Home > Local Units > Recruiting and Retaining Members

Unit Recruitment and Retention Step-by-Step Guide

Membership is one of the most important tasks your unit will face during the year, because it is essential for SAF continuing to be a strong, powerful voice for natural resource managers and foresters.

Increasing and retaining members improves the Society's knowledge base and dues revenue, which funds SAF programs and activities at both a local and National level.

A successful membership plan is an ongoing challenge that goes beyond a membership application. Unfortunately, there are no short cuts to produce membership growth and a strong local unit.

Although recruitment is primarily a national office responsibility, we still encourage local units to seek fresh faces for ideas, energy and engagement.

This section outlines a membership plan and, more importantly, implementing it to reach your unit's goals. It can be modified to fit your units resources, timeline and goals.

Elements of a Plan

Develop a membership plan with an outline, timeline, and step-by-step actions to give it a beginning and an end. The plan should include retention elements to help engage your members, and include ALL activities within your unit. Decide which tactics are short-term and long-term. Outline what you will need to do to reach your goals. See appendix for detailed, sample membership development plan.

Step 1 — Commitment to Recruitment
Member buy-in is crucial to the success of any membership program, because your current members are the most effective recruiters. Everyone must support the campaign since promoting and encouraging SAF membership is everyone's responsibility. This is a unit commitment.

At the onset of the program, reaffirm the goals so that everyone is starting on the same page. If you don't have a membership committee, start one! The importance of an active, enthusiastic membership committee cannot be overstated.

Look at your unit and what campaigns, if any, have been held in the past. What worked, what didn't work? Determine what will work best in your geographical area.

Can your unit can support new members? Are your programs strong? Is the morale of the group high? Is your meeting attendance acceptable? New members should not be expected to come in and solve problems that the unit might be facing.

Step 2 — Setting Goals and Objectives
The unit's goals should reflect the total potential of the geographic area. Set realistic goals for your membership drive. Unattainable goals can lower morale and threaten the campaign. To keep morale high, make sure the goal is achievable and make every effort to surpass it.

Once the goals are established, publish it, and provide follow-up reports on the campaign's progress. Be positive; encourage your members to be enthusiastic about reaching the goals. Emphasize how increased membership will benefit the unit's ability to offer worthwhile programs.

Now decide what type of campaign you are going to run i.e. mailings, phone calls, special meetings, and how long it will last.

Step 3 — Budgeting
Next develop a budget for the campaign. Budget for the printing, postage, lists, telephone charges, prizes for the member who recruits the most new members etc. Keep accurate records of all your expenses. These records are necessary for planning future campaigns and to evaluate the cost effectiveness of the campaign.

Step 4 — Creating and Implementing the Plan
To achieve your goals, you must make sure that deadlines are set and met, and members accept responsibility for various pieces of the project. A project of this nature cannot succeed without everyone being clear of what is expected of them, and by when.

Hold monthly meetings of the membership committee to address questions, issues, and to update progress. Communication between the groups of volunteers is key for this program to work.

Finding Prospective Members
So, you've created the plan, and set deadlines, now what about prospective members? One challenge to SAF's recruitment effort is identifying qualified individuals who may want to join.

Start with who you know. Who do the membership committee and key leaders know? Do they have coworkers or employees that would benefit from being a member? People frequently join because they're asked by someone they know.

The National Office also maintains a prospect list. You can request a copy of the portion of the list covering your unit area.

If you have names on your local list that are not on the national list, please send them to the national office. They will be added to our prospect list for our direct mail campaigns.

Implementing the Plan
Now that prospective members have been identified, the membership committee and unit need to contact them. That can be accomplished several different ways including prospect letters, phone calls, and personal contact.

Prospect Letters
Make sure that the letter highlights the benefits of membership, as well as upcoming local programs. Write it from the perspective of the reader. What's in it for them? If you are inviting them to a specific event, include all of the details. Always make sure that the letter provides a way for someone to contact for further information or questions. Tell your members and guests again and again whom to contact for information. Then follow up with a phone call to see if he/she received the information.

When writing personal letters to prospective members, use testimonials from other members. If it's students, use student testimonials or employers. If it's technician members, use technician members. Don't over-edit or write the testimonials yourself; they are most believable in your members' own words.

Personal contact
If you contact someone in person, have an application handy and encourage them to fill it out on the spot. Remember these simple things when meeting with prospective members:
  • Be enthusiastic, involved, and passionate.

