Scott Ginsburg, Guest Author
You can’t force people to join your organization.
Not legally, that is.
Don’t get any ideas.
What you can do is increase the probability that people will join – simply by making yourself, your people and your organization more joinable.
That means new approaches are required. And if you want to reach the people who matter, consider this counterintuitive suggestion:
Instead of getting people to join you – try joining them first.
Earlier this year I wrote about How to Make Your Organization More Joinable than a Megan Fox Fan Club. Today we’re going to explore six ways to join people first:
1. Figure out why people are. It doesn’t matter what people do for a living – it only matters why they do it. That’s what defines people. That’s what drives them to contribute.
And if you want to join people first, I suggest you touch the center of their why. Even if it’s as simple as asking them, “Why do you do what you do?”
You’d be amazed how telling this question is. And the cool part is, once you have their answer, you can connect their why to the organization you represent.
For example, my friend Doug lives and breathes technology. In fact, few people I know are more resourceful when it comes to leveraging technology to make group communication clearer, faster and more relaxing.
But, I only know this because I inquired about Doug’s why. Because I actively petitioned to get know him at his core. And as a result, I was able to find the perfect spot for him on our board of directors. Our organization would never be the same without him. Are you getting in people’s heads or trying on people’s hearts?
2. Involvement isn’t something you can force upon people. People always make time for what’s important to them. Which means, if they aren’t joining your organization, it might not be your fault. It might have nothing to do with you.
Maybe Saturday morning is a terrible time for them to attend chapter functions because their kids have soccer practice.
Or, maybe they’re just out of college and can’t commit to weekly board meetings because they’d rather go to happy hour with their friends.
It doesn’t mean they don’t like you – it just means they have different priorities. In the book Brains on Fire, my friend Robbin Phillips writes about this very idea, “It’s not about how customers fit into your marketing plan – but rather about how you fit into their lives.”
Try this: Instead of assuming people are apathetic, uncommitted heathens, ask them how your organization might become a part of their schedule.
Then, once you’ve gathered consensus, consider alternating your organization’s activity schedule to accommodate a diverse group of member priorities. Are you starting with the customer in mind or just starting with the customer?
3. Hang on their home turf. As the president of my professional association, my recruiting efforts usually include breaking bread with potential members. I’d take that over a phone call any day. I guess I’m just not a hard sell kind of guy.
I’d rather meet people for lunch at their office or in their neighborhood. In my experience, that’s a better window into their world. That’s a smoother transition from “How are you?” to “Who are you?”
Occasionally, I might even have dinner at a prospective joiner’s home. That’s the big win: When I meet their families. Eat their food. Hang on their turf. And we might talk about joining – we might not.
The point is to meet people where they are. Literally. Sure beats sitting on your ass with crossed fingers and high hopes. Whose home turf could you visit this week?
4. Learn people’s learning styles. Not everyone needs to come to the Sunday service. Maybe they’re Wednesday night small group discussion people. Maybe they’re homebodies who’d rather listen to the audio recording of the sermon online while drinking coffee in their bed with their dogs.
Doesn’t make them any less of a member. It just means they process information differently. And only when you understand these preferences can you tailor your messages (and the media through which they’re delivered) accordingly.
Naturally, I’m not just talking about congregations. These principles apply to all member-based organizations. Take my professional association. Last year they started publishing their monthly audio newsletter as a podcast on iTunes.
Finally. Good Lord. If I had to open another stupid compact disc shrink wrapped to my magazine, I was going to kill somebody.
The cool part is, because of the increasing population of members under forty, my organization significantly increased their listenership. How many potential members are you alienating because your message isn’t tuned into their frequency?
5. Less outreach, more inbreak. In the pivotal book Jim and Casper Go to Church, I learned the difference between “outreaching,” which is inviting people to join your group, and “inbreaking,” which is joining an existing community action.
According to my friend and occasional mentor Jim Henderson:
“We can find out what groups in our community are already doing to make life better for people and join them. Rather than start groups, we could join their groups. Rather than join groups to convert people, we could join them to connect with and serve people.”
Try this: Consider the types of members you hope to attract. What groups are they already a part of? What role in the community do they currently occupy? Create a gameplan to take a more active role in those spaces. People will notice.
Remember: Your members shouldn’t have to adjust to you. You need to adapt for them. Whose life are you willing to become a part of?
6. Discover their desired way to contribute. Instead of laying a guilt trip on potential members for not devoting every waking moment of their life to your organization, try asking them how they’d like to contribute.
After all, that’s why people join: To give back. To add value to others, to the organization and to the world.
The trick is, not everyone contributes the same way. Personally, I despise meetings. They are the bane of my existence. And I refuse to waste my valuable (and billable) time sitting around a table with seven people trying to figure out whose house the Christmas party is going to be held at this year.
Fortunately, the groups I’m a board member of are smart enough not to ask me to attend meetings.
On the other, I love to write. Actually, that’s an understatement: Writing isn’t just my occupation – it’s my religion. And any time I’ve taken a volunteer position, I’ve always offering my pen as the principle instrument of my contribution.
Need a newsletter article? Need a blog post? Need a welcome letter to new members? No problem. I’m your man.
Your challenge is to dive into the lives of the people around. To join them by discovering and honoring their desired way to contribute. Do so, and you’ll be surprised what they’re willing to give to your organization. How are you helping people help you?
7. Find out what joining looks like to them. Everybody joins differently. A single guy in his thirties approaches joining a group differently than retired widower in her sixties. And if you’ve read Bowling Alone, you know that some people aren’t even joiners at all.
Therefore: If your organization seeks to reach a diverse group of new members, you have to go out of your way to find out how people prefer to join. Without this information, your outreach efforts fall on deaf ears.
I don’t care if have the greatest organization in the world. If you’re leaving voicemail messages on a college student’s land line, odds are she will never, ever call you back. You may as well be winking in the dark.
The reality is, some people just want to pay their dues, show up to five meetings a year and get on with their lives.
They’re never going to volunteer.
They’re never going win member of the year.
They’re never going to spearhead the party planning committee.
No matter how many board members nominate them.
As a leader, you need to be okay with this reality. Stop compartmentalizing people into convenient little personality boxes and just let them join as they see fit. Are you preaching to the atheists?
REMEMBER: There are people out there just dying to join you.
And they will.
As long as you’re willing to join them first.
LET ME ASK YA THIS. . . Whom did you join last week?
Copyright © 2010 – Scott Ginsberg. Scott Ginsberg is a professional speaker, “the world’s foremost field expert on nametags” and the author of “HELLO my name is Scott” and “The Power of Approachability.” He speaks to companies and associations who want to become UNFORGETTABLE communicators – one conversation at a time. He’s “That Guy with the Name Tag.” Visit his BLOG.
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