Tip: To attract this demographic, make sure your mentoring program is accessible to those outside your industry. Cut out unnecessary industry jargon and consider creating a trial membership tier to help people test the waters. Identify mentors open to working with mentees who may not have the general knowledge of those with formal education in your field. Mentors who thrive on helping others succeed will be key to helping experienced professionals learn and expand their horizons—perhaps even make a career shift.
Chances are that not every professional in your field is a member of your association. You can help attract these professionals by positioning your association and its mentoring program as tools for career advancement. Promotions, salary increases, and better job opportunities are powerful motivators.
To help members move up in their field, use your online mentoring program to pair junior or mid-level employees with successful leaders. Each experience should focus on helping mentees hone their skills and get a promotion. Do this well, and the results can be profound. Last year, Association Adviser reported on careers within Sun Microsystems, which looked at the career progress of 1,000 employees over a five-year period. Employees who received mentoring were promoted five times more often than those who didn’t. Mentors benefited as well – they were six times more likely to have been promoted.
Career advancement, especially with demonstrated results or success stories from your members, can be very effective at getting prospects’ attention. Your mentoring program is a powerful tool to help.
While job-oriented benefits are at the top of the list for why mentoring programs attract new members, they’re not the only way you can use mentoring to grow your association. Many associations use mentoring programs to promote and facilitate relationship building and support networks. Here are a few less traditional ways to use mentoring to bring in new members.
Support in Difficult Circumstances
For associations and nonprofits aiding those in challenging situations – such as people suffering from a disease or doing stressful charity work – online mentoring programs can create a strong support network. We’ve seen associations use their mentoring program to connect patients or family members with peers, allowing them to support one another and share advice. These connections can be life changing for those who feel overwhelmed.
This same value translates to those working in difficult professions, including those with high burnout, stress, or even suicide rates. The Art of Mentoring, an Australian mentoring consultancy, has helped associations in high-stress fields develop mentoring programs that help recent graduates manage expectations as they start their careers. The programs guide emerging professionals through the demands of their work, putting them on the path to a fulfilling career and lessening their chances for mental health concerns.
Increase Awareness through Word-of-Mouth Referrals
Some associations go one step further and create an online mentoring program that’s open to both members and nonmembers alike. This widens the amount of people who can participate in the program, getting more members and prospects actively involved with your association.
As people engage, they’ll naturally discuss their mentoring experience (especially if it helps them land a job or promotion) with their friends and colleagues. By creating a memorable online mentoring program, then, you’ll also spur more organic conversations about your association, increasing awareness and word-of-mouth referrals.
To make open mentoring programs more profitable, many associations will charge a fee for nonmembers, increasing non-dues revenue. Anyone who wants to participate without an additional charge can join your association as a full member.
Be creative with how you use your mentoring program. Find out what your members need and how you can provide it. Then, make sure you market your mentoring program and its benefits. Use research, statistics, and success stories to make your marketing more compelling. Prospects need to know about your program and how it will help them before they’ll join your association.
Once you’ve developed a strong value proposition for your mentoring program, find ways to make connections more permanent. You could supplement professional mentoring with eCourses from a learning management system or extend mentor-mentee communication with an online community, for example. The more lasting and impactful your mentoring program’s results, the more likely it is that new members will not only join your association, but will stick with you over the long haul.
Ready to get started? Here are a few tips for creating a great online mentoring program.