  • Know your association. Before meeting with a potential member discover all you can about SAF.

  • Use your SAF resources and publications. Show prospects the Journal of Forestry and The Forestry Source, and a copy of the e-Forester.

  • Encourage all associates to join! Remind all your co-workers, "the annual dues are insignificant compared to what they will get from membership."

Offer to mail the membership application or provide a return envelope. If someone is undecided about whether to join, always make a second, or even a third, contact to follow-up.

Step 5 — The Meeting Invite prospective members to your next SAF unit, division, or state society meeting-this is a great way to introduce prospective members to meet other members and discuss SAF membership benefits.

Ask unit members to watch for them, greet them, talk to them and then pass them on to another member who will do the same. Unit leaders should introduce themselves to guests and thank them for attending. It is the job of every member to be friendly and open.

Have several committee and unit members prepared to discuss why they joined, and what benefits they derive for themselves and their employer.

Display SAF materials and copies of the publications. Extra publications and materials are available from the National Office.

Step 6 — Follow-up and Maintenance
Don't forget to schedule follow-up. Someone is not a member until the national office receives an application and payment.

Keep all prospects on your mailing list for 3 months to provide them with the range of meeting topics and the interests of your unit. If possible, maintain phone contact during this time. Have each officer maintain contact with a designated list of members, as well a prospective members.

Step 7 — Retention
The moment a member is recruited, the retention process begins. By simply making new members feel welcome and important to the unit, you increase their chances of remaining a member. This is the time when "unit habits" are developed. If the member develops an early pattern of attending meetings, they are likely to remain a member.

Your members are constantly being sought out by other organizations for their time and resources. Your job is to assure them that their efforts and involvement with the unit are enriching. Most members say their local SAF unit is a primary or important reason why they maintain their SAF membership. That's why SAF units play an important role in helping guarantee that members renew their membership.

Your retention effort can only be successful if you MAINTAIN GOOD UNIT RECORDS. Each month, the national office sends reports to your unit, including names of new members, members who have transferred in or out, resigned members, and deceased members. Make sure your unit only uses membership rosters from the SAF national office. Check that the email addresses you have in your distribution lists are up to date. Use these lists to make sure that your meeting attendees are current members of SAF.

In addition to local recruitment efforts, members can enter your SAF unit through a transfer or a national recruitment effort. They may know nothing about your unit. These members need immediate communication from local members.

Your unit can highlight new members in newsletters. Your unit might want to develop an orientation meeting for new and transferred members.

You can contact new members by phone, mail, or in person. The method you choose may depend on the resources available to you.

By phone. Calling new or transferred members is a quick and easy way to make the first contact. Here are some suggested items to touch on:
  • Extend a welcome to your SAF unit.
  • Explain current local projects and activities.
  • Give details about the next meeting and extend a personal invitation to attend.
  • Explain future goals and projects of the SAF unit.
  • Ask if there are any questions.
If you choose to call new or transferred members rather than send a mailing, you may still follow up by sending the latest copy of your unit's newsletter.

By mail. Another option is to send a welcome letter or packet to the new or transferred member. Here are some suggested items to include in the package:
  • Letter of welcome from the state society, division, or unit chair.
  • Recent copy of the state society newsletter.
  • Brochure or flyer on the next state society, division, or unit meeting.
  • List of local SAF unit officers.
  • List of projects that the unit has completed and plans for future projects.
  • A new member profile to determine member's interests. This will allow you to see what your new members are looking for and expecting from the unit.
  • A list of volunteer opportunities.
In person. If someone in your unit can make a personal visit to the new or transferred member, it's a great way to extend a sincere welcome to the organization and make a great impression. Here are some tips to keep in mind when meeting a new member:
  • SMILE!
  • Describe the unit's programs and projects.
  • Invite the member to the next local meeting.
  • Provide a list of local SAF unit officers.
  • Provide a list of projects that the unit has completed and plans for future projects.
  • Hand him/her a new member survey to determine the interests of your members.
  • Provide a list of volunteer opportunities in your unit.
Encourage new members to participate in SAF activities. Involved members have a stronger sense of commitment. Get new members involved right away. Ask if they have special skills in finance, writing, or graphic design and put their talents to use. Without encouragement, inclusion, and participation during the first year, a new member is not likely to renew for a second year. Those who give their time and talents to the unit and to SAF gain the greatest satisfaction and reward. Encourage active participation from all your members, not only new.

Promote opportunities for volunteers through your unit newsletter, website, phone calls, welcome packets, targeted mailings. Also promote the work of the committees and any vacancies during your unit meetings. Get people involved rather than relying on the same core group of members. Your membership base could suffer if the group views it as a clique.

Don't forget about long-time members as you strive to retain members. Check your membership list against lists of past meeting attendees. If members have not been attending meetings or don't volunteer for projects or programs, give them a call.

Remind them of the benefits of attending meetings and provide an update of what's happening in your unit. Ask if they have questions about SAF programs and services. Invite them to attend the next local meeting. Find out if they have any special skills that could be put to use for an upcoming project or program.

Solicit member feedback periodically to see what they want and expect from the unit. This is great for planning your unit's activities and meetings. Your members want to know that they are being heard.

Contacting Delinquent Members
When local members contact members who have not renewed their membership, it provides a personal touch and a great opportunity to get feedback about your unit's operations. The best way to contact delinquent members is by phone. Members who are knowledgeable about SAF make the best callers.

What to say when you make a contact:
  1. Identify yourself: "This is Jane/John Smith, a member of the x (state society, division, unit) of the Society of American Foresters…"
  2. State the purpose of your call: "I am calling to ask you to renew your SAF membership. We would like very much to have you back."
If yes, interested in renewing
Tell the member we are asking him or her to renew by:
  1. Sending in their invoice with payment, or
  2. Calling the national office at (301) 897-8720, ext. 108 for his/her invoice or to pay by credit card.
If the caller asks for any material or other information from the national office, let us know. The national office will fill these requests.

If no, not interested
If a person says she or he is not interested in SAF membership, please relay the message that:
  1. We hope at some point she or he will reconsider the decision and will always be welcome to rejoin;
  2. SAF is interested in learning more about her or his decision: "Would you mind telling me a little more — is there a specific reason why you aren't rejoining? An expectation that SAF did not fulfill?"
Undecided response
Below are some suggestions for those members who are "on the fence":
Explain that they will be losing member benefits:
  1. Journal of Forestry
  2. The Forestry Source
  3. Eligibility for insurance programs (Life, AD&D, Long-Term Disability & Catastrophic Medical)
  4. Member discounts on meetings, books, and gifts
  5. Working group involvement
  6. Networking with other forestry and natural resource professionals.
Step 8 - Results and Recognition
Review and analyze what you have done. Did the results meet the goals that the unit had set? If yes, EXCELLENT JOB! If the goals were not met, why? The important thing is to learn from what you have done to continue to build on the effort made.

Below are some guidelines for contacting delinquent members by phone:
  • Smile, then dial.
  • Take notes; record reasons each person gives for not continuing membership.
  • If the individual is not renewing, make her or him feel welcome to rejoin in the future.
  • If member is not there, find out when he or she may be reached.
  • Use the member's name at least twice during your conversation.
  • Listen to the member, particularly after you have asked a question.
  • Show empathy; you, too, are a member and know the difficulties.
  • Speak neither too fast nor too slow and enunciate clearly.
  • Use "feel", "felt", and "found", i.e., "I understand how you feel"; "Other members may have felt the same way"; "However, many members have found that . . ."
  • Close by saying, "May I count on your membership renewal?"
How many new members has the unit gained from this effort? It's OK if there are not as many new members as you had expected. Don't be discouraged as this is not always an easy task and is an ongoing effort.

Don't forget to recognize and thank members for their hard work and dedication. Part of the retention is ensuring that the volunteers know that their efforts are appreciated. People need recognition for their work, whether it was bring the refreshments for the group, writing letters, making phone calls, or organizing the meeting. Here are some suggestions:
  • Host a party for your committee members and volunteers who helped make your recruitment program a success. Remind volunteers of the important accomplishments that have been achieved as a result of their actions.

  • Present volunteers with a small token of appreciation, a certificate of appreciation (available from the national office), or a prize. The SAF Store offers a wide variety of items you can purchase.

  • Feature your volunteers in your unit newsletters. Send personalized thank you notes to everyone who participated. Schedule time at the beginning of your unit meeting to publicly thank everyone who was involved and report results. Remember, volunteers are the key to your unit's success!